Michael Houghton talks about how football in Bahrain rekindled his love for the beautiful game.
Growing up in a working class village in the North East of England has given me one love for sure, the love of football. Returning from school every single day, throwing off the bag and uniform, sticking a football shirt on, grabbing a ball from the back yard and then proceeding to knock on every single friend in the surrounding area to have a 4-hour game is one of those things I was born into. I wasn’t the most skillful player but I knew exactly what I was doing, especially with the slide tackle, I was a master of that. I always wanted to be a footballer, but then again doesn’t every young boy? I wanted to emulate my heroes and wear the famous black and white of Newcastle United but alas, the dream had to die.
When I moved to Bahrain in the summer of 2015, I really wanted to get back into playing once again. I stumbled across an 8-a-side expat league which was exactly what I was after. Being able to play competitive football at a reasonable standard is an opportunity that I have to thank this island for. I hadn’t played competitively back in the UK for a good number of years and my passion for playing the game had all but fizzled out until I came here.
I’ve watched Premier League, and yes a little bit of Championship football, my whole life so I was excited to see what the levels were like over here in the Gulf. A group of friends and I decided to attend the recent Bahrain vs Singapore match at the National Stadium in Riffa. Firstly, I must say that this is an excellent facility. It reminds me of the Olympic Stadium in Munich, Germany, with its arched roof covering half of the ground. The scattered red and white seats give a very eclectic feel and the towering floodlights, leaning over the ground from the four corners, are majestic.
To get into any game of football free of charge is unknown to me, but for a competitive international?! That is incredible! The loyal support of the home team, beating their drums and singing their songs created an immense atmosphere.
Unfortunately, the game petered out into a goalless draw but the experience made me vow to go back. And I did, the following week to watch Al-Muharraq take on Al Nejmeh of Lebanon in an Asia Cup match. The game played out in a similar way to the previous one and another 0-0 was on its way until a moment of goalkeeping madness and a free kick of the highest quality won the game for the Bahraini’s in the 9th minute of stoppage time. It would be rude not to go back after that, who knows they might need a slide tackling centre back in the future!
Sporting enthusiast, part time writer and full-time teacher @michoughton