Ali Abdulla’s life belongs to his neighbourhood.
The palm farmer’s son was born in Al Maaridh, a coastal neighbourhood of sand brick and breeze block homes in Ras Al Khaimah.
Old neighbourhoods like these have witnessed a recent exodus of young men who leave for flashier neighbourhoods sprung from government housing grants.
Abdulla, 27, has stayed put.
“I love it in Maaridh, I was born here,” he said. “My whole family is here. It’s an easy life. Everything’s near.”
The sea merchant’s neighbourhood is a place of markets — fish, race pigeon, goat, cloth and carpentry — surrounded by courtyard homes of Arab, Asian and Africans families.
Once renowned for its rich maritime history, Al Maaridh is famous these days for two things: Salem Juma’a, “The Horse”, a former pearl diver, royal coffee server and imam who fathered 52 children, and for its nameless football club. Three generations of neighbourhood teams play in the sandy courtyard of the abandoned Al Sirkal House, a dilapidated two-storey building once inhabited by a wealthy merchant family.
In Al Maaridh, football is everything. Abdulla is a goalkeeper.
The policeman is known for his love of Ronaldo. He once shaved his head in the style worn by the Brazilian footballer.
Days are spent with his six siblings or with friends at a street-side majlis, where they play video games, chat and watch films. The majlis was rebuilt this week as a permanent tent, upholstered in rich turquoise-and-gold thread. Everyone donated what they could for the Dh10,000 tent.
The footballers are also avid rowers and compete at national events. Abdulla does not row but goes to cheer at Abu Dhabi and Dubai events. His support, they say, is essential to their success.
Real Madrid. I’ve followed them since 2003.
Why is the best thing about your neighbourhood, Al Maaridh?
I love it in Maaridh, I was born here. My whole family is here. It’s an easy life.
Ronaldo. I like how he controls the ball.
I like the film 300. I like action, fighting.
Favourite reciter of the Quran?
Idris Abkar. The sound of the Quran is beautiful. I love all the verses.
Favourite country to visit?
Saudi and Thailand. Saudi Arabia to visit God’s house and Thailand for the weather.
Favourite video game?
Fifa for PlayStation. I love football.
Best advice from your father?
My father passed away. He said: “Don’t forget to pray, don’t cause difficulties for the poor and give respect to everybody. Prayer brings peace.”
Best place in the country?
Dubai. There are so many malls. And I like Global Village.
Favourite action hero?
Rambo. Sylvester Stallone. He’s got so much action and he has a great face.