x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Nothing compares to winning the Pro League for Al Ain fans

The long wait for the cherished league crown is over after eight years and has the supporters asking for more.

Al Ain fans celebrated all throughout the final league match in the stands.
Al Ain fans celebrated all throughout the final league match in the stands.

The vibrant Al Ain supporters arrived at the 12,000 capacity Tahnoun bin Mohammed Stadium two hours before kick off, filling every available space in a sea of white and purple.

They read aloud patriotic poetry by Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, the UAE President and the Ruler of Abu Dhabi. Many were holding the portrait of the country's leader. The club distributed CDs of the recitations.

The chants and non-stop drumbeat were a permanent fixture, interspersed with Al Ain flags being waved well before the start of the game.

The atmosphere was one of widespread celebration, and got noticeably more boisterous as Cosmin Olaroiu's side were officially crowned Pro League champions, rounding off their season in emphatic style with a 4-0 win over Ajman.

Khamis Salem, 32, an Al Ain fan employed at a government department, had arrived three hours and occupied a prominent seat in the main grandstand before his club heroes entertained, or rather demolished, their opponents.

"We have been waiting for this moment for eight years," the Emirati said. "We had a golden period when we won the league five times from 1998 to 2004, the President's Cup four times from 1998 to 2006, the Asian Champions League in 2003.

"Then suddenly everything fell flat. We won a fifth President's Cup in 2009 again, but nothing can be compared with the league. The league is the most sought-after prize by any club, here or anywhere in the world."

Saeed Mohammed, 23, was among the throng of jubilant fans who filled the stadium. He has been attending Al Ain's matches since he was nine.

"This atmosphere is terrific," he said. "It is a nice feeling because we know we are already the champions. It is celebration time when we officially receive the shield.

"When Al Ain won the league the last time [2003/04], I was too young and couldn't soak in the atmosphere. I wish there will be more victory celebrations like this in the coming years."

One of the special guests in attendance was Abedi Pele, the former Ghana captain and African legend who played for Al Ain from 1998 to 2000.

"Al Ain is one of the top teams in Asia and I am glad I had a spell with Al Ain, and it is wonderful feeling to arrive home," he said in a television interview as he arrived.

"The supporters are the biggest asset of the club and even during my time they were passionate and came for all the matches ... All these fans make Al Ain a great club not only in the country but in Asia."

The cheers that greeted the home team when they ran out for their pre-match warm-up resonated around the ground, and almost seemed to elevate the stadium from its very foundations.

It would prove good training for the fans' vocal chords, as the team looked determined to put on the kind of performance worthy of their coronation as UAE champions for a 10th time.

On 32 minutes, the moment Al Ain fans had waited not-so-very-patiently for arrived as Ignacio Scocco blasted home from close range to send the attendees into raptures.

The crowd leapt from their seats in unison, the Argentine's strike triggering a Mexican wave.

One could sense from the next minute of the match that these celebrations would go on well into the night.

Asamoah Gyan, the totem of this team as the league's highest scorer, scored twice in the second half to take his season's goals tally to 22. Both were set-up by Omar Abdulrahman, who himself got in on the act, scoring the third goal in the 4-0 drubbing.

While a giant UAE flag with Sheikh Khalifa's picture on it unfolded on the far side of the grandstand, a young, overenthusiastic fan invaded the pitch to briefly stop the action. He was led away by stadium security.

With the small formality of the match out of the way, Sheikh Hazza bin Zayed, the chairman of the Football Association, rewarded Olaroiu, the players and club officials with medals as well as the league shield.

As it was hoisted high into the air to the thunderous cheers of the crowd, the stadium lights went off as a spectacular laser show and fireworks display lit up the skies, just as Al Ain has lit up the hearts of their adoring fans.

apassela@thenational.ae