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The Quiet Hopelessness of Arsenal Fans

August 27th, 2015 · No Comments · Arsenal, English Premier League, Football, Hong Kong, soccer

I am a sort of Arsenal fan. Not a live-and-die fan. I would never say that. Not when I was only vaguely aware the club existed for at least the first half of my life.

Not until we spent four months in Hong Kong, 2008-09, did I consider the concept of having a preferred Premier League club. It seemed pretty much required of anyone living in the Old World.

That process was laid out on this blog, beginning with a Whom Should I Support? post.

Eighteen months later, I realized I had decided by not deciding, that no one had outstripped the club that even in that first post was in the No. 1 spot.

Arsenal.

At the time, I was a bit worried about choosing one of the Big Four and being designated a front-runner.  Goodness knows, where we live is a citadel of front-running. People in the UAE like Barcelona or they like Real Madrid. How daring is that.

I didn’t realize, right away, but it has become clear, over the course of five years, that being an Arsenal fan is to do more than a little suffering.

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Some Really Ugly Soccer

August 26th, 2015 · No Comments · Arabian Gulf League, Drugs, Football, soccer, The National

This was predictable. A UAE team playing in Tehran against an Iranian team in the quarterfinals of the Asian Champions League

No way it was going to come off as a tribute to sportsmanship.

But the reality was even uglier than I had expected, mostly (thankfully) in small, petulant ways — jersey-grabbing, shin-kicking, faking, diving, acting and bitching at the poor Japanese referee, who could not possibly have been paid enough to put up with this behavior — and especially that from the about-to-lose-their-minds Iranian side.

Pretty much, it was relentlessly chicken-sh*t, and I wish I had kept a clock on how much time was actually spent playing the game. I am confident most of the 90 minutes (plus six added on) was given over to pushing and pointing and remonstrating with the ref.

It was a sorry, petty-violent-even-while-being-dreary advertisement for Asian soccer.

How much of it was about one soccer culture or the other, and how much of it had socio-political roots … hard to say. But Iran playing the UAE (or Saudi Arabia or Qatar) is very unlikely to be a monument to good behavior

Luckily, the UAE’s Al Ahli, which generally seemed the aggrieved party in this mess, beat Naft Tehran 1-0.

Finishing ahead in Iran is always an achievement for an Emirati club, given that the Iranian league is ranked on a slightly higher level, and the sense of being under siege that UAE teams must confront, while in Iran.

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Galaxy: The First MLS Super Team?

August 25th, 2015 · 1 Comment · Barcelona, Football, Galaxy, Landon Donovan, soccer, World Cup

On this side of the Atlantic, they have a tired, trite expression for perennially successful soccer teams. Those that dominate their league, pay the best salaries and seem to suck up the best players, as they become available.

“Giants”, they inevitably are called.

“Juventus, the Serie A giants … Bayern Munich, the German giants … Galatasaray, the Turkish giants …”

Major League Soccer may be about to generate its own “giant”.

The LA Galaxy.

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Death at the Track

August 24th, 2015 · 1 Comment · Motor racing

I have written more than once that only two sports accept death as a part of doing business:

Boxing and motor racing.

Racing lost another competitor today, when Englishman Justin Wilson succumbed to head injuries suffered when hit by debris yesterday during an IndyCar race at Pocono Raceway.

That led to a melancholy conversation, over here in Abu Dhabi, with a co-worker about covering IndyCar races at which someone died.

He was at Homestead in 2006 when Paul Dana was killed in a huge crash during qualifying. I was at Fontana in 1999 when Greg Moore died after his car slammed into a wall during the Sunday race.

And as you do, when discussing those moments, you realize you have specific — but often odd and perhaps not even coherent — memories of the event.

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Soccer in the Pouring Rain

August 23rd, 2015 · No Comments · English Premier League, Football, soccer

Major League Soccer’s season runs from March until late November. That encompasses some really warm days in the North American summer, but it doesn’t take in too much cold and damp — approaching winter or escaping it.

