Al-Shabab v Al-Ittihad, Monday 9th January 2023, 9.15pm

Ten days after my first visit to the Prince Faisal bin Fahd Stadium to watch Al-Hilal, I was back to see the other tenants, Al-Shabab, in another top-tier Saudi Pro-League fixture. This time I’d bought a ticket online in advance, but at a cost of two hundred riyals, which is around forty-four quid and almost seven times the price that Al-Hilal charge. I’ve no idea why there’s such a difference but I dare say I’ll find out before long.

There were a lot of people milling around outside, perhaps equally baffled by the pricing. My ticket was in the open area opposite where I’d been sat the previous week. The segregation policy wasn’t enforced as there were a few women and kids in my section. The opposition, Al-Ittihad, had brought a decent away following and had a section at the other end of the ground. The ground was still only a quarter or so full though, with just under six and a half thousand fans in the twenty-odd thousand capacity stadium.

There was a bit of a scuffle near me in the first half, with a couple of blokes giving each other a slap. That’s actual slaps with a flat palm to the face. It turns out that there were a few away fans in our section and they were making their allegiance obvious. I don’t know why they didn’t just sit in the empty areas near to their allocated section, rather than plonking themselves in the middle of the seats occupied by the more vocal Al-Shabab supporters. The stewards did their best but were ignored and it took the arrival of a copper to restore order and lead the slappers to an exit.

I got chatting to Ahmed, who was a supporter of Al-Hilal and Arsenal, but like me was just keen to watch a game. He seemed surprised that I only followed the Boro and that I didn’t have a Premier League side as well. I was tempted to mention that I’d been looking out for Bournemouth’s results this season in the hope that Tav was doing well in his post-Boro career, but thought that would just make me look even odder.

Al-Shabab took the lead from a penalty on twenty minutes, but Al-Ittihad equalized soon after with a scrambled effort that they seemed to be doing their best to miss. The score stayed that way and with both the teams fighting it out with Al-Hilal in the top four, Ahmed was happy to see them both drop points.

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