Who needs grass to play the great game when you have beaches right on your doorstep for football fanatics?
Words: Kate Ginn
As the sun starts to lower in the sky and the weather cools enough to be comfortable outside, Seeb beach starts to come alive.
The sand is cleared and rubbish swept aside. Some of the players are already warming up, jogging along the shoreline or doing stretching exercises.
Small wooden goalposts are placed into position. The game is about to begin and the tension is palpable.
This is football Omani style, where the action takes place on the sand and everyone wants to show off, preferably in some style.
Beach football, in case you hadn’t noticed, is absolutely huge in Oman. Drive past any beach around 4.30pm and the chances are a lively game of sorts will be in progress.
Don’t be mistaken, though. While the skills on display might not exactly be of the same standard as Christiano Ronaldo and the game is played using an unofficial rulebook, this is a serious business for the young men sweating it out on the sunbaked sand.
Not only is the match at stake but the team’s pride.
“We play to win. It means so much to us,” says Mohammed, one of the players taking part in a knockabout game on the weekend.
“Maybe people see us playing and think it is just for fun, but it is more than that to us.”
Just how important the game was could be seen on the sweat-drenched faces of all the players, pushing themselves to the limit on the punishing sandy surface, which quickly saps the strength and energy from aching muscles. This is all about physical stamina, agility and accuracy.
Y’s office is just across the road from Seeb beach, so we get a bird’s eye view of the late afternoon’s impromptu football match from our balcony every evening.
The shouts for the ball or urging a last-gasp tackle can be heard echoing in the air. Players are clad in makeshift football kits, neither matching with each other or, indeed, with their own tops or shorts.
Chelsea F.C. football tops clash with Brazil shorts or a teammate’s Real Madrid top, mixed in with the Iraqi national football team top and Italian strip. These are true rainbow teams, happily playing side-by-side on nature’s pitch. They call to each other in predominantly Arabic but different languages slip in, the odd English word or flutter of Spanish.
Most play barefoot, kicking up clouds of sand as they dribble with the ball or slide into a tackle.
Next to the adults, a group of little boys are emulating the grown-ups and their footballing heroes with their own game. Of course, each and every one of them playing, adult or child, dreams of being the next Ali al Habsi, the only Omani to play in the English Premier League so far and the stuff of football legends.
With its 1,700km of coastline and endless stretches of sand, it will come as no surprise to learn that it turns out that Oman is quite good at beach football.
Our national beach soccer team has won two major titles in the trophy cabinet to boast about – the gold medal at the first Asian Games in Indonesia in 2008 and top spot in the inaugural GCC Beach Games in Bahrain two years ago.
Sadly, the dream of victory in the inaugural WAFF Beach Football Championship in Qeshm Island, Iran, at the beginning of the month ended in tears, if you will forgive the football cliché, with a heartbreaking 4-3 defeat in a penalty shootout against Iran.
Never mind, there’s always the World Cup. Yes, beach football has it’s own global competition.
The current holders are, surprisingly, Russia, who triumphed in Italy in 2011, but, not so surprisingly, Brazil has won the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup four times.
Oman’s team, which is controlled by the Oman Football Association, the governing body for the game, made its debut in the tournament last year and will be bidding for a place in this year’s event in Tahiti.
Beach football is a serious business, then. In fact, even the teams playing to let off steam after a hard day at work can use their silky skills on the sand to good use.
More and more competitions and events for amateur beach footballers are being held in Muscat and around Oman, offering cash or other prizes to the winning teams.
Hundreds of beach footballers descended on the pristine beaches of Shatti al Qurum in February this year to battle for honours and the RO1,200 top prize in the second Nawras Beach Football Tournament. Bank Dhofar also held its own Beach Five competition in March.
Even if you don’t live near a beach, there’s no need to miss out. Makeshift football pitches can be found around the country on any suitable flat surface. There’s even one high up on Jebel Shams, the highest mountain in the country.
So what are you waiting for? Grab your football kit and ball and join in the fun.