Long and winding road for Dibba Al Fujairah

The club from the small town at the base of the Hajar mountains, have finally reached the summit of UAE football, writes Ahmed Rizvi .

Dibba Al Fujairah prepare to compete in the Pro League. Lee Hoagland/The National
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In the early 1960s, a group of Dibba Al Fujairah natives were living in Kuwait. While there, they got their first glimpse of a sport that involved kicking a ball around. They became enamoured by the game, formed their own club and started playing regularly.

After a few years they returned home and brought the sport with them.

The British troops stationed at a garrison nearby must have enjoyed their impromptu games of football, but the vast majority of people in Dibba had never seen a match before.

Gradually, though, they started enjoying the new import, getting familiar with the rules and regulations. Their interest kept growing and finally a club came into being and they registered with the UAE Football Association in 1976.

In 1981, the Dibba club moved to a new stadium, gifted to them by the late Ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed.

The club's new home was a major boost for sports in this ancient town, nestled between the Gulf of Oman on one side and the western Hajar mountains on the other.

For all the developments in their town of 30,000 though, Dibba's football fans were left disappointed at the end of every season.

For 36 years, they have lived in the hope of seeing their team play among the country's elite in the top division.

Dibba, however, could not make the grade, not even when 16 teams competed in the top division in the 1991/92 season. That long and frustrating wait has finally come to an end.

Last season, the club finished second behind Kalba in Division One to clinch their berth in the Pro League, ahead of experienced sides such as Al Shaab and Al Dhafra. Not many had given them a chance of doing that.

"Before the start of the last season, nobody would have thought Dibba would go to the Pro League," said Tarek Al Sayed, who has been part of Dibba's coaching staff for the past eight years and has watched a generation of their players grow up.

"But me, the administration and the players believed we could do it and we have done it.

"This is the first time in the history of Dibba that we will be playing in the top division, so I am really excited. This is like a new birth for the club and I really hope we will be able to stay in the Pro League. I am really optimistic and I hope luck will be on our side."

Their desperation to stay on the Pro League is understandable. After waiting for so long, they do not want to make a guest appearance and return to the second tier after just one season.

Al Sayed, now the first team goalkeeping coach, knows their job will not be easy and if any of the club's fans or officials were in any doubt of the enormity of their task they only have to look at their 6-1 drubbing at Ajman on their Etisalat Cup debut. And to add to their challenges, Dibba will not be playing their home games at their own stadium.

Home away from home

For the Dubai clubs and even those in Abu Dhabi, the drive to Dibba Al Fujairah for away games, would have been a long and arduous one.

Travelling in the day time, you can take in the scenery in the mountains, especially if you make the journey through Masafi. If you are lucky, you might even get a little rain. It happened last week and families were out in the wadis, enjoying the shower.

The return journey, however, can be a nightmare, especially if you choose to travel via Ras Al Khaimah.

A big stretch of the drive is in single lanes, with no street lights. It can be an unnerving experience with all those heavy vehicles on the road.

The Pro League teams will not be making this journey though. The Dibba stadium, with its small stand and few seats, does not meet the requirements of the professional league and the Asian Football Confederation. Instead, they will be playing their home matches at the Khalifa bin Zayed Stadium in Al Ain.

"In football you must play at home," Al Sayed said. "Unfortunately, you will not get that chance. For the full season we will be playing outside and this is not fair, for sure."

Marcelo Cabo, the coach who took over the reins of the team in July, has similar views on the decision, but is trying to get his players ready for all these challenges.

"Of course, this will be a problem for us," the Brazilian said. "We will be travelling for every game. So I am trying to prepare my players mentally for this. Dibba will not be playing at home and this is not good for us."

Cabo, 45, had more bad news earlier in the week when Mohammed Suroor, a native of Dibba Al Fujairah who had returned to his home club after 12 years playing at different clubs in Sharjah, Dubai and Abu Dhabi, injured a cruciate ligament during a training camp in Turkey and is now in Egypt undergoing surgery.

The Dibba coach had been hoping experienced striker would have been able to help his team in their battle for survival.

"I am very sad we have lost Mohammed Suroor for five months," Cabo said. "He was an important player for us, very experienced. But we still have a good group of players, a good mix of experience and youth."

Cabo, who has worked for Figueirense in Brazil and the Kuwaiti clubs Al Arabi and Al Naser, also has a lot of faith in his foreign quartet. The club have retained the services of Aluisio da Silva Neves - "Junior" - a Brazilian defender, and brought in two more Brazilians - the striker Alexssander Medeiros - "Alex" - from Botafogo and the playmaker Luiz Fernando from Figueirense. Their Asian player is Abdul Razak Al Hussain, the Syrian midfielder.

No small-time thinking

If you have lived through the hustle and bustle of Dubai or Abu Dhabi through the years, Dibba Al Fujairah is a refreshing change. It is a quaint little town and Al Hussain, a native of Aleppo, must be enjoying the peace given the situation back home.

The 25 year old, who has played for Saudi Arabia's Al Tawoon and Erbil in Iraq, refuses to comment on the "politics" in his home country, but he does consider himself an ambassador of Syrian football in the Pro League.

"This is the first time a Syrian is playing here in the Pro League, so there is a big responsibility on my shoulders," he said. "I have to make sure I create a good impression of Syrian football and open the doors for more players to come here. Fans here will judge Syrian football and Syrian players on how I perform in the coming season."

But his bigger target for the season is to "help the team stay in the Pro League".

Alex, 21, hopes to play his part as well, scoring "spectacular goals" and helping his team win matches.

Cabo, however, has warned that results will take some time to come as his players settle as a team, and get used to the environs of the Pro League and the constant travel.

"Two months is a really short time to prepare a team," he said. "God willing, this team will be at 100 per cent in one more month or two. I urge the fans to believe in us, to believe in this team because these players work really hard."

According to Al Sayed, though, the team will need a lot more than just hard work.

"The players will also have to make sure they do not go into a game thinking they are a small team playing against a big club," the Egyptian said. "No, we will have to banish these thoughts and change our mentality. We will have to believe we can do it."