The first place on my Bahraini groundhopping tour is Hamad Town Stadium, home of – I think – both of today’s teams. It’s often hard to work out who plays where in Bahrain because a lot of the games default to the National Stadium. I’m not sure why, but I’ll no doubt find out. It can’t be for logistical reasons as you can travel between the two furthest grounds in 25 minutes.
It’s an easy one to miss, and I had to swing round the back of the compound to find the entrance. Going in, it’s a pretty spartan ground: one solitary stand in a walled off area near a busy roundabout. The crowd is equally sparse to begin with but filter in steadily throughout the game. A local Ittifaq fan tells me that he’s not expecting much from his team this season. “They normally get beaten 4-0, but when these two play each other it’s like Barcelona vs. Real Madrid”. I’m frankly quite skeptical about this last part.
Ten minutes in and it’s clear that this about as far from El Clásico as Bahrain is from Billingham, but it’s an entertaining game nonetheless. Tadamun hit the post after 3 minutes, before Ittifaq’s number 45 hits the most ambitious volley I’ve ever seen (40 yards through about 12 players – it goes well wide).
Soon after, Ittifaq’s big number 27 (called Issam, according to my matchday companion) wins a penalty. Now it’s goalkeeper Mario Gerges’s big chance.
Gerges has had a strange old footballing journey. The Canadian-Egyptian Quebecer’s goalkeeping odyssey has taken him from Vancouver Whitecaps to the fantastically-named Dynamo de Québec, and now he’s in Bahrain playing for Al Ittifaq in the first round of the King’s Cup.
I do love a keeper on penalties. Chilavert, Ceni, Higuita, and now Gerges. The Canadian sneaks it in off the post to put the nominal away side ahead.
It’s a humid night and by half-time I’m dying. No shops nearby and no concessions (and obviously no beer). I really need to remember a matchday picnic in future. Everyone around me seems well-versed in this. A rookie mistake.
The second half sees some crunching tackles from both sides (and some increasingly infuriated managers), but Ittifaq remain in complete control. Their number 19 (Jumai) slots in a second in the 57th minute to make it 2-0 and seal his team’s progress.
Al Ittifaq 2-0 Tadamun Buri
I imagine this will be the smallest of the grounds I have planned (it’s not even on my Futbology groundhopping app), and hopefully the hottest (the next league games are in mid-September) but it’s nice to be back watching live football after nearly 10 months of enforced absence.
Next up should be the National Stadium, as Bahrain have a friendly against Haiti. The national team have been punching way above their weight lately, and this will almost certainly be my only chance to watch the visitors, so an intriguing fixture in prospect.
Hamad Town Stadium
Wheelchair Accessible: Yes