Once upon a time, Fatima al Shamsi*, pictured (left) with her sister Alyazyah outside the Emirates Stadium, accepted an internship at an English-language newspaper in Abu Dhabi, capital of her native UAE, and found herself under the professional guidance of a Sunderland supporter. It would be a gross misrepresentation of events to suggest she returned to college in New York knowing more about SAFC than journalism. The experience left her with some affection for Sunderland, but nowhere near enough to supplant her passion for the Gunners. A day earlier than planned, thanks to some technical hitch, here’s what she has to say…
Salut! Sunderland: Barca, Brazil, Inter Milan and Arsenal. Sounds like the ultimate wish list of the Queen of Gloryseekers. How come you collect great football teams?
AC Milan not Inter! I started watching football when I moved to Brazil at the age of three. although I barely remember any of it. I just remember playing it at school and watching incomprehensibly with my dad and simply loving it. This is why the Brazilian national team has always held a special place in my heart. It been great to see them play beautifully again (especially during the confederation cup over the summer) after recent years of frustrating subpar football which was an absolute horror to watch. With that said I also enjoy watching the Spanish national team and at times Argentina, but when it comes down to it, its definitely club vs. country and I’d take an Arsenal game any day.
I am definitely not a glory seeker! When I was younger me and my dad bonded a lot during the weekends by watching matches together. his main indulgence during the weekends were football games so we had time to watch the Spanish, Italian and English leagues. I had a lot more time to follow those different leagues so I had a favourite team in each one. Although you may call me a glory seeker for these teams, I picked them as a child based on favourite players and rivalries within my household between me my parents and my siblings so they just happened to be good teams and not a conscious ‘glory seeking’ decision. These days I don’t really keep up with the Italian league much but I do follow Barça games as much as I keep track of Arsenal (although if it has to come down to it, like it did champions league finals 2006, it’s always Arsenal first).
Why are Arsenal your favourites?
My earliest memory of having decided that arsenal were my team was back in 97, it was a Man Utd v Arsenal and we won (i think the score was 3-2 if memory serves me correct) I was watching the game with my dad and I remember how ardently he hated Man Utd which predisposed me to hate them too, but more importantly i was absolutely mesmerized by Bergkamp. I just remember thinking this was my team. Anelka was another favorite of mine at the time until his attitude changed by 98/99 and he wasn’t as spectacular to watch anymore.
And to prove it is not all glory you even had a soft spot for Sunderland. Remind us of how that came about.
Haha. A keen editor at the newspaper where I interned decided it was his duty to turn me away from a brand name such as Arsenal and guide me towards a ‘real’ team such as Sunderland. A few articles here and there, several links, and my own copy of “More 24 hour SAFC People” brought me pleasantly up to date on the history of Sunderland and well, I just couldn’t help but to show a little love for them.
I was very surprised especially cause I liked Keane and thought he’d bring about some great changes, especially with how well they were playing at the start of the season i still think they deserved to win the first game against Liverpool and they did pretty well against Arsena so it all came as quiet a shock. But considering how Sunderland are doing this season I think they’ll probably do better if they keep it up. after all beating Liverpool and a draw against Man Utd is not too bad, now if only they could beat Chelsea at Stamford Bridge I’d be absolutely thrilled. Most likely a top ten finish if they keep at it.
Name this season’s top four in order. And the bottom three.
Arsenal. Chelsea. Man Utd. Liverpool (I just have a soft spot for them).
West Ham or Bolton, Hull, Portsmouth.
Arsenal are being described as dark horses for the title. Is it insulting to be thought of like that?
Absolutely not. You can call us whatever you want. We play beautiful football and its about time we want a title to back it up.
Do recent results give you confidence that this will be a good season foe the Gunners?
As long as we continue to play well through November which is when we usually seem to fall apart for some reason, then I have faith that we should be ok.
Did the Abu Dhabi takeover of Man City tempt you to offer a little support in the direction of Mark Hughes and his team? Where will they finish this season – and next?
Not at all. Initially, last season I thought that I could perhaps sympathise with the likes of Robinho and Ireland, but recently Robinho’s hasn’t been playing up to potential at all, its quite disappointing. And after Adebayor made a display of himself earlier this season after scoring against Arsenal, I’m just waiting to play them at the Emirates in April so that we can crush them. I think they’ll probably finish somewhere in the top 6. Although they haven’t lost a game yet, they aren’t spectacular at all and probably won’t be for a while.
