x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Al Ain fans facing a stadium shutout in Sharjah for key Pro League clash

Threats of 'mayhem' with 10,000 supporters expected to make trip from Al Ain and an away ticket allocation of just 1,200

Al Ain are probably the UAE's best-supported club. Mike Young / The National
Al Ain are probably the UAE's best-supported club. Mike Young / The National

Abu Dhabi // Thousands of Al Ain fans could tomorrow make the 125km trip to Sharjah without knowing if they will be allowed into the stadium.

As many as 10,000 supporters from the Garden City could descend on the Sharjah Stadium for the league match but only 1,200 have tickets.

The Pro League leaders have been allocated 10 per cent of the tickets available for the match at the 12,000 circa capacity stadium, a figure that means several thousand could be disappointed and potentially stranded outside.

A Sharjah spokesman said the club could make more tickets available, but will not decide until hours before tomorrow's 8.30pm kick off.

"We are aware Al Ain has a big fanbase and may consider a bigger allocation on the day of the match," he said.

"But that purely is for the management of the club to decide and there is no issues in providing all the visiting fans a seat at the stadium.

"Tickets for the time being is for the 10 per cent we have allocated to them but should the club management decide to provide them 20 per cent or more, we will make arrangements to have a clear demarcation for the fans from the two clubs."

One Al Ain fan has said that in their desperation to watch their team close in on a first league title in eight years they will sit with the home supporters and suggested a goal celebration could spark "mayhem", a prospect the Pro League Committee and the Football Association will want to avoid after several incidents of crowd disturbance.

Another life-long supporter said it will "create problems" if the large travelling support from Al Ain are refused entry at the away supporters' turnstile yet they see the attendance in the rest of the stadium is way below capacity.

Carlo Nohra, the Al Ain chief executive, confirmed the club requested a bigger allocation of 30 per cent of the total stadium capacity but the request was rejected because it was not made at least 15 days before the date of the match.

"We asked for 30 per cent but not in the regulated time," Nohra said. "The response was negative which is their right as we made the request late."

Al Ain's hesitation in asking for an extra 20 per cent was based on the uncertainty on whether the club's fans' society would take up the allocation. The club would have had to pay for the tickets in advance at a non-refundable cost of Dhs30,000.

Al Ain executives will make one final effort to secure more tickets from their counterparts.

"We will try to address this with Sharjah club," Nohra. "They are usually very accommodating. But this is their right and there is only so much pushing we can do without it being detrimental to our relationship.

"We should be approaching it in a rational manner and I'm not saying that as the CEO of Al Ain. I used to be CEO of the league and I used to tear my hair out when this issue cropped up constantly."

Indeed, Abdullah Hareb, the former chairman of Al Wasl, said this week one the pillars of his campaign to become president of the FA could be based on his drive to increase attendance figures.

"I can't believe in this professional era a paying customer will walk up to the ground to buy a ticket and be asked who you support.

"You should not equate segregation with safety. Ticket sales should be a good source of revenue for clubs and if we have fans willing to buy tickets, then they should be looking at this from an economic perspective and not thinking how having fewer away fans there will give the home team an edge."

Al Ain enjoy a reciprocal arrangement for away tickets with Al Wahda which equates to 3,000 tickets. A similar arrangement is also in place with Al Wasl.

Safee Adel, 26, who has been a fan of Al Ain for 20 years, said: "If those who want to see fans in the stadium, they should open the gates for the Al Ain fans.

"I can understand if we are left out if the stadiums are full, but it is ridiculous to keep us out when the stadiums are empty."

apassela@thenational.ae

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