x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

The pain that goes with the passion of Al Wahda's cheerleader

If you thought backing a team was a simple affair, look at the effort Al Mansouri puts into garnering vocal support.

Even Al Wahda coach Josef Hickersberger is a fan of Al Mansouri's humour.
Even Al Wahda coach Josef Hickersberger is a fan of Al Mansouri's humour.

Al Wahda may not be able to match Al Ain on the pitch at the moment, but in the stands they have a presence to equal the fanatical followers of the Garden City club.

The fan with the booming tenor singing voice you are likely to hear above all others tonight when Wahda visit Al Jazira's Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium, is known as "Falooda" among the football fraternity in the country. As Wahda's cheerleader, Fahed Al Mansouri enjoys the same celebrity status as many of the top-flight players.

Indeed, when he was asked to head the cheer squad at the Al Nahyan Stadium he said "it was like being selected for the club's first team".

The 22 year old is a big hit among the fans, whether from his own side or the rival camps.

But while he is known for his friendly, humorous approach to keeping the crowd's spirits high, his work as a cheerleader is not as breezy as it looks.

He puts in a lot of hard work before a big game, similar to the men on the pitch.

"I have a fear that I may lose my voice for the big occasions," Al Mansouri said.

I start preparing a week ahead and spend the last day or two in isolation. This is to get away from the distractions and preserve my voice.

Salem Al Jaberi, a close friend of Al Mansouri who acted as translator, explained more about his preparations. "He has too many fans and friends, and he just cannot stay without talking to them.

"He even avoids talking to me despite me hanging around with him almost every day. I know it is very hard for him to stay without talking to anyone. Sometimes I feel it is like a punishment for him.

"What I would like to point out to all his fans is that it takes a lot of preparation and some sacrifice in doing what he does. And he does all this for the love of his club."

Al Mansouri recalled his first visit to a stadium to watch a game, in 1999. It was Wahda versus Al Wasl which the Abu Dhabi side won, resulting in him becoming an ardent supporter.

"I watched the games on TV and after my first visit to the stadium I got hooked. I use to travel with a group of friends and enjoyed sitting close to the cheering supporters."

Even during his school days, Al Mansouri had the talent to rouse the crowd with his songs. He loved to sing and whenever they had free time at school, his friends would summon him for a singsong.

He was the cheerleader for his school, Abdul Qader Al Jazaeri, in Shahama, during school tournaments. Once he became a Wahda fan, he got involved with the cheer squad and gradually formed his own cheer group with his friends.

"I loved to sing and enjoyed the company of my friends during my time at school," he said. "I just enjoy singing.

"We were a group of friends who supported the club. We did things that no one else was doing and gradually the Wahda supporters started to appreciate what we did. We played some instruments and started to sing.

"We had special ways to entertain the crowd. All the Wahda fans and supporters enjoyed our way of cheering the team and after some time an official from the club approached me and asked me if I would head the cheer squad.

"I was quite surprised but gladly agreed. For me, it was like being selected for the club's first team."

Al Mansouri has not thought of taking up a full-time job but wants to eventually find a position or join the family business.

"I haven't given much thought to being employed full time as I enjoy what I do now. Maybe I should start looking for a job or start my own business at some stage in my life, but right now, I want to continue as the cheerleader for the club."

He has been the cheerleader for the club for more than three years and receives an allowance from the club but says it is only as a token of appreciation.

He conceded that his role at stadiums has made him somewhat famous; he often is recognised, and has received numerous invites to perform at private parties and marriages.

"People greet me wherever I go and they even stop me for a chat or for a photo, like as I am a celebrity," he said. "Sometimes people stop me to listen to some songs. Even if I happen to be around a function I am dragged on to the stage."

Josef Hickersberger, the Wahda coach, is a fan of Al Mansouri. "He is giving us a lot of support and this is important for the players; it lifts their spirits. I know him well and I like him. He is a funny guy. He has a good sense of humour."

His friends find they must share him with the public. "It is annoying sometimes because we don't get time of our own," Al Jaberi said. "He is either stopped for a chat or someone gatecrashes on our get-together. We spend a lot of time at coffee shops and people from the other tables will start imitating Fahed.

"I think he is a big influence on the fans, and I know for sure he tries his best to bring in the crowds to the stadiums. I am an Al Ahli fan but I have now been to more Wahda games than my own club since I relocated in Abu Dhabi a year ago."

Al Mansouri said it is too early for him to consider a career as a singer. "I like the idea but I haven't really given any thought of becoming a full-time singer," he said. "I want to take one step at a time."

Some of the songs are his own creation, and some are common themes used all over the world but with the name of the club inserted into the lyrics.

"We need to sing something that everyone knows, so they can join in the chorus," he said.

Al Mansouri also includes Tagalog, African and English in his repertoire, as well as Arabic rhythms.

"I love all sports and go whenever the national team is playing, whether it is women's football, ice hockey or any other sport.

"Sometimes I volunteer to go myself and cheer the teams and sometime I get an invite."

He likes to spend his free time in coffee shops where football fans gather to talk and discuss the games. He also likes to spend time at the club watching the players.

"I have no issues with rival fans. They all know me and we make fun of each other. It is like the players on the pitch. Once the game has ended, the rivalry stops and we are all friends."

 

apassela@thenational.ae

 

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