Bringing the East End to the Middle East

It's two hours to kick off. A smattering of claret and blue shirts mingle by the bar, West Ham United colours are draped over a table in front of a telly showing the early kick off.

It’s two hours to kick off. A smattering of claret and blue shirts mingle by the bar, West Ham United colours are draped over a table in front of a telly showing the early kick off.

There’s an air of excitement in the room, an anticipation of what’s to come, a general hubbub of chat and laughter filling the air. But this is not a pub on Green Street. It’s not the Duke of Edinburgh, it’s not the Queen’s and it’s not the Boleyn. This is Nelson’s, a bar 3,000 miles away in Dubai, the home of the Dubai Hammers Supporters Club.

It’s last Saturday, the early kick off is a rain sodden Fulham v Arsenal and the Dubai Hammers are gathering to watch the match against Newcastle. The weather could not be of greater contrast to the downpour we’re seeing on the TV. Indeed many have arrived in West Ham shirt, casual shorts and flipflops, testament to the 40 degree heat and 70 per cent humidity outside.

But inside we might as well be back in E13. The Dubai Hammers Supporters Club is in its second season and has grown rapidly since its inception, now boasting more than 230 members on its Facebook page. It’s fully recognised by West Ham United Football Club as the official Supporters Club for the United Arab Emirates and the rapid growth is entirely down to the efforts of Tony Sutton, Dave Leader and Stuart Bell, who work tirelessly to promote the club week in week out ensuring the Nelson’s meets are always mentioned on radio and the latest gossip and chat is constantly being updated on Facebook.

Gone are the days, as they were, when I first arrived in Dubai nine years ago, when I looked on enviously as friends who inexplicably followed other Premier League teams went off to their respective alehouses and joined their all encompassing rabble on match day. Indeed, people looked at you quizzically when you mentioned you supported the Hammers, but if, lo and behold, you met someone else who was an Iron you gasped in disbelief that you actually weren’t the only one in the city.

Now that’s all changed, Dubai appears to be teeming with Hammers fans and there’s a place we can go where no-one minds a whole heap of people wailing “Come on You Irons’ and other such ditties on a Saturday evening. Indeed, it would appear the management of Nelson’s are Hammers fans too, or someone in the management hierarchy must be, as the Dubai Hammers are assigned their own bar staff, their own TV screen (being upgraded in size in the next week or so), chip butties at half time and a 20 per cent discount off the bevvies and pre match dinner.

Chuck in the fact you can have a go at guessing what time the first goal’s scored to win the kitty, East End humour at its best, the gentle ribbing of opposition fans (yes, they are very welcome), and the whole match day experience is given a great East End sheen. Incidentally, if no goal is scored (alas, Saturday!) the kitty is rolled over to the following week and if the first goal is scored in the 6th or 66th minute the kitty money is donated to the Bobby Moore Fund – a nice touch.

So if you ever get to Dubai make sure you head to Nelson’s, Media Rotana Hotel, on matchdays, (kick off 3 hours ahead in summer, 4 hours ahead in winter) and join the Dubai Hammers Supporters Club cheering on the mighty Irons. A load of us will be down there later!

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