Coming soon: the red and white striped abaya (1)

When it comes to football, Salut! Sunderland and Fatima al Shamsi are thick as thieves. From unpromising beginnings – Fatima’s allegiances read more like a list than a passion – has emerged the first hint that we are witnessing a truly remarkable transformation. Let us hail the born-again Emirati Mackem.

Fatima, who is studying at Columbia University in New York, recently entered the world of journalism as an intern at The National in her native Abu Dhabi. Part of Salut! Sunderland‘s mentoring duties at The National involve the indoctrination of all suitable candidates as surrogate Sunderland supporters.
“But I support Arsenal,” Fatima protested. “Then Barcelona, with a soft spot for AC Milan.”

All was not lost. She did, after all, adore Zinedine Zidane and loathe Materazzi, showing evidence of good taste.

And what was that lying about the desk but A Love Supreme’s More 24-Hour SAFC People? She took it home, vowing politely to read the chapter contributed from these shores but in the event devouring virtually every word.

Drawn into the strange world of Sunderland support, Fatima proved herself a quick learner. Or very good at humouring the executive editor. She took – or feigned – interest in the pre-season games in Portugal, swapped YouTube football links – mine of Simon Crabtree’s
gloriously over-the-top celebration of Carlos Edwards’s winner against Burnley, her clip of Ray Hudson’s gloriously-over-the-top Real Madrid commentary – and proudly announced that her new abaya had red trimmings.

Not, you’ll note, red and white striped trimmings. But that can only be a matter of time. She already knows all about 1973, the heartbreak of the playoff final, the barely mentionable relegation to the old Third Division. With one of the Showtime UAE movies channels screening Goal! this week, she even has a chance to appreciate why playing for Newcastle could only appeal to an asthmatic, poverty-stricken Mexican illegal dodging arrest by immigration officials in California.

Better is to come. Fatima is clearly far too bright to stick around in journalism. The Irish revolution at the Stadium of Light will eventually run its course. The stage will be set for Fatima to graduate with honours, return in triumph to Abu Dhabi as the head of overseas investment …… and buy Sunderland AFC, with the Champions League title within two years her minimum target.

But for now, in the second instalment of this heartwarming tale, you can read Fatima al Shamsi’s own captivating account of conversion from know-nothing girlie Gooner to Sunderland-till-I-die fanatic (despite the unconvincing conclusion) by clicking on this link)


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