Football in the desert
An Irish soccer team is thriving in Abu Dhabi, despite the 40-degree heat
Conail O Reilly
In the Middle East you can expect to find oil, sand and plenty of camels, but it might surprise you to hear a Kerry accent shout “cross it!”
The Abu Dhabi Wolfhounds is a soccer club established in 2011 to cater for the ever increasing number of Irish expats moving to the UAE capital. The city already had a GAA club and numerous other options for expats to gather to exercise. But the Wolfhounds was formed based on friendship and a mad desire to run after a ball in 40 odd degrees.
Back in 2011 the club founder Stephen Daly organised a few nights of 7-a-side games against anyone who would take on us Irish lads. As the year progressed and momentum grew, the decision to form a club was taken. A series of long nights and continuous phone calls resulted in a fully capable and dedicated 11-a -side team.
We train and play in Zayed Sports City – a remarkable facility considering our geographic location – once a week. Training in the heat is challenging at first, but you do acclimatise. There has to plenty water available to quench the thirst. I was only used to playing World Cup growing up in my estate, with one player against seven, last one wins. So to play in a team was a whole new experience for me. We try and make training as inclusive as possible, catering for those who have never kicked a ball to others coming from senior squads in Ireland.
We have three squads – two 11-a-side men’s teams and a 7-a-side women’s team. The way we train and play has attracted many other nationalities to the Wolfhounds, and we now have Dutch, English, Venezuelan, American and local Emirati players on our panel. The language barrier is never an issue; hand signals and gestures get the message across. The social side of the club draws most people in, and a friendly invite to come down and try it out.
In order to run a club, finance is key. Through our main sponsors IDA we are able to train and look after our members. Fundraising through the year raises awareness among potential new members, while helping to grow funds for new jerseys and other equipment.
We also give back as much as we can to the expat gang in Abu Dhabi. Recently we organised a fundraiser in the guise of a football tournament for Mike Ballard, an American rugby player seriously injured while playing in Abu Dhabi. The money raised is going towards his rehabilitation costs in the US.
For anyone interested in moving to Abu Dhabi and looking to make friends and keep fit, don’t be shy. Everyone in the Wolfhounds was once where you are now. See facebook.com/adwolfhounds or follow @adwolfhounds on Twitter for updates and training times.