Heading to the middle of the desert, in search of Lucas Neill

Andrew Blake Roar Rookie

By , Andrew Blake is a Roar Rookie

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    After a holiday in Iran in 2012, my wife had a conference in Dubai, leaving me with three days on my own that I decided to fill by watching some football.

    At the time, Mark Bresciano and Matthew Spiranovic were playing in Qatar, while Alex Brosque and Nicky Carle were in the UAE.

    My dates, however, lined up with a match of Lucas Neill’s club, Al Wasl, so I thought why not?

    A Dubai-based club, Al Wasl were playing away at Dubai CSC, which meant I didn’t have to travel to another town – or so I though.

    After some internet searches, and use of the good old phone book, I was confident I had located Dubai CSC’s home ground. Except in wasn’t in Dubai. It was 50 kilometres into the desert. Adventure time!

    Getting a ticket was the next hurdle, as Dubai CSC’s website was broken and I couldn’t get through on the phone.

    I then rang Al Wasl and while I had to reiterate several times that I knew it was being played at the other team’s ground, eventually I felt confident I would be able to get a ticket at the game.

    Transportation was my next challenge, as my taxi driver had to radio for directions, then took me to Al Wasl stadium. As we pulled up to the ground, I showed him where I thought the ground I actually wanted to get to was. After a couple more radio calls, we headed out into the desert.

    We eventually caught up with a convoy of flag-bearing 4WDs and emerged into the oasis of light that was the Dubai Club Stadium – but now the taxi driver was nervous on my behalf. I reassured him I would be fine to work out how to get home (even though I had no idea at all) and went off to find a ticket.

    The ticket booths were closed, but two queues had formed at the gate – one for Al Wasl and one for Dubai CSC. I joined the Al Wasl queue hoping I had enough cash.

    I eventually made my way to front, where a guy on the gate was handing out tickets – no money was exchanging hands, so I took a ticket and just kept following the crowd.

    The story I pieced together was that the local Sheikh just buys all the tickets, as it’s easier that way.

    The away supporters’ grandstand had a crowd of about 300 drumming, chanting and flag-waving Al Wasl supporters. I sat down next to an older gentleman, Gordon from Glasgow, who had brought his neighbour’s son to the game. We got chatting, although since I’d lived in Edinburgh, we couldn’t talk too much about Scottish football.

    Like everyone else, Gordon was quite confused about why I was there. I told him I was hoping to see Lucas Neill. Gordon replied that he didn’t think he was playing and hadn’t played for a while.

    He called out to one of the head cheerleaders and asked was Lucas Neill playing.

    “Lucas Neill? No good, not playing,” was the reply.

    Gordon explained that this slightly mad Australian guy had come to watch him.

    “Lucas Neill plays good for Australia. Doesn’t play good for Al Wasl,” came the response.

    Let’s be clear at this point: I never was a Lucas Neill fan. I never understood how we let a right back play out of position for most of his career, and while there are many others to blame for the Italy penalty at the 2006 World Cup, Neill falling over made most of that happen. My interest was simply to see an Australian play overseas.

    So I could understand their feelings, but I got a good laugh when I said he doesn’t even play well for Australia anymore.

    The cheerleader said, “Never mind, Dubai have an Australian who might come on in the second half, Richie Porta.”

    This was turning out great. I could have an opportunity to see the mythical Richie Porta!

    The game kicked off and settled into a scrappy back and forth, with the ball ping-ponging from one end to the other, without either side looking like scoring – although halftime came with the score one-all, and half the stand went to go for a smoke out the back.

    There was no drinking allowed, although given the quality of the match, I could have done with a beer.

    I saw some Scandinavian expats, including the only women in our stand. The Dubai supporters on the other side of the ground weren’t any more numerous than the Al Wasl fans, which gave the atmosphere the feel of a neutral stadium.

    The second half kicked off and both sides increased the tempo to win the match, but this mostly consisted of the strikers running around a lot. Porta eventually came on and had a few good touches but, like most of the other players, did a lot of running into space and not receiving the ball.

    Both teams did score again, Dubai with a cracker long-range effort, and the game finished 2-2.

    Then it was time to figure out how to get back to Dubai. Gordon lived in a gated estate on the fringes and offered me a lift back to the edge of town, for which I was very grateful.

    So no Lucas Neill, but I can say I saw Richie Porta play once.

    Gordon pocket-called me a few months later by accident and we had a good catch-up. Two random strangers whose only connection was due to the fact I decided it was a good idea to get a taxi to the middle of the desert to watch a football game.

    That’s what the World Game is all about, isn’t it?