Al-Riyadh v Al-Shoalah, Tuesday 23rd May 2023, 9pm

I’d had my eye on a visit to the Prince Turki bin Abdul Aziz stadium for quite some time. It’s the home of Al-Riyadh who play in the second tier Yelo League. Unfortunately, a lot of their games are scheduled for weekdays and often with a kick-off sufficiently early to avoid the need for floodlights.

This fixture was their final home game of the season and therefore my last chance until August or September. I had been to the ground before, to watch an U17 game on the adjoining practice pitch, but this was my first visit to see a match at their proper stadium.

It had been a good season for Al-Riyadh as they had built on their promotion from the third tier the previous season and clinched a place in the top-tier Saudi Pro-League at the first attempt. It was made a little easier for them by the expansion of the higher division from sixteen to eighteen teams, meaning that fourth place was sufficient to go up. The year had gone less well for visitors Al-Shoalah, who were adrift at the bottom of the table and would be plying their trade in the third tier next season.

Prince Turki bi Abdul Aziz stadium is over in the south-west of Riyadh and twenty-two kilometres from where I’m staying. It’s mainly on roads with a decent flow of traffic though and I got there after a thirty-minute taxi ride and with an hour to spare to kick-off.

The ground is supposed to hold fifteen thousand spectators, although that looked a bit optimistic to me. The capacity had certainly been reduced by the placing of chairs in one of the stands. They looked as if they had been removed from a function room and then covered to protect them from dust.

I was directed to the far end of the covered stand. Apparently, the centre section which had tables and flowers was for VIPs and then the next blocks were reserved for not quite so important people, but still more important than plebs like me. It all seemed a lot of effort for a game with free admission and an eventual crowd of no more than three hundred people. Perhaps they only had two hundred and fifty chairs.

I watched quite a few people arguing with the stewards who appeared to have nightclub bouncer-like powers in arbitrarily deciding if your face fitted or not. I wondered whether putting my black socks over my trainers might have got me in.

Maybe the stewarding was intended to keep out the small group of ultras that had congregated to my left. They provided support throughout the game, although I’d have preferred that they did it without using a loudhailer. The older I get, the less tolerance I have for noise.

At half time I moved across to the stand opposite. It was certainly quieter, but what I gained by distancing myself from the loudhailer guy was offset by the plague of locusts. Did you know that the collective noun for locusts was a plague? Me neither, but somewhat appropriate, I think.

As I entered the uncovered stand one of them kept bashing itself against my head. Only one winner there really. There were hundreds of them on the terracing, some just sat there, others that had congregated near the stairwells a little worse for their encounters with the soles of people’s shoes.

And the match? Well, Al-Riyadh went a goal up mid-way through the first half when a freekick was saved and the rebound nodded in. Al- Shoalah equalized before half time with a shot from inside the box that was perfectly placed just inside the post.

I was expecting Al-Riyadh to prevail in the second half, but I think they might just have been celebrating their promotion a little too thoroughly, if that’s possible over here, and they ran out of steam. Two goals in the last fifteen minutes clinched the win for relegated Al-Shoalah to put a dampener on the promotion party.

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