And then there is the English Premier League. Which plays right through the winter, but starts in August.

Even in England, August should mean warm, dry days.

But then we saw today’s games — played in conditions Noah might appreciate. Or Scots would ignore.

Powerful, nonstop rain. Driving rain. Rain bullets.

And as I watched the handful of Premier League games today, it struck me that fans in Europe are a hardier set of people than those in Southern California. Where people used to call sports desks at newspapers and ask if an American football game would be rained out by a bit of drizzle.

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Among the Fans Broiling in the Stands

August 22nd, 2015 · No Comments · Abu Dhabi, Arabian Gulf League, Football, soccer, Sports Journalism

I am a fan of the Arabian Gulf League. This is soccer. The top division of the domestic league.

It may not be La Liga or the Premier League, but it’s what we have, here in the UAE.

It’s indigenous. It’s hometown. And your neighborhood club is just down the street from where you live, in most UAE neighborhood.

The AGL features all the best players from the UAE, and about 50 or 60 of them are pretty good, and 50-some foreign professionals wooed and paid well by the local clubs to give them a chance to win a championship.

We take the league very seriously, at The National. The AGL is by far the most professional and most significant local sports organization, and we react to it accordingly. (Check our mega-preview package, put up online for your viewing pleasure.)

But I must concede … that this is a league that can be difficult to commit to, particularly in August, when games are played in “feels like” temperatures well into triple digits — as was the case the other night when I saw Al Jazira, The Pride of Abu Dhabi (as they would like to be known), play host to Al Wasl of Dubai about one mile from the offices of The National, and I was sweating profusely without moving a muscle.

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Usain Bolt, Track and Doping

August 21st, 2015 · No Comments · Beijing Olympics, London 2012

Here we are at another World Championship of Athletics, the second-biggest event in what Americans call “track and field”.

And another round of Usain Bolt setting world records? The 100 meters on Sunday and the 200 on August 29?

I still have not come to terms with the records he already has because of the enormous gouges he has made in the best time — in an era when every other man who has run one of the 32 fastest “legal” times in men’s 100-meter history has served a doping suspension.

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Your Drafted Team Versus Your Chosen Team

August 20th, 2015 · No Comments · Baseball, Basketball, Dodgers, Fantasy Baseball, Football, NBA, soccer

A topic that comes up, eventually, with everyone who plays fantasy baseball or football or basketball or soccer …

When a player from your fantasy team meets up with someone from the team you support … to which side do you focus your psychic energy?

Or, making it simple, whom do you want to come out on top at that moment?

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UAE Soccer Season Starts with a Rout

August 19th, 2015 · No Comments · Abu Dhabi, Arabian Gulf League, Dubai, English Premier League, Football, soccer

Final score: Al Ahli 8, Fujairah 1.

And there is your season-opening game of the Arabian Gulf League season. One of the richest clubs in the league against one of the smallest, and 8-1 is a bit of a statistical outlier, but it’s not like anyone who knows UAE football says: “What? That’s not possible!”

The AGL is a 14-team league, which is the size the Asian Football Confederation prefers as a minimum for leagues, on this continent.

The trouble with that, here in the UAE?

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Tax-Free UAE: Great While It Lasts

August 18th, 2015 · No Comments · Abu Dhabi, The National, UAE

One of the biggest selling points for people and businesses relocating to the UAE, over the first 44 years of its existence, has been the near universal absence of individual taxes.

No individual income tax. No sales tax. No inheritance taxes. No property taxes.

If you were paid $100,000 by your employer … you received the whole of that $100,000. That was the case for businesses, too, unless you were a foreign bank or oil company. Or, on a micro scale, if you were a non-Muslim buying alcohol, which in Abu Dhabi carries a 20 percent tax.

Now, however, it seems clear the UAE, in concert with the other countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council will impose a value-added tax (often known by the initials VAT) sometime in the next couple of years. The story linked, above, brooks no “if” — referring to a VAT “when” it comes into effect.

And a nearly tax-free polity will be no more.

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