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

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.

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