It’s been flooded in Bahrain for the last week, with all the associated viral videos of kids canoeing down waterlogged streets and piggybacked old folks. Due to the rain and thunder, one of the stray outdoor cats we look after (we’ve already got two indoor rescues) went missing for a few days but thankfully turned up yesterday, nonchalantly digging up the neighbours’ plants to take a shit.
The Christmas period abroad always makes me search for something homey from the North East of England, so I’ve been listening to Bob Mortimer’s excellent autobiography on audiobook. I had it on during my drive over to the east of Bahrain for tonight’s double header of matches. It’s been gratifying for Boro folk to see Bob step out of Vic Reeves’ shadow and become a bona fide “national treasure” all of his own. His descriptions of hanging out around Acklam shops buying cider and chips are pretty much a perfect venn-diagram circle of my childhood, giving me another one of those little nostalgia nudges.
I went to the same college as Bob (a few decades or so after) and had the same politics teacher, Bill Whittingham (not Whittlingham as Bob invents in the below video). Bill was one of the nicest people I ever met, and used to regale us with stories of Bob’s antics of hiding Dictaphones in cupboards to annoy him), something that later cropped up on Would I Lie To You?
Suitably imbued with the past, I drove into Muharraq Stadium for the first match of the night. Big spending Khalidiya against the altogether more modest Al Hala. I like heading over the bridge to Muharraq island – the stadium feels like the real football place in Bahrain. It’s never very full, but the drummers are always out (something I’m glad Boro have adopted over the years) and someone’s always playing one of those wonderful snake-charmerish style trumpets that I can never remember the name of. Also, Bahraini kids must get clapping lessons at school because they’re much better at it than British ones.
Khalidiya are definitely on a charm offensive. They’re the newest team in Bahrain and playing catch-up in terms of support. Therefore, they’ve decided that party bags are the way forwards and have thoughtfully included some Lotus biscuits within. They also had a raffle which I missed out on winning by two numbers. Their main claim to fame is that they didn’t quite sign Alexander Hleb.
Al Hala – I’m “reliably informed” by my erstwhile Hungarian football companion Mike – are known as The Orange Castle, after the Bu Maher Fort on the south of the island, which was formerly used for quarantining arrivals in Bahrain. They have a book in their badge, which I’m going to take as a firm stance against football’s perceived anti-intellectualism.
The game itself is dominated by Khalidiya, who eventually win 2-0, sealing the deal with an injury time second. I notice as I check my Futbology app that there are two other groundhoppers present who’ve visited a whopping 759 grounds between them (I’m currently on a rather measly 20).
I switch ends for the second match: East Riffa vs. Al-Najma, heading over to the windblown East Stand. I’m one of about 4 people there and – my blood thinned by a hot summer – I’m feeling the rare cold winds a bit too much to hang around for the full 90. I make it to half time (1-1), managing to miss three second half goals, including a 91st minute winner from Riffa.
I start a new teaching job in Saudi soon, so – although I’ll still be living in Bahrain – I’ll be heading to some games there too. I don’t miss the border bridge, but it’ll give me more time for audiobooks.