Who is your all-time favourite player – any club or country, any position?
This one is tough. Definitely Henry when he played for Arsenal he just made football so beautiful- there was nothing I wanted more when I was 13 then to meet Thierry Henry. In that same spirit I think Zidane is one of the most elegant players. He played with such simplicity; it made everything look so effortless. Finally I also think Roberto Carlos is worth mentioning. His free kick goal against France is the most phenomenal thing I have ever seen. Actually, he’s got a dozen or so incredible goals. I also love the way he plays up and down the left wing with ease. Love it.
Being an overseas supporter of Arsenal, how do you view the rivalry with Spurs?
Surprisingly it feels very real to me. Perhaps it’s because I got into football at a very young age and have been following it incessantly since then but there is a natural cringe whenever I think about the Spurs. I love watching them get beat in general but there’s nothing sweeter than beating them ourselves. Although honestly, recently I’ve developed a hatred for Chelsea that outdoes any disdain I might have for another Premiership team.
You live in America. What is it like being a football fan there, how likely are you to achieve your dream of being an Arsenal season ticket holder for at least one season and what would it mean to you?
Living in America -after my family left three years ago and took away my easy access to cable and satellite channels that guaranteed Premiership games- means that I have mastered the art of live tv streaming online. There are also a plenty of pubs around NYC and an Italian café right by where I live (which I discovered recently) which show games. These have an amazing atmosphere and are a lot of fun to go to, but given game times and the creeping cold weather, watching arsenal at 7am is done much more efficiently on my laptop from the comfort of my bed.
I’m thinking of studying in London after I’m done with New York so my dream of being a season ticket holder might actually come into fruition. It would mean the world to me because I’ve been wanting to be able and watch Arsenal regularly, live from the stadiums, since I was a kid. And I’ve been to plenty of games, especially now that my mum lives in Spain, and the 98 world cup, but to me, there’s nothing like an Arsenal game.
The Eduardo question: Arsenal need three points in the final game to clinch the title. Last second … Eduardo – who else? – floats through the air in a blatant dive seen as such by everyone except the referee. He gets the penalty and Arsenal win. You take it gladly, you take it guiltily or you’re so ashamed you almost wish Man Utd or Chelsea had won the title?
I’m going to preface my answer by saying that I think football is one of the most beautiful things ever. I absolutely love this game. Anything that makes the game ugly really irritates me. Diving and cheating and unnecessary aggression on the field really angers me because I feel like a player is overcompensating for a lack of skill. I play football myself so I understand that these things happen when you play but there’s a stark difference most times to shoving and pushing and a blatant tackle and dramatic acrobatic antics.
With that said, these things to happen in football and if we’re given a penalty then I’ll gladly take it because of the handful of times we didn’t get it when we deserved it. I’d rather we get our 3 points under different circumstances (cause I don’t consider penalties the same way I do a regular goal) but otherwise, I’ll take it (and I’ve never wish Man Utd or Chelsea to win the title. Preposterous suggestion).
Tell us how football is developing in your own country? Do you have a favourite team there and how often do you see them?
I know back in the UAE they have put a lot of effort recently into getting the fans to come out to the games. I think the mentality socially is still very much why bother leave the comfort of your house. But I think that mindset is changing slowly too. People are very very passionate about their teams. Unfortunately I don’t know much about the league in the Emirates, other than who my cousins support (and by default I should too) and the only game I’ve watched in the Emirates was AC Milan v. UAE National Team.
Score on Saturday and how will you follow the game?
At the rate Arsenal has been scoring recently I’m hoping something like 4-1. Sorry, but I’ve definitely got to predict a win for us. We need all the points we can get to catch up with Chelsea. I might make a trip out to the pubs to get a proper fan atmosphere, but considering it’s a 10am kickoff I’ll most likely just watch it in my room.
* Fatima al Shamsi on Fatima al Shamsi:
Studying Environmental Science and Human Rights in New York (although this semester I’ve focusing more on writing classes as well as learning Portuguese). Running is getting better; my goal by December is to be running 8-10 km. Also been playing on a co-ed intramural football league.