A SU­PER­FAN WITH A FLAIR FOR KNITWEAR

Al Wasl sup­porter Salem Alka­rbi has the Guin­ness Record for the long­est fan scarf, and also sup­ports char­ity work, writes John Den­nehy

The National - News - - EMIRATES NEWS -

‘Ilive in Al Ain but I’d die for Al Wasl.” Salem Alka­rbi is only (half) jok­ing. But what’s no joke is his ded­i­ca­tion to Al Wasl Foot­ball Club.

The Emi­rati su­per­fan holds the Guin­ness World Record for the world’s long­est fan scarf, he re­ceived a let­ter from US pres­i­dent Barack Obama when he sent him an Al Wasl club jersey, and gave a present of a baby camel to Diego Maradona’s grand­son when the Ar­gen­tine le­gend was man­ager.

Alka­rbi is from Al Ain and works for Tawazun in Abu Dhabi. Why does he sup­port a Dubai-based club? “Many peo­ple from Dubai sup­port Al Ain and many from Abu Dhabi like Al Ain and Al Wasl. It’s nor­mal. Even if it’s a long time since we won a ti­tle, it’s in the heart,” he says.

His con­nec­tion to one of the most dec­o­rated foot­ball clubs in the coun­try goes back to 1992. The pre­vi­ous sea­son of the UAE Foot­ball League, now the Ara­bian Gulf League, was dis­rupted be­cause of the Gulf War. But the fol­low­ing year it went down to the last game of the sea­son.

Every day after school, sevenyear-old Alka­rbi would watch car­toons or wrestling. But on this day, every chan­nel was show­ing a cer­tain foot­ball match. “I watched it be­cause I had no choice. Af­ter­wards, I saw the play­ers jump­ing and happy! What hap­pened? Al Wasl had won,” he says.

Al Wasl had beaten Kalba to clinch the 1992 ti­tle and so be­gan Alka­rbi’s en­dur­ing af­fil­i­a­tion with the team known as the Chee­tahs. Based at the Zabeel Sta­dium in Dubai, the team has a glit­ter­ing his­tory, win­ning seven league ti­tles (the last in 2007), two UAE Pres­i­dent’s Cups and the GCC Club Cup in 2010. Al Wasl’s Fa­had Khamees is the Ara­bian Gulf League’s all-time top scorer.

Life as an or­di­nary sup­porter was never for Alka­rbi, es­pe­cially when all his broth­ers sup­port Al Ain.

“To be a fan is not only to go to the sta­dium, show tick­ets, eat pop­corn and say ‘hey pass the ball’ and leave. No. I want to be cre­ative.”

So, in Au­gust 2008, Alka­rbi cre­ated a fan web­site. It’s hard to be­lieve now but then there was no In­sta­gram. Twit­ter was launched two years be­fore and the wide­spread use of so­cial me­dia had yet to reach the UAE.

The web­site was a place where fans could talk, ar­gue and rem­i­nisce about the club. But this was not enough. When AlKa­rbi watched Mr Obama give his in­au­gu­ra­tion ad­dress in Wash­ing­ton in Jan­uary 2009, he imag­ined the pres­i­dent wear­ing an Al Wasl jersey. So he made him a per­son­alised one with 44 em­bla­zoned on the back, sent it to him via the US em­bassy here and about eight months later a let­ter came from Mr Obama wish­ing the club well.

But he was not fin­ished. “After Obama, ev­ery­one asked what’s next? That pushed me. Do some­thing new and crazy and don’t copy things. I saw the Guin­ness book and thought, why don’t I have a page in­side?” he says.

So after four years’ plan­ning, a tailor in Shar­jah made the world’s long­est fan scarf in 12 days and it mea­sures 1,192.5 me­tres. It was cer­ti­fied by the Guin­ness Book of World Records at Al Wasl Sports Club on March 27, 2014.

“Every day, I say good morn­ing. It’s like my baby,” he says with a chuckle.

Alka­rbi’s mind is never far from the for­tunes of Al Wasl and the greatest ire is re­served for neigh­bours and great ri­vals Al Nasr. This is the game that ev­ery­one wants to win – equiv­a­lent to Manch­ester City ver­sus Manch­ester United.

Be­fore a big match the taunt­ing starts on so­cial me­dia.

“We have a spe­cial song for Al Nasr – we named them pen­guins. Why? Be­cause they have pen­guins at Nasr Leisure­land and they are small. But we are the Chee­tahs.”

Now Alka­rbi has started his own foot­ball char­ity, Be­yond the Bound­aries of Foot­ball, which seeks to help dis­ad­van­taged chil­dren, es­pe­cially or­phans and vic­tims of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence.

So far he’s been to 18 coun­tries, in­clud­ing So­ma­lia, Saudi Ara­bia, Zim­babwe, Be­larus, Egypt, Uganda, the Philip­pines and Bangladesh, bring­ing Al Wasl and UAE jer­seys, or­gan­is­ing games, giv­ing out toys and award­ing tro­phies to help these young­sters find joy in their lives again.

But for the mo­ment, all roads lead to Zabeel Sta­dium on Fri­day night, where Al Wasl host Abu Dhabi’s Al Wahda in a crunch tie.

“It will be crazy and who­ever wins will be top.”

Salem Alka­rbi

Salem Alka­rbi, with his scarf, re­ceived a let­ter from Barack Obama when he sent the US pres­i­dent an Al Wasl jersey

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