As part of the World Cup, we are highlighting football that takes place on the ground. Amid the criticism and debate surrounding Qatar, we have rarely heard from people who live and work there. This month we’ve teamed up with Goal Click to highlight a series of features from GOALS – a storytelling program produced by The Sports Creative, Qatar Foundation, Generation Amazing, Salam Stores, and Goal Click. These stories cover more than 40 people, representing 20 nationalities - the majority of women - share their own stories of football, community, and life in Qatar in 2022.
Khalid Al-Ghanim is the Founder of Analog Film Club and a devoted fan of the Qatar national team. As part of the GOALS program, Khalid tells his story of supporting the national team and he took photos during the FIFA Arab Cup 2021.
What once made us so happy can be forgotten. I guess that is why I love photography; capturing moments to take them with me.
There are also moments I did not photograph, but are ones I cling to for dear life to remember. Why? Because they have brought me great happiness and joy. These memories are a love story between a fan and a national team.
The stadium was in our neighbourhood; we could hear the commotion from our living room, where my family and I watched together. It was a cold winter night in 2004, and it is where my journey with the national team begins.
Qatar was playing Oman in the Gulf Cup of Nations Final, and the Jassim Bin Hamad stadium was sold out. It is the earliest memory I have of how football impacted my life.
I was eight years old, the youngest of three siblings; my brother and sister guided me through football concepts while watching the game. It was a tense game that ended 1-1, and the referee blew for penalties. With penalties, it was getting crazier by the second, and I did not fully understand what was happening - my parents were furious, telling us to simmer down while they watched the penalties.
It reached the crunch point. There was silence as the Omani player stepped up to take the penalty, and Mohammed Saqr of Qatar saved the penalty.
The roar from the crowd in the stadium reached our living room as my family went into a state of pandemonium.
We had won the Cup, and my love for the game and Al-Annabi (Qatar) was born.
Two years later I had the opportunity to attend my first football match as Qatar hosted the Asian Games in 2006. I remember my excitement when entering the stadium and seeing the players warming up. It was Qatar v the United Arab Emirates, and my father gave me a breakdown of the whole team and said I must pay attention to number 26.
He was right; this scrawny teenager was turning the opposition inside out, dancing all over the pitch and charming the fans. It was Khalfan Ibrahim.
He was the golden boy, and I knew magic when I saw it. Ibrahim helped the team win the football tournament at the Asian Games that year. He instantly became my favorite football player.
On YouTube, videos of him are titled ‘Khalfaninho’. To me, he was the best player in the world. Ronaldo, Messi and Rooney could not lay a finger on him. Khalfan lived the Qatari dream and was the beacon of hope for the national team.
With Khalfan in the squad, anything was possible. We were on the course to qualify for the Beijing Olympics and the World Cup in 2010. Things were looking good, real good. That all changed on April 18th, 2007.
Qatar was playing Bahrain in the qualifiers for Beijing 2008 when Khalfan was tackled and stayed down. It transpired that he had torn his anterior cruciate ligament and would miss eighteen months of football. I was heartbroken.
After that, the national team deteriorated, failing to qualify for both the Olympics and the World Cup. All I could think about was when Khalfan would come back and bring back the good times.
I would go to the Al-Sadd training facility, where Khalfan was in rehabilitation, to see if I could see the golden boy. I failed many times until my dad came with me, and I finally got to meet Khalfan.
I was eleven years old, and I was meeting my hero. I was unable to hide my joy. He was grateful for my concern and thanked me; he was everything I imagined him to be as a footballer and human being.
When Khalfan returned to the field, he was not the same. His injuries caught up with him, and in 2020 he retired at 32.
Whenever he was knocked down, he got up stronger.
I believe that even if life is not what you thought it would be, you have to work with what you have and make the most out of any situation.
Khalfan will have a special place in Qatari football history. To this day, no one could replace him as my favourite football player.
It became harder to love the national team. I would remember the good times and hoped they would come back someday.
In 2015 I left Qatar to continue my education abroad, in Chicago. I would watch Qatar’s games on my laptop. There was little joy until 2017 when Felix Sanchez took charge of Qatar and overhauled the squad.
We started playing better under Sanchez, more like a team. Winning felt different, and losing felt different! It was less chaotic and harmony was restored.
In January 2019, Qatar was playing in the Asian Cup. I was still in college, watching the games in the morning or during lectures, expecting Qatar to exit earlier.
What transpired was unthinkable; we were undefeated and won the cup for the first time in our history.
I remember watching the Final against Japan in my apartment at 9AM during a snowstorm. All those years of pain, suffering, defeats, and embarrassments, all led up to winning the trophy that none of us ever expected to win. We had come full circle.
Now I have moved back to Qatar and experienced seeing my country play in World Cup stadiums during the Arab Cup, where we won the bronze medal on our National Day.
I've always wanted to merge football and photography. My first opportunity to do so was in Euro 2020 when my wife and I visited Russia and watched Russia vs Finland.
Football and photography belong to one another. Raw emotion does not get better than with football fans, the teams, the old man and the little boy in a stadium all mixed up in one place. The Arab Cup let me relive that same feeling once again. It confirmed my passion for the game and the medium.
The World Cup is the moment we have all been waiting for since it was announced 12 years ago.
One hope I have is that the World Cup can be a catalyst for a changing discourse around Qatari football culture. I am confident that people will see that Qatar is a place that values the game. It is not the same culture as in Europe or South America, but it is a culture that is special in its own way.
I am not unique; my love for football cuts deep and many people share the same fondness for ‘Al-Annabi,’ Khalfan, and this journey towards 2022.
I dedicate this to Al-Annabi fans past and present, Khalfan Ibrahim the golden boy, and my father, Issa Al-Ghanim, who made an effort in helping me meet my hero and fall in love with football.