x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Olympics: The luxury of watching the UAE at Wembley Stadium

Paul Oberjuerge joined fans from the UAE and beyond to watch the Emirates' defeat by Great Britain from the stadium's 'posh seats'.

A near-full Wembley Stadium saw the UAE lose 3-1 to Great Britain on Sunday night. Stu Forster / Getty Images
A near-full Wembley Stadium saw the UAE lose 3-1 to Great Britain on Sunday night. Stu Forster / Getty Images

The first firm clue that you are entering a special zone of Olympic entitlement comes from the jacketed usher, who is even more polite and deferential than the London 2012 Games army of pink and purple clad volunteers. He seems happily interested in your request for directions to "Block 4015" at Wembley Stadium.

"You go up," he said with a professional smile, gesturing towards the first set of escalators just inside the Bobby Moore Entrance, "and you keep going up until you cannot go up any further."

"On top of the world" is one way to describe watching Olympic football at Wembley while in possession of a ticket to one of the stadium's 20-seat corporate, or "luxury", boxes.

The perch along the upper rim of the stadium is a bit distant from the action on the pitch below, but the expectations are that, as a patron of the corporate box, you are more interested in being removed from the jostling masses, networking a bit with your well-heeled peers, fine dining, the drinks of your choice, being able to move around your own suite and use a toilet without queuing with hundreds of other fans.

"It's quite nice, no question," said Murtaza Askari, 38, a London-born banker who lives and works in Dubai and has extensive experience with corporate boxes. "There's no downside to it. You have a great view of the action. If you are with colleagues you can all sit together and have a chat, and eat and drink."

Askari and his four companions on Sunday night work in the banking sector in the UAE, and the tickets to the box came available from Al Hilal Bank, the Abu Dhabi-based financial institution that, for this game, controlled most of the 20 seats in Block 4015.

It is not known how much the bank spent for the tickets, but an outsider paid Dh3,010 to an agency in Dubai, counting the credit card charge, to purchase one seat in Block 4015. (And if ever you worry ceaselessly about misplacing a ticket to an event, it is one which cost Dh3,010.)

In practice, money does not change hands, between the holder of seats and those who use them. Instead, it is a form of patronage, or networking, a way of reminding those in the box of the ties of perks, commerce and interpersonal relationships that help organisations interact.

The atmosphere is aided by the enclosure located behind the two rows of cushioned stadium seats, just inside the sliding doors.

The space is bigger than many Paris restaurants, and tables set with silver and crystal are arranged, in this case, for two groups of 10.

The seats outside are in the elements, but the sitting and dining area inside is heated and has its own flat-screen television. Closing the sliding doors also limits the outside noise, to aid in conversation, and give the room a dark, clubby feel.

The extensive menu is posted on the wall, and on this night included: "hot smoked salmon tart, dressed summer leaves and cucumber" as well as "New Forest mushroom frittata with baby pousse and oak leaf salad, dressed with a white truffle dressing" and "roasted squash with green olives and roasted red onions".

A manager who works at Wembley said the menu and the drinks made available for each corporate box, are chosen by a designated "host" for each box. They are then served by three particularly solicitous waiters dedicated to each individual enclosure.

For a football double-header beginning at 5pm, hors d'ouevres were available before the match and "handcrafted mini pies" were served between games.

Dinner was served at half time of the second match, pitting the UAE and Team Great Britain, which came late enough for those observing Ramadan to be able to eat.

Everyone in the box had connections to the UAE. Not all were fasting, but each was hoping the Emiratis would succeed against Team GB. Two men draped a UAE flag over the railing.

Dessert was "cassis mousse with lemon cream" and the post-match delectables were "scones filled with jam and clotted cream".

Neil Griffiths, 34, from Birmingham, was in another box and said it was his first chance to see how the other one per cent live.

"It's great," he said. "A person definitely could become used to this. I'm a Birmingham City fan, and we have nothing like this at our grounds. It's posh."

The match is experienced quite differently in a corporate box than it is in the stands below, but the hand wringing over empty seats at the London Games echoed high up in Block 4015, where seven of the 20 seats went unoccupied on Sunday night, although the absences would not have turned up on anyone's television screen.

Perhaps inevitably, those interested in UAE sport found themselves standing and shouting in the second half, as the Emiratis pulled into a 1-1 draw with the host team. The match concluded 3-1, with the UAE losing despite a strong effort.

Given all the potential distractions of food and drink, and a Formula One race being televised in the dining area inside, everyone in Block 4015 spent the second half outside, watching the game.

"This is my first time at Wembley," said Nina Iqbal, one of the UAE bankers, "and I enjoyed being in the box. But I think I enjoyed the game more."

poberjuerge@thenational.ae

twitter Follow us @SprtNationalUAE and Paul Oberjuerge @pauloberjuerge