Bahrain’s Muharraq head to the AFC Cup Final

While Newcastle can now scour the world for the finest talent thanks to a Saudi takeover, Saudi’s neighbours in Kuwait and Bahrain have to set their sights a wee bit lower.

As the Geordies’ sausage-roll encrusted faces look longingly towards the Mbappes and Haalands of the footballing world (or – more realistically – the Özils and Tarkowskis), Kuwait City can boast not only one-time Boro star Mikel John Obi, but also former Dundee United defender Ryan McGowan. Truly an embarrassment of riches.

Mikel John Obi (source: Sho Pen Online)
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Mikel John Obi Heads to Bahrain for AFC Cup Showdown

The former Boro (and Chelsea and Nigeria) star captains Kuwait City against Muharraq on Wednesday.

Photo: Evening Gazette

In an influx of star power not seen since pop pervert Michael Jackson came to live here, Bahrain has seen some big footballing names visit the island over the last week.

We’ve seen Dutch legend Patrick Kluivert managing Curacao, former AC Milan & Japan midfielder Keisuke Honda managing Cambodia and – perhaps less glamorously – a goalscoring turn from Burnley’s Chris Wood in New Zealand’s first game for two years.

And the slightly-past-their-prime stars keep coming on Wednesday, as former Boro favourite Mikel John Obi (not John Obi Mikel) captains Kuwait City against Muharraq in the AFC Cup Regional Final.

Fully expecting Phil Whelan to turn up for Al Najma next week at this rate. Still no Alexander Hleb though…

Groundhopping in Bahrain #5 – Al Najma Stadium (Bahrain/Saudi Women’s Tournament)

Last year, as part of its ongoing reforms, Saudi Arabia launched its women’s football league, something that wasn’t only a surprise to a westerner like myself, but to many locals. It’s been clear for a while that change was coming to the KSA, but the sheer pace of it has taken many folks by surprise. I left a teaching job in Saudi just five years ago in 2016, but just five years later the country is unrecognisable in some respects, with women now able to drive, travel freely and – pertinent to today’s blog – play sports competitively.

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Groundhopping in Bahrain #4 – Muharraq Stadium (Muharraq vs. Al Ahed – AFC Cup)

With my first forays into Bahraini football finding nought but low attendances, single-stand grounds and a distinct lack of visible fan culture, I was looking forward to visiting Muharraq, Bahrain’s footballing powerhouse and by far their most supported club.

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Groundhopping in Bahrain #3 – Riffa Sports Club (Al Khaldiya vs. Isa Town)

Alexander Hleb is not here. The ex-Arsenal Belorussian has apparently signed for the home team but after a social media unveiling of sorts a few months back, it’s been radio silence. I’m getting the impression that he was just “signed” to come over for a meet and greet, but it’s hard to tell from the posts on Al Khaldiya’s Instagram. Either way, I’m getting Asprilla at Darlington vibes from this one.

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Groundhopping in Bahrain #2 – National Stadium (Bahrain vs. Haiti)

Tonight is my first visit to Bahrain’s National Stadium in Riffa, and I’m here to catch the national team against CONCACAF’s Haiti in the first game of a three-way friendly tournament (Jordan make up the ménage, visiting the island next week).

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Groundhopping in Bahrain #1 – Hamad Town (Al Ittifaq vs. Tadamun Buri)

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.

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Two Seas, 8 Stadiums: Groundhopping in Bahrain

Welcome to a shift in tone for Sub Story. Budapest’s wonderful old stadiums are no more, my Vasas season card sits idle in my wallet, and I’ve said goodbye to my erstwhile matchday companions Kev and Mike. Instead we (metaphorically) and I (literally) move to Bahrain – a name which means Two Seas. The country is a small island in the Gulf, located between Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

I’ve just moved back here, and am primed to do some more groundhopping, but unfortunately information in English on Bahraini club football is thin on the ground – hopefully I’ll be able to learn and share a few things on my travels so that visiting fans can step into the world of Bahraini football more easily. Let’s take a look at what’s in store.

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Last Match in Budapest (Vasas vs. Soroksár)

So it looks like this is my last football match in Budapest. I’m making the move back to my adopted home of Bahrain next month; the second lockdown in Hungary is upon us; and all games are going back behind closed doors. There was an inevitability about this announcement, despite Vasas taking all the precautions they could to stop the spread of Covid at their matches it was never going to be enough with the spike in numbers here.

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