Saudi Athletic Bilbao fan gets warmest of welcomes
Saeed al-Anazi has become a celebrity of sorts in the Basque region, where local media and the club have followed him for his fervent loyalty
Saeed al-Anazi received more than he had bargained for when he attended a football match in Spain last week. The 27-year-old Saudi fan of Athletic Bilbao has become a celebrity of sorts in the Basque region, where local media and the club have followed him for his fervent loyalty.
Anazi’s journey to the San Mames stadium was not an easy one. The Saudi, who hails from the kingdom’s eastern city of Hafr al-Baten, told MBC.net that he was exhausted by the time he had arrived in Spain, after stopovers in Kuwait and the Netherlands.
“My trip started from Saudi Arabia to Kuwait on Friday and I had only two hours of sleep the previous day. I arrived in Kuwait and met my cousins at 9 a.m., headed for Friday prayers and then tried to sleep but to no avail.”
“My flight to Holland was about half past one in the morning on Saturday, keeping in mind that the match was starting at 10 a.m. Spanish time,” he added.
After a six-hour flight from Kuwait, another eight hours waiting at the airport in Holland, Anazi finally arrived in Bilbao, fulfilling his decade-long dream to watch his favorite team play in the flesh.
Once at the stadium, Anazi instantly bonded with the fans who embraced him as a fellow Athletic Bilbao follower.
“I saw in the fans’ eye the love for the team as well as the consideration they showed me as a Saudi coming from the ends of the earth to fulfill his dream of watching a match in the stadium,” he said.
“The fans’ reactions were astonishing to the point that if I was walking the streets everyone wanted to take a photograph with me,” he said.
The affection for Anazi’s arrival extended to more than just the fans, with the club itself posting videos of the ardent follower on its YouTube channel before inviting him to meet the players in person.
“That moment was shocking for me,” he told MBC.net, recalling the moment he met the players.
“I never had expected it and I couldn’t keep myself in one piece and my eyes began to tear when I saw the players giving me gifts.
“There were even more tears when they said to me ‘We are the ones who would like to thank you and not the other way around.’”
The Spanish CanalFutbolista also showed interest in Anazi, airing an interview with the Saudi as well as screening footage of the man with other Spaniards applauding during the match.
A camera crew also captured Anazi’s dreams of entering the San Mames stadium.
Anazi said he had reservations about his favorite club, namely concerning its recruitment policy, but that these had been dispelled after his visit.
“At the beginning I thought the selection of players from the same region reflected a sort of racism but when I brought this up with officials from the club and fans, they said: ‘So why are we pumping money outside our region and other citizens? This is the reason we established the football academy which is today among the best in Europe,” Anazi told MBC.net.