Doha, Qatar – If there’s one thing to say about Saudi Arabia’s fans, it’s that they know how to party.
At the Lusail Stadium on Tuesday, they roared their national team to a shock win over Argentina, with the noise echoing around the stadium and giving every football fan goosebumps.
They tried again on Saturday when Saudi Arabia played Poland but their team failed.
But the Saudis’ World Cup isn’t over yet – and they can count on their strong support again on Wednesday against Mexico in the final group game.
In the Saudi House fan zone on Doha’s Corniche, where fans who could not get playing cards gathered, it became clear that this is a football fan culture that has grown organically in Saudi Arabia.
“This hardcore fan culture has always been there,” Yasin, a Saudi Arabia and Al Ittihad fan who traveled to Doha from Jeddah, told Al Jazeera. “It’s better than European football culture, it’s more like Latin American football culture. We have loudspeakers, drums… the songs, the flutes. It’s all part of our culture, not something we imported.”
Al-Ittihad is one of the biggest Saudi clubs. The Jeddah derby against Al-Ahli is one of the most anticipated events in Saudi Arabia every year.
At these games, the fans create an atmosphere that is among the most impressive in world football.
That explains the passionate celebrations by Saudi fans after victory in Argentina – including a viral clip of a group dancing for joy to the 1997 dance track ‘Freed from Desire’.
Yasin says scenes at the World Cup have been commonplace in the Saudi league for years, a passion that is now spreading to the national team.
“The fan groups have come together,” said Yasin. “We sing along to the tunes of our club teams but we changed them to represent the national team. We have started to represent our national team more. We used to come with club shirts, now we all wear the green of Saudi Arabia.”
“It’s organized. We have Tifos [choreographed visual display] prepared, the colors, the chants. We prepare everything before we come. This has all happened in the last 10 years. We took what we traditionally had and made it better.”
React to negativity
When Qatar won the World Cup, it was not just a tournament in itself, but for the Arab world and the Middle East as a whole.
This narrative was compromised during the boycott of Qatar by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt. But since the end of the three-year boycott in 2021 and the restoration of ties between the countries, there are signs that it is becoming a reality.
A World Cup in the region has allowed fans not only from Saudi Arabia, but also from Morocco and Tunisia to support their teams in an unprecedented number at a tournament.
Ali, a Bahraini who has just finished his studies in Newcastle, UK, says the World Cup was a great opportunity for Saudis and Arabs in general to showcase their own fan culture and educate people about it.
“The notion that we don’t have a football culture in the Gulf and Arab world is wrong and this World Cup is the greatest proof of that,” Ali told Al Jazeera. “Saudi fans, in their love and support for football, represent Arab fans in general. You are a great representative.
“I think that now after the World Cup it will be even better and that Saudi Arabia can even host the World Cup in the future,” Ali added.
As for Saudi football, Rashid, who has also been in the fan zone, says the developments of recent years, such as new academies for youth players, will only improve the league and national team and further entrench the ultras’ developed fan culture.
“Saudi football is developing, especially in recent years,” said Rashid. “More attention is being paid to that and youth players are being trained in organized national academies. We don’t benefit from that now, but much later. It is our job as fans to keep our culture of support strong and push the team to greater success.”