The Ramee Rose Hotel in Dubai’s partially-finished, concrete-and-glass business district of Tecom might be an unlikely venue in which to sample the magic of the FA Cup. But on Sunday, it served up both sides of football’s oldest knockout competition.
The Goodfellas Sports Bar, located on the Mezzanine Level of the four-star hotel, is home to the official Dubai supporters clubs of both Leeds United and Liverpool, who played in contrasting 4th Round ties on an evening of considerable cup drama.
From 6pm, in front of the big screen by the main entrance, 30 or so supporters of Dubai-owned Championship club Leeds cheered their team’s combative 2-1 victory over Premier League Tottenham Hotspur – earning a 5th Round tie against league champions Manchester City.
Then, from 8pm, 40-plus devotees of Liverpool looked on in muted horror from the other end of the bar as Brendan Rodgers’ star-studded line-up was dumped out of the competition by League One Oldham Athletic. Cup romance was, in this part of the world at least, distinctly half-full.
“I got there with 30 minutes of the Leeds game left,” says Neil Briody, communications officer of the Dubai Reds. “I was actually pretty surprised how much noise the Leeds fans were making. I didn’t realise there were that many in Dubai – this is the first time we’ve played on the same day, so we’ve never actually run into each other before.
“We were quite happy they were beating Spurs, and we even joined in their celebrations at the final whistle. Sadly, a few of their boys stayed on to watch us and were quickly cheering for Oldham… so, on reflection, I kind of wish Tottenham had won now!”
One of the delighted Leeds fans was Dan Galley, secretary of the Dubai Whites, who have been calling Goodfellas home from the minute it opened. The original bar manager was himself a Leeds fan and was quick to put framed Leeds shirts and badges on the wall and provide a home from home for any exiled White.
“We came with the hope of a draw at best,” says Dan. “Get a replay, earn a few more quid, show some fight. But we really deserved the win and showed real grit and determination, and made it an unpleasant afternoon for the Spurs players. We’re not as good technically, obviously, but we showed passion – and, as Leeds fans, that’s all we want from the team right now.”
Galley was also pleased Leeds fans came out in force to show their Liverpool counterparts there is another club in the area.
“It would be great if our games clashed a bit more, to be honest,” he says. “We enjoyed the banter. And I’m really glad we showed that we are a genuinely big club with a very large fan-base.
“I really enjoyed the atmosphere down there. We’ve not had that too often recently.”
As a Championship club, though, Leeds games are only televised a dozen or so times a season, meaning Liverpool fans beat a more regular path to Goodfellas and, as a result, have staked their own claim on the venue. Despite defeat on Sunday, they’ll be back on Wednesday night for the Arsenal game and, after that, a clash against Manchester City over the weekend.
“We’ve had some of our best nights in Goodfellas,” says Neil Briody. “We’ve had as many as 120 people down there for some of the bigger games. As an expat, it’s as close as we can get to recreating a match atmosphere.
“We acknowledge this was a Leeds pub first, but as we never clash, it’s fair to say it’s ours too now.”
For Leeds, the only thing missing from a memorable evening was a representative of the new owners, GFH Capital, based in the Dubai International Financial Centre.
“We were hoping David Haigh would come down,” Galley says. “It would have been the ideal opportunity to meet some fans away from the spotlight. And, after that result, it would also have been good for him to see what this club means to a lot of people.”
His next chance might well be the FA Cup 5th Round, on February 17th. Although it’s fair to assume he might find a ticket at the Etihad Stadium for that one.