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"Short stories and travel reports from my life adventures around the globe".

Khalifa Dreams, a short story from Qatar.

Khalifa Stadium Doha 2001.

Khalifa Dreams, a short story from Qatar.

In the summer of 2001 I boarded a near-empty Qatar Airways flight to Doha. Reuniting with my family who’d recently moved there for my father’s new job, it was my first time living abroad.

——

It was another boiling hot afternoon. Ducking out of a taxi into the insane heat, I made the short dash over to City Center, Doha’s premier shopping mall. My destination was the fifth floor, where an iced latte awaited me in my favourite café. I was sitting with the drink in my hand reading a magazine when a voice called across from a nearby table.

‘‘Hello friend, you are soccer fan?’’

Looking up, I saw two Qatari men dressed in traditional, white, ankle-length robes. Their red and white headdresses fluttering in the overzealous breeze of a nearby fan. Momentarily confused, it took me a few seconds to realise the man had been referring to the blue and white hoops of my Q.P.R. shirt.

QPR shirt 2001-2002.

A conversation starter.

Smiling, I confirmed that I was indeed an avid follower of the beautiful game. This revelation saw the two men swiftly transfer the contents of their table to mine! ‘‘You know… Qatar now play qualify for World Cup. For South Korea, Japan” said the taller of the two. ”You should follow them!’’ he grinned as I sat there admiring his amazing beard, which ran down to the middle of his chest. 

‘‘No you shouldn’t’’ said the other flatly, giving his friend an admonishing look.

‘Waste of time, Qatar very bad. My friend loves to dream’’.

‘‘Hey! Allah give me brain, I will dream. Allah give me heart I will dream. I love my country!’’

We chatted for a bit and I learned that Qatar had been placed in qualifying Group B alongside Oman, Uzbekistan, The United Arab Emirates and group favourites China. Sadly, the Qatari campaign had already hit rocky waters after just two games. 

An uninspiring 0-0 home draw to Oman on August the 16th had been followed by a narrow 2-1 defeat to Uzbekistan ten days later. That evening, surfing the internet at home, I discovered that Qatar’s next home game placed them head to head with China on the 7th of September.

Leighton Travels travel reports short stories.

In the meantime I was excited by the arrival of Scott, a school friend who’d come to Doha to teach English at a local college. An avid Watford fan and all round football nut, Scott was immediately on board with the idea of going to see Qatar play China. 

A few days later we were hugely encouraged when the Qataris pulled off a surprise 2-1 away win in the U.A.E! Suddenly, their cause wasn’t looking as hopeless as I’d first feared and it certainly added a bit more tension to the upcoming China match.

Khalifa Dreams, a short story from Qatar.

The Qatar Football Association.

The Qatar Football Association.

And so it was that on Friday the 7th of September 2001 we took a taxi to Khalifa International Stadium, a multi-purpose twenty thousand capacity venue named after former Emir Sheikh Khalifa bin Hamad bin Abdullah bin Jassim bin Muhammed Al Thani. Mercifully, the authorities had decided to use just one of his names for the stadium.

Emir Sheikh Khalifa bin Hamad bin Abdullah bin Jassim bin Muhammed Al Thani.

Khalifa Dreams, a short story from Qatar.

Khalifa Stadium was still four years away from its massive extension and renovation. Indeed the stadium Scott and I visited was unrecognisable from the sparkling venue of today. Actually, the entire place was run down with the air of a struggling English League two side. A kind of oversized Hartlepool if you will, with armed guards and a running track.

There was no issue simply buying tickets on the night. Thus we paid our dues and joined the streams of locals filing through the turnstiles. Within a few minutes we found ourselves stationed in the home stand, right in the heart of a large mass of chanting locals. They cheered, punched the air, stamped their feet, blared horns and swished flags. What Khalifa Stadium lacked in facilities, it certainly made up for in atmosphere!

Khalifa Stadium Doha 2001

Khalifa Stadium, September 2001.

There could have been no more than five thousand people that evening, with the away end absolutely deserted, not a Chinaman in sight.

Our presence among the locals drew much attention, with dozens of people keen to chat and pose for pictures. One excitable teenager even dragged us into a group shot, draping Qatar’s maroon and white national flag over our shoulders for good measure. “You LOVE Qatar!!!” he screamed. 

Khalifa Dreams, a short story from Qatar.

