x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

'We want Beckham' rings out at Al Nasr club

Hundreds flock to the Al Nasr club as David Beckham and his AC Milan teammates trained for their Dubai Football Challenge match.

David Beckham talks to the media after a practice session at the Al Nasr Club in Dubai yesterday.
David Beckham talks to the media after a practice session at the Al Nasr Club in Dubai yesterday.

DUBAI // It was more like a scene from a film premiere than a football training session. Excited fans chanted, "We want Beckham", as they waited behind barriers to catch a glimpse of the famous player emerging from training in Dubai. Hundreds flocked to the Al Nasr club last night as David Beckham and his AC Milan teammates trained for their Dubai Football Challenge match against Hamburg tonight. Fans greeted the players enthusiastically as they walked into the ground, chanting names and falling over each other to shake the stars' hands and get their shirts signed. Manna Salem al Quatari, a Dubai fan dressed in an AC Milan shirt and scarf, had waited at the ground for hours and said meeting the players was a dream come true. He said: "I have come with my friends to get signatures from the players. It is great for Dubai-based fans to get the chance to see the players we idolise from television. My hero is Ronaldinho but I know that many fans here are interested in David Beckham. Another fan, Sami Zuraki, was delighted that the players were willing to speak to fans and sign autographs. "I got autographs from Ronaldinho and David Beckham. You wait for these moments all your life and I'm so pleased they recognised the devotion of the fans here. We have a Dubai-based AC Milan fan club with thousands of members. I'm sure this visit will see the group grow even stronger." Some people were more concerned with making money than meeting the players, Mr Zuraki said. "Many of these people are not fans. They are getting shirts signed so they can sell them on for a profit. In a few days you will see signed shirts selling on marketplace websites for a minimum of Dh1,000. And if they are signed by Beckham, they would be able to name their price." Beckham's entrance was met with the loudest cheer of the evening as he acknowledged fans and stopped to sign autographs. He seemed surprised by the passionate support as he entered the tunnel with a grin and a wave to fans who had made it into the VIP area. Ronaldinho, the enigmatic Brazilian, arrived in dark glasses despite an overcast sky. Fans watched the training session intently and tackles, shots and saves were greeted with loud cheers. Several robust challenges in a competitive training session made fans and coaches flinch, anxious about players being injured. The session was the third public training event at the Al Nasr ground. So far 16,000 tickets have been sold for this evening's match at the Sevens stadium, leaving it half-full compared to the sell-out crowds at the Dubai Sevens tournament. It is not clear how much access fans will be granted to players at the match but many fans have been able to meet them at promotional events. Whatever the result tonight, AC Milan's tour has been a tremendous commercial success for the Italian club. Demand for club merchandise has outstripped supply. Fans across the world will be able to see tonight's match live in 110 countries, a significant increase on last year, perhaps offering a further indication that Beckham's presence has raised the profile of the game. tbrooks@thenational.ae