Eagles flying high in Saudi Arabia
Football is truly going global, and not just by way of its viewing fanbase. The number of countries where people want to play, is also growing all the time. Currently we are seeing great strides being made in the development of the game in Saudi Arabia. At the vanguard of the movement is twenty four year old Youseff Ahmed, and his team, the Dammam Eagles. I spoke with the football pioneer to get an understanding of how he got interested in the game, and how he sees things developing in his homeland.
“I am 24 years old and I have been playing American Football since 2008. The name of my team is the Eagles and we are based in Dammam, Saudi Arabia. I am a very versatile player and can play as a FB, TE, OLB, and SS but my favourite position to play is OLB as you get the opportunity to make some really big tackles in some really big situations”.
I asked how the team is funded. “My team currently does not have any sponsors and we self-fund. We have been actively looking for sponsors, but it is difficult as the sport is still fairly new, but in the future, I am sure that we will be able to be sponsored. Currently in Saudi Arabia, there are six teams, three of them are fully equipped and the other three are still in the process of becoming fully equipped. We have yet to play our regular inaugural season, but we plan to start that in December of this year, even if we are only three teams, just to get some more exposure. Our last game , was 2 months ago, this was the first game my players played in their football careers it was 7 on 7 vs a team from Saudi Aramco. The football gods weren't in our favour that day and we ended up losing 35-14. Our next game is scheduled in December, but we do plan on getting a few international games in before then.
Fortunately, for Youseff, he doesn’t have to carry the load all by himself. “Mohamed Al-Malky, the General Manager of Jeddah American Football and Eagles team manager Rayan Al-Shiekh, have been working together to build the sport here in Saudi Arabia. We do plan on holding several camps as well as having family friendly games, which will help build the sport. It's going to take time but I am confident that we can all get this done if we work together as one family, because essentially we all have the same dream and that is to be able to compete on an international level and be recognized as one of the best teams in the Middle East/Asia region”.
Working with American coaches has helped develop him as a leader. “I have played this sport for many years, and have played under international coaches over the past few years and I gained a tremendous amount of knowledge to be able to coach the game of American Football. I am currently the Head Coach/ Defensive Coordinator and I have a Lebanese coach as the Offensive Coordinator/Special Teams Coach with me. We did have two other American coaches as well, but they have travelled and may not come back, however we are in contact with a few Americans who have played the sport at a collegiate level that are interested in being part of the coaching staff as well”.
For most of us the thing that sparked our interest in Football was seeing our first NFL game, so I pushed Youseff for a Superbowl winner this year. “We do get NFL/NCAA games out here and many Saudi Arabians watch. My favourite NFL team is the New Orleans Saints but I don't see them winning the SuperBowl this year. I believe that the Los Angeles Rams have a very good chance at winning the Superbowl”.
An interesting prediction, let’s see how it pans out! I’ll be keeping an eye on the Eagles progress as the game in Saudi develops, and with Youseff driving things forward, it shouldn’t be too long until we see them compete on the international stage.