Khalifa Stadium Doha Qatar 2001.

Khalifa Dreams, a short story from Qatar.

The game itself was passionately played, but low on quality. The aforementioned Hartlepool would have probably dispatched both teams with ease. The match finished 1-1, a decent result for Qatar on paper. But one they’d really needed to win to keep their qualification hopes alive. 

Khalifa Stadium Doha 2001.

Qatar vs China at Khalifa Stadium. September 2001.

When the home team scored there was an almighty ROAR from the crowd. It was a thrilling cauldron of emotion, with the teenage fans proving especially manic.

I can still visualise the aftermath of that goal, a slow motion blur of frenetic dance moves and high pitched squeals. By the time the referee blew his whistle for full time, Scott and I were hooked and already speculating on the forthcoming home match against Uzbekistan.

Home fans Khalifa International Stadium Doha 2001.

Khalifa Dreams, a short story from Qatar.

A few weeks later, a rampant Qatar brushed aside Oman in Muscat with a 3-0 win! Performing way above expectations, the mood in Doha was one of quiet pride. Unfortunately for Qatar however, China and the U.A.E’s solid form kept them stuck firmly behind the group leaders. 

This meant that Qatar had to beat Uzbekistan in their next game or their qualification hopes would be over with two matches still to play. With the anticipation reaching fever pitch, Scott and I were both in attendance as the two teams took to the field on the 28th of September.

Welcomed back with open arms, we took our places among the home faithful in anticipation. And what a highly entertaining, end to end game it was! Finally, the match ended 2-2, a result that saw both Qatar and Uzbekistan eliminated. Hence both teams collapsed onto the grass at the full time whistle in a miserable concoction of exhaustion and heartbreak.

Khalifa Dreams, a short story from Qatar.

Qatari football fans Khalifa Stadium Doha 2001.

Qatar vs Uzbekistan at Khalifa Stadium. September 2001.

The Qatari players were clearly gutted. The fans however seemed to take failure in their stride, heading for the exits with wry smiles and shrugged shoulders. After all, they hadn’t expected their beloved team to get through and had really appreciated the players’ efforts in making a fight of it.

Qatar’s early elimination totally deflated the team, killing off the confidence and morale they’d built up in the early games. And so they proceeded to fold completely, losing their final two fixtures to the U.A.E. and China. Despite the futility of their final home match, Scott and I still showed up and cheered them on. At the end, I got hugs and handshakes from the locals.

Khalifa International Stadium Doha 2001.

Khalifa Dreams, a short story from Qatar.

Some weeks later I bumped into the two Qatari men from the mall, same cafe, same tables. Excitedly telling them how I’d gone to three home games, Mr. Long Beard was visibly delighted by the whole tale. ‘‘Wonderful! … wonderful!’’ he said, massaging a bracelet of wooden beads in his giant hand. ‘‘God bless you!’’

Short story Qatar

Khalifa Dreams, a short story from Qatar.

His friend however clearly hadn’t developed any positivity since our last meeting. All he could do was nudge his associate gently in the ribs with an impatient tut. ‘‘But what do they do? Nothing!! Donkeys!!! I say it before, I say it now again, waste of time!’’ He took a long gulp of his coffee, shook his newspaper up over his eyes and growled. ‘‘Waste of time’’. 

‘‘Ah, he always like this’’ said Long Beard, with a resigned shake of the head.

‘‘But there is always next time, we must never lose our dreams’’.

‘Khalifa Dreams’ is the second chapter of my short story series The Qatar Collection.

I’ve been living, working and traveling all over the world since 2001. So why not check out my huge library of travel reports from over 30 countries.

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23 Comments

  • PedroL

    You must be excited about the world cup in Qatar, it brings you wonderful memories like this eheh

    I really like the red~white flag, it kind of reminds me of my team’s, Benfica from Lisbon 🙂

    Have a lovely weekend,
    PedroL

    March 13, 2021 - 11:13 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Yeah, I’m excited to see how Qatar do as World Cup hosts. Especially after all the controversy. Not sure I’ll be rooting for the team now as much as I did then, but it’ll be interesting to see how they do. Thanks for reading!

      March 13, 2021 - 11:20 am Reply
      • PedroL

        Have fun 🙂 PedroL

        March 13, 2021 - 11:30 am
  • Team Leisure

    Remember you going to the games but good to hear the fine detail. Nice story.

