4 Countries, 3 Stadiums, 2 Matches, 1 Night. (0 Fans)

New Zealand played their first international for nearly two years last night. Two years! Can you imagine? I forget how to do my job if I’m off work for a fortnight.

Naturally they decided to do it against Curacao. In Bahrain.

Curacao is – for those of you who might be unaware – a Dutch Caribbean island, meaning that these three countries are about as far from each other as it’s possible to get. I hope the Curacao FA sprung for decent flights. They also have Netherlands legend Patrick Kluivert as their manager. Spoilers: his management abilities do not match his playing ones.

New Zealand include no domestic-based players in their line-up tonight due to their strict Covid policy, which means we see Burnley’s Chris Wood and Colchester’s Tommy Smith in action (albeit just a cameo from the latter).

Now, both New Zealand and Curacao advertised this match at the Muharraq Stadium (Bahraini media predictably didn’t announce anything in English), so I headed over to the far northeast of Bahrain to find the floodlights off and the ground closed.

I know a few people who’d probably go to more matches in Bahrain, but the constant switching of venues and lack of communication (especially in English, which considering it’s spoken so widely here is just bizarre) makes it a risky venture to head to any match in case there’s been a late change.

The result of poor venue communications

Rather grumpily, I get back into the car and head down to the National Stadium (bottom of the map), arriving around 30 minutes into the game and there is no-one here. Seriously, no-one except for the teams, officials, stewards and the like – not a single fan in the stadium barring me.

My personal match

Now I’m not saying New Zealand vs. Curacao would’ve been a sell-out on its best day, but a modicum of promotion might have avoided the ridiculous scene of players flying halfway across the globe to play to an empty ground with the sounds of a cross-fit class outside echoing around the stadium. The Bahrain FA need to raise their game.

It’s already 1-0 when I arrive, and Chris Wood makes it 2-0 before a young couple arrive just before half time (he from New Zealand, she from Saudi). They’d also been to Muharraq first, meaning 100% of tonight’s crowd had been to the wrong stadium. I entered the attendance on Futbology groundhopping app, but they clearly thought I was joking and deleted it.

Anyway, I’ve got a more important match to go to, so I bid Lee and Amal farewell and head up the road to the Isa Town Stadium (A.K.A. The Khalifa Stadium). Guam and Cambodia are battling it out in the first leg of the AFC Asian Cup qualifying playoff, with the winner advancing to the next round.

Isa Town Stadium is one of my favourites here, as well as the oldest, and I’ll be covering it in more detail in a future blog. It’s not exactly bouncing, but there are perhaps 20 or so people in (once again, there was no communication about this match on any of the many Bahraini football sites I follow – I found it on Sofascore).

Cambodia are by far the superior team. Guam are loud and obnoxious with their keeper being of the “constantly shout and swear at the linesman even when you’re wrong” vintage. Whilst Cambodia play some pretty neat one-touch stuff, Guam take forever to get the ball under control before reliably hoofing it to the opposition. Cambodia take this one 1-0. The second leg is – I think – on Tuesday.

All in all I managed to see about 60 minutes of football, as well as two of the four goals scored tonight (New Zealand won 2-1 in the end). But please BFA – with less than 50% of the population here being Bahraini – please start posting reliable match info in English and you may see a few more people wandering down to games.

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