After a long absence away from Bahrain’s domestic football scene, it seems like the soul is finally back. Football in the country had been starving for some excitement especially after the passionate fans stopped attending the games. That somehow translated into a disappointing run for Bahrain’s national team – a team which had a strong potential to be among the front runners in Middle East football.
Although the level of play is not up to par with the rest of the regional heavy weights, the fact that supporters are making their way to the stadiums for league games is a good start.
Let’s try to analyze the sudden change of heart in the fans’ attitude towards domestic football.
First: Infamous rivalries which were able to bring the fans in numbers to the stadiums had a clear impact on local football. But the recent emergence of rivalries among teams, more so this season, among teams like Muharraq and Riffa or the Clasico battle between Muharraq and Al Ahli, East Riffa and Al Riffa has raised the profile. And what makes the league even more interesting is the fact that the team second in the table (Muharraq) is only eleven points adrift from the side sitting at the bottom (Manama). Moreover, with Al Hidd being the favorites to win the title this season, making it the fourth team to win the title in six seasons, makes interest in the league worthwhile.
Second: The increase in focus by media on Bahraini football, more importantly through social media, has helped fans access exclusive and real-time content with ease resulting in increased interest in the game and engagement by fans.
Third: Though the names of many of the foreigners that play in Bahrain’s premier league widely go unknown as compared to those based in either UAE, Qatar or Saudi Arabia, these professionals have and continue to play a prominent role in their respective clubs that they represent. And as evident as it is across the region, the presence of these foreigners who bring in a different style to the Bahraini game has helped locals build up their own technical ability to adapt to various styles.
Fourth: Finally, a number of Bahraini talent have emerged in recent times – players with excellent technical abilities and potent goal-scorers who have managed to attract the attention and admiration of the crowd, which is always a plus.
It might take some time for Bahraini football to witness the interest in the game that existed in the pre-2004 era wherein the nation saw its greatest run in domestic and international. Yet it is clear fans play a major role in the development of the game and that a change is on the horizon as fans slowly trickle back into stadiums across Bahrain. The impact is encouraging and deserves a commendation for the visible progress since the Arab Spring.