Everything you need to know about watching the beautiful game in the Gulf’s island kingdom.
For any football traveller, exploring a new country and seeing its teams and stadiums can be an exciting experience; but it can also be frustrating and confusing. Finding out about ticketing, match times, and accessibility can prove tough, especially when information isn’t readily available online.
Bahrain is one of those countries where English-language football info is scarce. Although apps like SofaScore and Futbology can be helpful, they don’t give the full picture. This blog will give you the facts you need.
Good news, there aren’t any. Although some high profile football matches may (very rarely) hit capacity, games are free to enter without tickets. Walk ups are fine, and on the ridiculously rare occasions that grounds fill up, coming an hour early will ensure that you’re not left out. For context, I went to an AFC Cup final with a Bahraini team playing and there were still loads of seats.
As of January 2022, temperature checks may be performed upon entry (especially in the stadiums), and vaccination proof is required via the BeAware app (or whichever one your country uses). I’ll update this if anything changes.
Getting To Matches
Bahrain is a car-dominated country. If you don’t drive, it’s best to use Uber (expensive) or get the number of a private driver (much cheaper if you can find a good one, ask around). Public transport is not really a decent option yet.
Match Times and Venues
Perhaps due to its small size, there are few true “home grounds” in Bahrain. Muharraq, Malkiya and Al Ahli tend to play at their own stadiums (more on that later), but many teams will play matches at various grounds (often the National Stadium), making it confusing for the English speaking football fan to find out where to go. A few times I’ve been caught out when a match has initially been advertised for one stadium, then moved to another.
Generally I’ve found the SofaScore and Forza Football apps useful, but it’s always worth Google translating the posts on the Bahrain FA Instagram, which is very active. The Arabic for Bahrain National Stadium – where many matches take place – is ستاد البحرين الوطني, so keep an eye out for that.
Another thing to remember is that Premier League games are far more likely to be in a bigger stadium, whereas cup and second division games often default to a local club ground, which usually just have one small stand at most.
All the venues I’ve visited have wheelchair accessibility, although don’t expect much from smaller venues. Most venues are attached to a sports club which have accessible bathroom facilities.
No booze obviously, so don’t expect a matchday pint. It’s always a good idea to bring water as some grounds won’t have any available (and early season games are punishingly hot). Sunflower seeds are the snack of choice – many people bring their own or get them from the tables set up outside. The bigger stadiums will sometimes be finicky about bringing your own water in, but that means there’ll be someone selling it at the ground.
At the smaller grounds anything goes. I’ve seen people with home-cooked meals spread out on the seats around them so feel free to bring food.
Bring cash for anything, although the national Benefit Pay system is widely accepted if you’re a local.
It’s really hot and humid until about late October so bring loose-fitting clothing. Women are welcomed at men’s games but not common in my experience, and its recommended to cover shoulders and knees (hair coverings are not needed). Men generally get away with shorts and t-shirts. There’s a dress code guide here if you really want to study up.
Stadiums and Grounds
The biggest three stadiums in Bahrain are Bahrain National Stadium (ستاد البحرين الوطني), Khalifa Sports City Stadium (ملعب مدينة خليفة الرياضية, often referred to as Isa Town Stadium), and Al Muharraq Stadium (ملعب المحرق, also known as Sheikh Ali bin Mohammed Al Khalifa Stadium or ملعب الشيخ علي بن محمد الخليفة). There are the ones with seating on all sides and at least one covered stand. You’ll find something going on here most matchdays
Built in 1982, Bahrain National Stadium hosts a large majority of games in the country, often hosting multiple matches on the same day. It’s the home of the National Team (for now – a new stadium is planned) and one of Bahrain’s most successful clubs, Riffa SC. As well as these, it often hosts East Riffa, Al Hidd, and other clubs.
Capacity is 24,000, but attendance is usually in the tens or low hundreds for league games. Parking is round the back of the stadium (except for VIPs) so it’s best to enter from the north on 16th December Avenue. There are no concessions for food or drink inside (they exist, but I’ve not seen them open yet), but there’s usually a table set up outside with water and snacks – bring cash for these (unless you have a local Benefit Pay account).
Isa Town Stadium is the oldest one in the country and has seen visits from teams such as Brazil and England since its opening in 1968. Capacity is around 15,000 and it’s best to bring your own snacks. Malkiya are based here and Al Najma tend to play here a lot, especially in the league. Google Maps is reliable for getting to the ground, taking you straight into the car park.
If you’re looking for atmosphere (and after a few games in the National Stadium you will be), Al Muharraq is your best bet. Muharraq (the most successful team in Bahraini history) call this home, and their fans are a passionate lot. There’s plenty of parking at the stadium, which is right next to the airport if you’re just stopping by on the way to somewhere else. They always have a few snack tables set up outside.
Once you leave the big 3 stadiums things get a little more basic. Parking is often just on a vacant lot and concessions are hit and miss. Most of these venues will be attached to a sports club and some will have food vans, but don’t count on it. Bring snacks and – especially in the warmer months – water (I can’t emphasise this part enough!).
Unfortunately we’re not quite at the stage that women’s football doesn’t need its own category here as it’s quite divorced from the men’s leagues. It’s growing fast, but the Women’s League still comes under the umbrella of the Youth Development League at the moment (I’ve heard whispers that this might be changing). Most matches take place on the pitches outside the National Stadium and there’s a really supportive community growing up around them. You can find match listings here.
I’m Ravens FC all the way. #tealarmy
Bahrain’s a pretty relaxed place, so don’t stress about being on time for matches, get chatting to the nearest old fella (English is widely spoken and people love to chat) and enjoy the leisurely pace. And don’t forget to tag me in (#substoryblog) if you go!