By Anand Holla
A slew of dignitaries and Qatar’s football stars descended upon Katara’s Building 22 as Road to Glory, the veteran football players exhibition, featuring the famed Al Rayyan Sports Club opened Sunday morning.
The exhibition, which will continue until February 17, seeks to connect the past and the present and focusses on four stars whose superior gameplay and unwavering spirit left a fantastic legacy for Qatar and Al Rayyan Sports Club.
The timing for the opening of this exhibition couldn’t have been better as it’s the season that sees Al Rayyan Sports Club, to the delight of their thousands of fans, back in Qatar Stars League in terrific style after their absence last season. Not to mention its run coincides with the National Sport Day, which means it is set to witness tremendous footfall today as the nation leaps into a flurry of celebrations.
In a room bathed in red and black, an impressive array of memorabilia such as medals, trophies, photos, player gear, framed newspaper cut-outs and such, adorn the walls, tables and display cases dedicated to the four players, while videos featuring top names in Qatari football play on all through the place.
All four featured footballers are big names. There’s Ali Mohamed al-Ali, “The Maestro”, who made his debut for the team in the 1974-75 season, as Al Rayyan defeated Al Wakrah 3-1. It was al-Ali’s decisive passes to Mansour Muftah that had made all the difference. A star player, al-Ali later became a coach and guided his team to three Qatari League titles, one Challenge Cup and two Emir’s Cup titles.
And then there’s ace defender Abdullah Alammri who is hailed as one of the finest defenders in Qatari football history, made obvious by his nickname “Al Rayyan’s Defence Rock”. As for Younis Ahmed, “a unique goalkeeper not only in the GCC and the Arab world but also in Asia,” he had made a superb comeback after injury and surgery, returning stronger than ever and earning the sobriquet “The Loyal”.
Striker Mansour Muftah, or The Falcon, was terrific at everything from headers to cross passes. Muftah was not only famous in Qatar and the Gulf but had an awesome reputation in the Arab world and Asia.
The collective nickname of the Al Rayyan team is Fierce, as they are said to have made Qatar “proud by stopping at nothing in their pursuit of honour, pride and achievements.”
“In the heart of Qatar, in a time when nothing that we see around us today existed, brave men played sport for life… not just for tournaments and titles,” reads a note that was handed out to all the visitors of the exhibition. “They gave their soul, energy, time and determination and laid the ground for Qatar’s amazing modern sports achievements and paved the way to the greatness we witness today.”
The note continues, “Despite the hardship, lack of basic amenities and equipment and the luxuries that modern athletes enjoy, the players, coaches and management of Al Rayyan Sports Club played for the love of the sport and nothing else mattered. Their love and passion overcame all obstacles… Their story is one of pride, bravery and determination. The road they took is a road to glory.”
Ali Mohamed al-Ali, who is now the President of Veteran Players Committee, explained to Community the need to remind the new generation about the old’s glorious feats. “You can’t tell our whole story through photographs and videos. You must show people the objects — the medals, the ID cards, the apparel, the awards — because each of these objects holds a tremendous story,” al-Ali says, “And I have many such stories as I have been involved with Qatari football since the late ’60s.”
Al-Ali’s tryst with Al Rayyan began in 1968. “I was nine years old when I started out with Al Rayyan. At 18, I went to the US to study and I played football there, too, and it was great. After I graduated, I returned to Qatar and joined the Al Rayyan team,” he says.
Most of the foreign countries don’t believe Qatar has a history in football, feels al-Ali. “This exhibition serves to show, through objects and pictures and stories, that we, too, have this rich legacy in football. You can look at how good the training suit we had back in 1975 was, and only then perhaps truly believe in our rich legacy in football,” al-Ali explains, “The Doha Stadium is the oldest stadium in the Gulf to have grass. It was so popular that other countries’ club would come to Qatar to play on it.”
Founded in 1958 with the objective of holding school sports festivals, the Doha Stadium was planted with green grass in 1962 following a proposal by the Engineer Wajeeh Mustafa, a teacher in an elementary school, thereby making it the first grass playground in the Gulf region.
In his note on the exhibition, SheikhHamad bin Khalifa bin Ahmed al-Thani, President of the Qatar Football Association, says that the exhibition is as much a tribute to the veteran stars as it is a message to all the current Qatari players in football clubs and national teams “that Qatar will always be loyal to its people and will support our players; even after retirement.”
“Personally, I like the saying — If you don’t have a past, you don’t have a future,” the note written by al-Thani reads, “and I believe that the exhibition is more than a link between the past and the present. It is a message to everyone that Qatar, who won the FIFA World Cup 2022 bid, embraces modern developments and pays tribute to its veteran stars that are part of our country’s sporting history.”
Among their many achievements, the veterans scripted history at the World Youth Championship Final in Australia in 1981, the Olympics in Los Angeles in 1984, and the Olympics in Barcelona in 1992.
This, however, might just be the first in a long line of exhibitions set to pay tribute to the achievements of veterans across all sports clubs. “This is the beginning,” says al-Ali, “We plan to organise two exhibitions every year featuring various clubs. That’s because when we host the 2022 World Cup, we must reach out to the world by having a venue that showcases the achievements of our clubs and throws light on the Qatari football history.”
When they first decided to establish a committee for Qatari Veteran Players, they didn’t realise that their idea would receive such financial and moral support by the sporting leaders and QFA under the auspices of Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa bin Ahmed al-Thani, says al-Ali.
“I also share the same feeling of responsibility with my colleagues, the committee members, towards every Qatari player who made such great efforts to raise Qatar’s flag high in the international arena and represent Qatari football in the best way possible,” he says, “The reactions we saw in the eyes of veteran players and their families underscore the significance of the noble objective for which we created this committee. These objectives are an integral part of our beloved nation, which gives unconditionally and never forgets its people.”
Al-Ali emphasises on his feeling of having “lived with football”. “I have this inherent urge to strive for perfection, whatever task I take up. By being part of the team that put together this exhibition, I feel like I have gained more experience in handling such processes and this will only help me in setting up future exhibitions of this kind,” al-Ali says, “My kids visited the exhibition and they loved it. I truly hope that the new generation understands the storied legacy of this country’s love for football.”
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