Ali Helped Me Fall In Love With Wigan Athletic
Following on from last week's article by far away fans Wiganlatics09 and hongkonglatic, Vital Wigan member, Mohammad AlSharid, aka Emirates, as written a cracking piece on why he was drawn to become a supporter of the Latics, thanks to, well read on:
I will not lie about the fact that I am a new fan of Wigan Athletic. I only began watching the club since last season. The way I became a fan of the club is different from other foreign fans, but my passion for the club is just as strong.
I come from the football-mad region of 'Gulf Arabia' that includes Oman, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, and Bahrain. 'Gulf Arabs' are massive fans of European football. They watch, monitor and record every league, every game and every match. They spend their Saturdays and Sundays watching live football with strict devotion, even though European matches are usually held on what are to them regular weekdays.
Despite all the love of football, 'Gulf Arabia' constantly fails in producing the next big thing in football. There were times when things looked bright in the 90's and early 2000's, especially after then Emirati starlet Ismail Mattar won the golden ball at the 2003 U-20 World Cup, a prestigious award won by the likes of Lionel Messi, Sergio Agüero, Diego Maradona, among others great football players.
Unfortunately, Ismail Mattar did not become anything more than a local hero to the Emiratis, and all that potential that was vital to Asian football was wasted.
The problem was that local clubs tied the likes of Ismail to long term contracts and refused to sell them, regardless of which European club came knocking. In other cases, players preferred to stay a big fish in a small pond instead of attempting to navigate through the vast ocean that is European football.
This region's hunger for success has led to massive spending on all things football. The world-class facilities and the international coaches are there, but they lacked a role model. No player was willing to make to do that duty. Those that attempted had a horrid time. Saudi Arabia`s Sami Al Jaber had what could only be described as a horrible loan spell at Wolverhampton plagued with injuries, but now the region has its role model. He is Wigan Athletic's number one goalkeeper, Ali Al Habsi.
Al Habsi's majestic journey is well known among most Wigan fans. He was first spotted at the age of 16 saving a penalty while playing for his local club in the third tier of Omani football by John Burridge who taught him day and night how to be a goalkeeper. Burridge kept telling Ali that he will play in the Premier League, and Ali has done just that. Ali Al Habsi was called up for the senior squad when he was still a minor, and that led to the birth of a legend.
Ali's time in Norway was closely followed by his Omani fans who developed an interest for Norwegian football, simply because Al Habsi became a part of it. Ali spent what he describes as "'three wonderful years' at Lyn Oslo before moving to Wigan Athletic's local rivals, Bolton Wanderers, where he was used as backup. At this time, Al Habsi was being seen in 'Gulf Arabia' as a star simply for sitting on a Premier League bench. That was seen as an achievement, so when he came to Wigan Athletic (on loan) to play first team football. His popularity soared, and everyone knew it was only a matter of time till he became a West Asian legend.
Wigan Athletic's 2010/2011 start was not good. 10 goals in 2 games got established first-choice keeper Chris Kirkland dropped, and Al Habsi was given his chance. Like many admirers of Al Habsi, the first game I cheered for Wigan Athletic was in their away game against Spurs when Ali made his Wigan Athletic Premier League debut.
Ali's fantastic performance urged me to continue watching Wigan's matches to see how my region`s finest does. I also became an active member on Wigan Athletic fan-sites to read what people have to say about Ali. Time went by, and then we met Arsenal at the DW stadium. I was a mad Gooner. I still wish Arsenal well, but I knew I had been converted when I found myself loudly yelling in joy and happiness when we got that late equaliser courtesy of Sebastien Squillaci.
I started as a fan of one man in the squad, but slowly I fell in love with the entire team. My friends might cheer for Milan and Manchester, but I am a proud fan of Wigan Athletic.
I cannot hide my delight when Al Habsi is praised. It makes me feel proud that one of our kind has made it in the big leagues. In the latest Castrolfootball rankings, Ali is ranked as the seventh best goalkeeper in Europe and the second best in the Premier League. That is a mighty achievement I must say.
I know that I will not be able to be harsh on Ali and will constantly and blindly shower him with praise and admiration no matter how many blunders he makes because I know he will make up for them with twice as many blinders. I proudly proclaim him as the Gulf's greatest non-oil export.
Turning a nation into Latics fans, Ali Al Habsi
By permission of Bernard Platt/Wigan Athletic
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