x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Fans honour memory of football star Theyab Awana

Spectators wear Theyab Awana t-shirts during the Etisalat Cup match between the late striker's club Baniyas and Al Nasr as police, meanwhile, announce new penalties for texting while driving.

Spectators wore Theyab Awana t-shirts during the Etisalat Cup match between the late striker's club Baniyas and Al Nasr in Abu Dhabi.
Spectators wore Theyab Awana t-shirts during the Etisalat Cup match between the late striker's club Baniyas and Al Nasr in Abu Dhabi.

ABU DHABI // The simple message on the banner that hung inside Al Nahyan Stadium last night was intended to speak for the entire UAE football family.

"Theyab Awana will live in our hearts forever," said the sign that greeted the Baniyas players as they took to the field for the first time since their teammate died in a car crash last Sunday night.

The face of Awana, 21, was everywhere at the Abu Dhabi home of Al Wahda, the venue of last night's Etisalat Cup match for Baniyas against Al Nasr.

Players, directors, officials and supporters from both teams wore specially printed T-shirts that bore the smiling face of Awana, who was known across the country because of his famous back-heel penalty against Lebanon in July, which became a YouTube sensation.

His image was also shown on Al Wahda's big screen with a message of condolence from last night's hosts.

Both sets of players, plus the referee Adel Al Naqib and his two assistants, wore the T-shirts as they walked out side by side to a warm round of applause from the crowd.

The Baniyas players came together in a huddle before kick-off and their professional lives returned to some normality at the end of a traumatic week.

"Theyab was my favourite player and I will never forget how well he played last season," said Ahmed Al Rothani, 12, of Abu Dhabi, who attended the game with his father, Mohammed.

"He was a really exciting player who reminded me of Cristiano Ronaldo because he always looked to beat defenders and score goals.

"I hope Baniyas win the league now in his memory and I think they will do it."

The game was moved ahead 24 hours and taken away from Baniyas's own stadium because the club felt it would have been too painful to play there so soon after the tragedy.

Khalid Al Hameli, a student from Abu Dhabi, attended his first football game last night, so he could pay his respects to a national hero.

"I don't really like football but when Awana scored his famous penalty, people from all over the world knew of the UAE," said Mr Al Hameli, 20. "For this one act, he will never be forgotten. I felt I had to come to this match so I could pay tribute to Awana."

After the player's death, Sheikh Saif bin Zayed, Minister of Interior and Deputy Prime Minister, praised a social campaign that spreads awareness against using mobile phones while driving.

Posting on Facebook and Twitter, the minister said: "I would like to extend a special thank you to all the young and inspiring individuals living within the United Arab Emirates who showed their commitment to the traffic regulations.

"It is with your initiative and participation that our roads become a safer place."

The message was posted on Abu Dhabi Police's accounts.

Meanwhile, the police announced they will launch a traffic campaign that targets the risks of using mobile phones while driving.

"The penalty will only fall on a minority group who do not respond to the language of advice and guidance," said Brig Gen Hussein Al Harethi, the director of Abu Dhabi traffic police.

Traffic police and patrols will stop those who do not follow the rules and will fine them Dh1,000 based on Article 8 of the traffic law, which penalises those who drive in a way that imposes danger on the public. The fine will be accompanied by 12 black points and offenders' cars will be confiscated for 30 days. Article 135 penalises those who use hand-held phones while driving with a fine of Dh200 and four black points.

ncameron@thenational.ae

* With additional reporting by Haneen Dajani