x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

The London football fan with an away goal

She came to the UAE on an adventure when she was 21, and lived with an Emirati family. Two years later Lauren Doble is immersed in Emirati culture, has found her identity and never wants to leave, writes Melanie Swan

Hessa bint London as her Emirati friends’ nickname for Lauren Doble, head of English media and communications for the Arabian Gulf League. Silvia Razgova / The National
Hessa bint London as her Emirati friends’ nickname for Lauren Doble, head of English media and communications for the Arabian Gulf League. Silvia Razgova / The National

DUBAI // Watching football from the sidelines dressed in a traditional abaya, Lauren Doble is not your average fan of the beautiful game.

In the two years the Londoner has lived and worked in the UAE, she has come to embrace Emirati society in a way few expatriates get to experience - she has even picked up the nickname Hessa Bint London along the way.

The 23-year-old who works as head of English media and communications for the UAE Arabian Gulf League is a lifelong football fan and grew up supporting Fulham FC.

“Football was always my passion. Everyone there was very accepting of me and I wasn’t fussed by it [the male environment]. Even in England it was a bit strange to see a girl,” said Ms Doble.

“We have quite a lot of girls involved now, both local and expat. We’re trying to reach the expat community who love football and don’t realise there’s a professional league and that on each team there are four international players.”

Ms Doble’s first experience of the UAE came while working at Harrods after leaving school. Emiratis made up the bulk of her customers and she soon made friends with sisters Reem and Hind Bel Jafl, whose abaya designs were sold in the famous London department store.

“I came across a lot of Emiratis,” said Ms Doble who was invited to holiday in the Emirates with the sisters before finally deciding to move here to work in PR.

“I was 21 and I decided, why not, it’s an adventure. All my friends were still at university so if it didn’t work out I knew I could just come back. I wanted a change and to immerse myself in the culture. I had an advantage that when I came that I was friends with Emiratis.

“My lifestyle fits as I am quite conservative. It’s such a nice feeling to really be part of something. In London it can be a bit lonely but here that’s never the case. It’s a very warm and family oriented community.”

Ms Doble lived with the Bel Jafl sisters in their family home, which helped to make the move to a new country easier.

“It helped me get really immersed in the culture. Living in London with just my mum was very different to what I found when I came here. They had a huge house, a huge family and there were so many different age ranges and it was something very different and special for me. I loved being surrounded by people and life.”

Ms Doble said she is taking her time to learn more about Islam before she decides whether or not to convert. “My mum knows I don’t plan on coming back [to the UK] and I see my long term future here. Being around Emiratis all the time I learn things every day, the Emirati ways.

“People are always very kind and explain things and nobody has ever forced it down my throat. Now I’m here, so many things about my life in London just started to make sense. I never ate pork, I never drank alcohol and now I’m here, it just makes sense. It’s like I found my identity here.

“It [converting] is a big decision and you have to fully understand what you’re getting into. You can’t just like it on the surface. I have to be able to explain it in a way where people can understand fully.”

Having so many Emirati friends, sharing their traditions and their home has given Ms Doble experiences usually not reserved for expats.

“I think expats can be shy to talk to Emiratis and vice versa, but I’d love to see more people interact with Emiratis to get the experiences I’ve had.”