Sparky’s Column

A Top Ten of the Pro Era

The season looms large for the first ever Arabian Gulf League, and with it five full years of the professional game in the UAE. The anniversary is not going to be celebrated with parades or firework displays - it will be business as usual for the AGL - but we can celebrate here with the Top Ten list of the professional era.

10. Multiple Champions: Al Ain became the first team to retain the title in the modern era.

9. English TV commentary: This finally opened up the League to expats, though the English commentary is slightly more sedate than the Arabic version.

8. A website:  Unbelievably this didn't exsist in Arabic or English prior to the pro era. The hunt for information, results and fixtures involved a mixture of newspapers and phone calls. You now have all the stats, match reports and news a couple of clicks away.

7. Huge fan prizes: Al Jazira led the way offering sports cars and cash if you could hit the crossbar with a shot. Sadly most participants decided a pair of flip flops was suitable footwear and funnily enough they didn't win.

6. The truly big name (youthful) signing:  Asamoah Gyan was prised away from Sunderland which was a shock to the mighty English Premier League. The player has gone on to break records in a hugely successful time at Al Ain.

5. Match Tickets: Prior to professionalism you arrived at the ground paid your money and walked in. You can now get a match ticket on entry or at some clubs season tickets are available if you want your favourite seat every match.

4. Merchandising: Unless you knew the kitman you had little or no chance of getting your favourite teams shirt. Last season we saw Al Ahli lead the way selling a home, away and even a limited edition kit. Al Wasl have followed suit with a stall open on matchdays with the teams colours available.

3. Information: This is one very few fans appreciate it but behind the scenes a huge amount of work goes into making sure the various media outlets have a stream of information keeping the League on the back pages.

2.  New stadiums: Bani Yas became the first to build a new home, Al Jazira went for a massive expansion of the Mohammed Bin Zayed Stadium and Al Ain will open the most state of the art stadium in the region later this year. Al Ahli have announced plans for a new home which will no doubt look to be the best in the country.

1. Perception:  This is not tangible or measurable but peoples perception has changed. Expats used to feel football was a closed shop with information scarce. It is now one of the few Leagues in the region to provide information in English opening up the game to a whole new set of fans.