ABU DHABI THISTLE, KINGS OF THE DESERT
Meet the thankful forward who was unable to walk for two years but now stars upfront for club and country
It has often been said that if any football club truly symbolises the extravagance of the Middle East and the mysticism of the desert, it’s Partick Thistle. There was that time they signed Alex Raisbeck for £500 and, of course, the days of the hosepipe ban in 1976.
So when Scot Archie Young (right) was setting up a team in the United Arab Emirates a decade ago, there was only one name he could possibly choose: Abu Dhabi Thistle.
“I started a wee team and I wanted them to have a Scottish flavour,” Young explains. “One of the guys who started it with me was a Partick Thistle fan, so we chose their strip to play in.”
The youth club have expanded rapidly, and now even Manchester City, whose owner is part of Abu Dhabi’s ruling Whenever he strides out to represent his country, Martin Braithwaite recalls his remarkable route to international football. Once, it was far from certain he’d even be able to walk, let alone become a successful footballer. “I’m grateful every day,” the 24-year-old tells FFT. Braithwaite was football football-mad from the start. A picture of him kicking a ball was captured by his local newspaper when he was just two years old. But at five, everything changed.
“I was told I had to go into a wheelchair,” the Dane explains. “I had something called Legg-calve-perthes disease disease, which means the rotation bone in the hip is soft. When the bone develops it can be deformed and you can have difficulties walking, so it can cannotnot be put under any pressure by running around. “It was really difficult. I was young and I didn’t u understand why I had to be in a wheelchair. I was always trying to get out of it. I felt embarrassed. I needed people around me all the time to take care of me, like a baby. I couldn’t do the things that other kids did. All I wanted to do was just play football.”
Braithwaite was not told how long he’d be in a wheelchair; just that he had to wait. So he waited – waited for the day his bones would become strong enough to allow him to walk again, then kick a ball again.
“I was in the wheelchair for two years,” he says. “Before then, I’d played football all day every day. It was the only thing that mattered. I was just waiting for the doctor to say: ‘OK, now you can play football’. When that happened, it was like my life began again. I played for a team that weekend and was man of the match. Maybe it was just a charity thing, but it was still a wonderful feeling.”
From there, Braithwaite never looked back. He became a pro with Esbjerg, before making his debut for Denmark and moving to France to join Toulouse for €2m. Now, the forward of Guyanese descent has a dozen family, can’t live up to the might of the Thistle.
“Our under-12 boys thrashed Manchester City 4-0,” says Young. “Since I came here, academies have been sprouting up. Arsenal, Manchester City and Manchester United are all here now. We know they aren’t keen to play us. I don’t know if they’re scared, or if they don’t want the word getting out that caps, with ambitions for many more. There could also be a World Cup on the horizon: only Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s goals stopped Braithwaite & Co. from reaching Euro 2016, but drawn into an open qualifying group, Denmark have a good chance of making it to Russia 2018. He also dreams of playing in England, having had a trial with Newcastle at the age of 18.
“Even when I was in a wheelchair I always had one goal: to be a great football player,” says Braithwaite. “I did not feel like I had to be careful when I started playing again, even though my parents told me that for a couple of years I was limping a lot.
“To be able to play football… I never forget it’s a gift. I hope my story shows that you can be in a bad situation but things can turn around. I didn’t stop believing in myself. I wanted to be a professional footballer.
“It feels wonderful to have done that, but I have a lot of things I still want to achieve in my career. I want to do more.” they’ve been beaten by an amateur club. We’re the biggest amateur club here.”
Young believes Thistle’s success has come from instilling some Scottish bite and passion, while the Premier League clubs focus more closely on producing individual stars of the future.
Presumably Arsenal are aiming to develop the Abou Diaby of Abu Dhabi. Just slightly less injured.
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