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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 December 2018

Sharjah Wanderers at 40: Ex-players jetting for Friday's festivities in for a 'very pleasant surprise'

Rob Gough has seen plenty of changes in his 38-year association with the club, including the move from sand pitches to grass fields

Sharjah Wanderers celebrate victory against the Jebel Ali Dragons II in the final of the UAE Conference at the Sharjah Wanderers Sports Club on 25 March, 2016. Navin Khianey for The National
Sharjah Wanderers celebrate victory against the Jebel Ali Dragons II in the final of the UAE Conference at the Sharjah Wanderers Sports Club on 25 March, 2016. Navin Khianey for The National

A former player who has been part of Sharjah Wanderers for all but two of its 40 years is predicting the club’s anniversary celebrations could get emotional this weekend.

Ex-Wanderers members are jetting in from various points of the globe for Friday’s festivities, which will include memorials to past players who have recently died.

Some of those returning will be put up by Rob Gough, who has been with the club since he moved to UAE in 1979 to work on the construction of Al Ghurair Centre in Dubai.

“A lot of the expats were based in Sharjah back then, because all the restaurants and hotels were based there as opposed to Dubai,” Gough, now 58, said.

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Originally from Wales, Gough joined the rugby club on arrival in Sharjah, playing anywhere along the backline.

“Wherever a hole needed plugging, I tended to fit in, because it was always a struggle to get 15 players to the right location at the right time,” he said.

“It was always a case of having 12 or 13, and then having to round up a couple extra from the clubhouse, but we always just about managed it.

“It was the centre of expat life back then. Lots of people met their wives there, and their children are now playing or members of the Wanderers.”

Sharjah Wanderers players training ahead of a match in 1985. Courtesy Rob Gough
Sharjah Wanderers players training ahead of a match in 1985. Courtesy Rob Gough

Gough himself first met his wife at the Wanderers, and his two daughters and son have also since represented the club.

He believes the dozen or so former players who are returning to Sharjah will be shocked by some of the changes to the club – not least the fact the now play on grass playing fields, rather than sand.

“Over the years, it has had its ebbs and flows, going with the economy, and people moving in and out,” he said.

“It hasn’t necessarily ever been a case of ‘Will it survive?’ but in what format, and it is absolutely thriving at the moment.

“There are new facilities, memberships are up, they are making money, and it is fantastic. It is great to see the club with so many sports teams playing.

“In the past four or five years it has been absolutely booming. Kids are coming through at football and rugby. On its 40th anniversary, it is in rude health.

“The people who are flying in who have not been here since the 1980s are going to find it a very pleasant surprise – including the fact we now play on grass pitches.”