Archive for April, 2023

Al-Riyadh U17 v Sudair U17, Friday 17th March 2023, 3.50pm

April 30, 2023

This was my first trip to the Prince Turki bin Abdul Aziz Stadium, home to second tier Al-Riyadh. After picking up some drinks and snacks from a supermarket opposite I wandered into the main stadium only to be directed to the practice ground that was tagged on to one end. I was fine with that though as it meant that I’d be able to tick off the auxiliary pitch and then return to the stadium proper for a future first team fixture.

The game was taking place on a grass pitch with three rows of seats along one side. At the time I arrived there were only a handful of people there, possibly because of the lack of shade. As the game progressed the crowd swelled to around two hundred. Order was maintained by a few stewards and seven policemen, which struck me as a little excessive.

A couple of families sat down near me but were soon moved to the other end of the seating leaving my area as one for men only. This was my first experience of enforced segregation and it seemed over the top. If the families had been uncomfortable where they were then they could easily have instigated a move themselves.

Just as some welcome cloud cover arrived midway through the first half, Sudair opened the scoring. I didn’t see the move finished off as a big bloke was climbing over the back of a seat between me and the far goal, but the subsequent celebrations revealed that a fair proportion of the attendees were supporting the visitors.

The second half was quite fractious with lots of niggly fouls, plenty of injury faking and a few flare-ups between the players that seemed more for effect than to settle any particular grievance. The actions of the players served to fire up the crowd with some of the Sudair fans on the receiving end of a warning from a steward for standing and chanting.

Al-Riyadh pressed hard for an equalizer but with two minutes to go Sudair broke clear and their striker tucked his chance away to clinch the win. Hopefully I’ll be back for a game at the main stadium before long.

Al-Hilal v Al-Fateh, Tuesday 14th March 2023, 9pm.

April 29, 2023

Al-Hilal’s chances of winning the league may be gone but they could still end the season with a couple of trophies. Their Champion’s League final is a few weeks away and this game against Al-Fateh was a quarter-final in the King’s Cup. Tickets went on sale for all areas and so I took the opportunity to watch from the upper tier of the big, uncovered stand.

The queues to get in were slow, despite me having picked the gate that usually has the shortest lines. The delay was mainly due to people not having their apps open with the ticket showing. It wasn’t helped by the lack of queueing etiquette with numerous people pushing past me or, even when remaining behind, shoving their phone beyond me to be scanned. In frustration I curtly asked the fella with the scanner if I was invisible. He was very apologetic which made me feel like a dickhead. Again.

I took a seat three rows from the back where a pleasant breeze kept it cool. The high position meant that I could just about watch the entire proceedings without moving my head. The home singing fans are usually in this stand in the tier below but for this game at least some of them had relocated to the stand opposite. I didn’t notice any away fans. As the game went on the gaps around me were filled with late arrivals. You’d think a 9pm start would be sufficiently late for everyone to make kick-off.

Al-Hilal took the lead a quarter of an hour in with a VAR awarded pen that nobody had even appealed for. An Al-Fateh tapped in equalizer soon afterwards caused a nearby kid who had spent the game scoffing sunflower seeds, to shriek. The home side regained the lead early in the second half, but then soon went down to ten men. It was all quite nervy until Ighalo notched a third a few minutes from time to seal the place in the semi-final.

Al-Shoaib v Al-Ansar, Friday 10th March 2023, 8.20pm

April 28, 2023

I’d planned to go to two games this day, but on arriving at the Prince Faisal bin Fahd ground near to where I’m staying I got the now familiar knockback with the news that no matter what my app said, the game in question was somewhere else.

That meant I had far too much time before the evening match and so I had a look for something to do along the route. I settled for a visit to the Kingdom Tower, which is actually very tall buildings linked by a walkway at the top.

At the bottom is a hotel and three floors of shops and food outlets. A couple of lifts took me close to a hundred floors up into the air where I paid fifteen quid to access the walkway. The fella selling the ticket warned me that a sandstorm meant that the views were crap, but what do you do? I was there and unlikely to go back so a crap view was better than no view.

Everything was beige, or more accurately, sand coloured. That seems to be a theme anyway in Riyadh where there is little variation in building colour. I could see for a mile or so but on a clear day there would have been much better views.

After taking advantage of the food court, I caught a cab to the Irqah stadium for a second division (third tier) match between Al-Shoaib and Al-Ansar. It was a small ground with an artificial pitch and four rows of seating along one side. Sadly, there was a fence between the seats and the pitch and with fences also cordoning off the entrance from the dressing rooms it meant that when the action was taking place in some areas at the other end of the pitch I had to watch through three separate fences.

It was very cold. I know I should expect that in the evening in Saudi Arabia, but I still can’t seem to grasp that it won’t be red hot all the time. As I was only in a tee-shirt I cast envious glances at the tracky tops discarded by the players after the warm up. Surely they could have spared one of them. As so often happens I was given a couple of bottles of water, which was very kind, but I’d much rather have had the opportunity to buy a coffee.

There weren’t too many fans there. A couple of old blokes, some squad players and the odd family member made up most of the crowd. A small group of ultras with six drums between them created an atmosphere that felt a little over the top for the fixture. Maybe all that drumming was just to keep warm.

It was a fairly even game. Al-Shoaib went a goal up in the first half and hung on for the points. At the next evening match I’ll be taking a jumper.