    March 13, 2021 - 11:22 am Reply
  • WanderingCanadians

    I had no idea that soccer was so big in Qatar! It’s always fun watching a game live and being part of the atmosphere.

    March 13, 2021 - 12:39 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks for reading guys. The stadium was only around a quarter populated but the atmosphere was electric. I think general interest in football has mushroomed in Doha over the years, especially since they were announced as the home nation for the 2022 tournament.

      March 13, 2021 - 12:57 pm Reply
  • Lookoom

    It is a well-written story that sheds additional light on the country, both in terms of infrastructure development and the mentality of the people. I’m always surprised that a sporting event can arouse so much irrational fanaticism, as if reason were to give way to a stronger feeling. This mechanism, when properly activated, can lead to much more dramatic situations. It is better to be aware of this phenomenon in order not to suffer it.

    March 13, 2021 - 3:08 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Glad you liked the story, if not the idea of being emotionally invested in a football team. Just remember us football fans are not all fanatics. Well, I think I may have been a little during my teenage years 😉

      March 13, 2021 - 3:19 pm Reply
      • Lookoom

        Thanks for being honest 🙂

        March 13, 2021 - 3:42 pm
  • Alhaji

    as impressing as the new stadium is I really miss the old khalifa. thanks for bringing it back

    March 13, 2021 - 3:49 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Glad you could identify with the story! Thanks for reading and hope you enjoy the other chapters.

      March 13, 2021 - 4:24 pm Reply
  • Memo

    You are a true football fan – able to find excitement and entertainment in a less than stellar team. I was expecting more of the play by play on at least one of the goals but the play by play in the stands probably told more about the overall experience. The two Qatari men rally complete the story. Very enjoyable.

    March 13, 2021 - 4:59 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Appreciate that Memo. I was wondering how this story would come across, as it’s probably the least relatable of the collection. Being the only foreigners in the crowd was a special experience that’ll always stay with me.

      March 13, 2021 - 9:34 pm Reply
  • Little Miss Traveller

    When I was last in Qatar about 18 months ago we toured some of the World Cup venues that had just been constructed. Perhaps you’ll get an opportunity to see them for yourself before too long Leighton.

    March 13, 2021 - 5:41 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Oh that sounds like a great experience! Were you suitably wowed? Or, with the dubious human rights stories attached to these projects, did you feel a little uneasy? I really would love to see them at some point, but I guess it’s going to have to be post 2022.

      March 13, 2021 - 5:45 pm Reply
  • Rebecca

    I’m not a soccer (*ahem football) fan, but I can acknowledge the hype and atmosphere that surrounds it at the games. Watching it on TV isn’t just the same…always cool to see that it’s such a universal sport, and that it’s an event worth checking out whenever one’s traveling in the world!

    March 13, 2021 - 8:57 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      It was a fun and authentic experience, plus I’m glad we got to see the team and the stadium before all the millions got pumped in. That whole side of Doha is gone forever, so I feel fortunate to have bottled it in this story. Thanks for taking the time to read, especially as a non football fan!

      March 13, 2021 - 9:30 pm Reply
  • travelling_han

    Ah this is a lovely story – it will be interesting to see how the Qatar world cup goes next year. Stories like this always remind me that no matter how different people are, there’s always something in common.

    March 14, 2021 - 5:33 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Glad you enjoyed it! Football, for all its issues, is for the most part a uniter of people from disparate backgrounds.

      March 14, 2021 - 5:39 pm Reply
  • reindeershermaine

    I loved this story, it was really intriguing. Your name (Leighton) is so pretty, have you ever heard of Leighton Meester? :)))

    March 15, 2021 - 2:26 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Hey, thanks for reading and taking the time to drop me a message! I was named after a footballer called Leighton James who was active in the 1970s. It’s not a common name in Britain needless to say. Yes, I know this actress, it’s quite strange that she was given this name, as it was the first time I’d heard of a female called Leighton.

      March 15, 2021 - 9:17 am Reply
  • InsideMySlingBag

    I didn’t know soccer had such huge fan following in Qatar. You sure have a whole lot of memories having traveled from very early in life Leighton!

    March 25, 2021 - 7:48 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      I think it’s even bigger now, with their hosting of The World Cup coming up. Thanks for reading!

      March 25, 2021 - 8:38 pm Reply

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