Emirati Real Madrid fans face tough decision ahead of Club World Cup final
Some have elected to embrace their roots and put aside their allegiance to the European club aside to support the local team while others are sticking to their guns
The showdown between Al Ain Football Club and Real Madrid will be a nail-biter for football fans across the UAE on Saturday but none will be more tense than the Emirati fans that have been forced to choose between their hometown heroes and their favourite European team.
Regardless of who wins the Club World Cup on Saturday night, Emirati fans of Real Madrid say they will celebrate nonetheless.
While some have elected to abandon their allegiance to the European team and embrace their roots by supporting Al Ain, others are sticking to their guns and will be cheering for Real Madrid – despite pressure from family and friends.
“We will cheer for Real Madrid,” says Abdullah Al Housani, president of the Seven Emirates Madridista club – an official fan club for the Spanish team in the UAE.
“But many of us are also Ainawiyeen [Al Ain FC supporters] and we are Emiratis. So if Al Ain scores we will cheer for them and if they win we will be happy and proud of their victory.”
Mr Al Housani, 28, says they were faced with a similar dilemma last year when Al Jazira FC faced Real Madrid during the Club World Cup Semi-final at Zayed Sports City. Real Madrid went on to win 2-1.
“We cheered for them [Al Ain] when they scored and at the same time we were happy when Real Madrid won because it is our team.”
Mr Al Housani and the 600 club members are not casual supporters. They spend a lot of time and energy trying to “shake the audience up” whenever they attend a Real Madrid match.
During the club's last match against Japanese team, Kashima Antlers, they bought and distributed 5,000 flags among fans, in addition to horns and lights.
“This time we will take it easy so we don’t seem provocative to our fellow Emiratis. Instead we will shake up the audience in an objective way; we will lead waves and cheers for both teams,” says Mr Al Housani.
Despite pressure from die-hard Al Ain fans, he says he is not worried about offending anyone.
“We weren’t criticised last year when they played against Al Jazira, and I don’t think we will be this year.”
His club mate Khalil Al Raeesi says he has been goaded by friends and family but has fended them off by telling them he is a “Madridista” through and through.
The 30-year-old government employee will be traveling from Kalba in Fujairah to attend the match in Abu Dhabi on Saturday.
“I will go to the stadium and wear Real Madrid colours and cheer for them,” he says. “This is personal freedom; no one should object.”
Their friend Osama Ibrahim, who has also been a loyal Real Madrid fan since 2000, has elected to defect for the first time in 18 years and support the local team.
“Are you seriously asking me who I will cheer for?” the 30-year-old Emirati adventurer asks.
“Of course I will cheer for my country’s team Al Ain and I expect every Arab to cheer for them because they are not only representing the UAE, they are representing the Arab nation as a whole.”
Though Mr Ibrahim is not confident about Al Ain’s odds, he says they should be supported nonetheless.
“I know there is only a nine per cent chance that they would win, but we should still support them.”
Updated: December 21, 2018 06:48 PM