Al-Shabab v Al-Fayah, Thursday 9th March 2023, 8.30pm

There’s a couple of weeks to go before Ramadan starts and the decorations are already up in the hotel that I’m staying in. I’m curious as to whether there’s an acceptable date for putting up decorations and whether most people adhere to it. I’m also hoping to find out if some people feel Ramadany, in the way that some people in the UK feel more Christmassy than others.

The walk to the ground was busy with people, some going to the match, others just embracing the start of the weekend. Lots of families were picnicking outside of the park and their kids were running around in the way that small kids do. One of them was dragging a kite behind him. It had the shape and print of a bird of prey, hopefully an actual kite. When the kid got it airborne it caused one of the feral cats that lives in the area to freeze, unsure of whether it should pounce or was about to be pounced upon.

Al-Fayah were the team that I’d seen a month or so ago beating Al-Hilal here in some cup competition. I remembered them primarily because of their orange-clad fans. They hadn’t brought as many with them this time but those that did turn up kept up a constant racket, reminding me of a bunch of Hare Krishnas.

This game was in the league and of greater importance to Al-Shabab who were third in the table than Al-Fayah sitting in eighth place and with little to play for. Most eyes were on the first v second game in Jeddah between Al-Nassr and Al-Ittihad and I suspect that many Al-Shabab fans would have hoped for a draw in that fixture. Some people may have stayed home to watch it as it looked like there were fewer than two thousand spectators in the ground.

Al-Shabab opened the scoring a quarter of an hour in and added two more before half-time. At that stage it looked like game over. A kid behind me attracted my attention by shouting “Inglesi, Inglesi” at me. I’m not sure how he’d worked out my nationality from the back of my head but he proudly told me that he was from Yemen, whilst his little mate was a Saudi. Whilst we were chatting Al-Fayah pulled one back with an own goal to go in at the break two down.

The visitors came out for the re-start all fired up and halved the deficit within minutes, setting up a nervy second half. With ten minutes to go attention turned to Jeddah where Al-Ittihad had gone a goal up against Ronaldo’s team. I could see the action on a telly in an executive box and was half expecting VAR to find a way to chalk it off. It stood though and with Al-Shabab managing to see out this game for a three-two win, it meant they had closed the gap to one of their title rivals.

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