Deep love and community spirit driving Sharjah Wanderers' resurgence

Matt Jones - Editor 11:33 09/07/2019
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Wanderers players celebrate their UAE Conference triumph in 2015/16.

Returning from a 12-month exile proves there is a deep sense of community spirit and passion coursing through the veins of people associated with Sharjah Wanderers.

That is the message being delivered by new chairman Chris Paton, one of the club’s most senior players, who admits Wanderers will always hold a special place in his heart.

Paton has played for a club located in the shadow of the giant that has become Dubai – but one that has been around for longer than all but one of the city’s myriad other teams – for a decade.

At least it would have been a decade had Wanderers not decided to pull their senior men’s team out of competition on the eve of the 2018/19 season due to dwindling player numbers.

They hoped, however, it would only be temporary. And the good news that Sharjah would be back for 2019/20 was announced via the club’s Instagram account less than two weeks ago.

“When I came over I planned to only stay for two years and I’m still here. The club’s a big part of that and the friends that have come with it,” admitted 32-year-old Paton, who will replace long-serving Shane Breen as chairman.

“It’s been quite a journey but it’s been great fun and I can’t wait to carry it on.”

Influential No8 Isaac Porter is heading back to Sharjah.

Influential No8 Isaac Porter is heading back to Sharjah.

If it wasn’t obvious already, the Dubai Knights Eagles merger between Dubai Eagles and Arabian Knights, announced at the end of last month, proves survival is a big issue for many UAE rugby clubs.

It always has been for an amateur sport built on expatriate players whose sporting passion nevertheless comes second to the main reason they’re here in the Emirates – employment.

But Paton believes there is something special about Sharjah, one of the UAE’s oldest clubs, who were established in 1977 – only Dubai Exiles and Abu Dhabi Harlequins are older.

“There’s definitely a big community spirit at the club,” added Paton, the back rower who still envisions being required on as well as off the field next season.

“The fact everyone makes the effort to train wherever we can and play under the circumstances – playing in all sorts of positions and guys coming from the vets – proves that.

“You can tell how people feel about the club just by how relatively quick and easy this has been to get back together. We’ve got a lot of guys involved already, who love the club and want to help get it back to where it belongs.”

Where Sharjah feel they belong is in the UAE’s second tier Conference, a division they were crowned champions of just four seasons ago, while they reached the final again in 2017/18, losing to Dubai Tigers.

They will most likely be reinstated to the Conference although Paton admits he is still waiting for concrete confirmation off the UAE Rugby Federation.

Long term, the club has ambitions to be challenging for titles again, although Wanderers are keeping their aims a little lower in the short term.

“If we can get a decent 22 out on the first day that will be a win in itself,” admitted Paton.

“But a lot of our drive is we used to be one of the teams competing for the Conference each year and I think we’d like to be doing that again. But we’re realistic, it’s not necessarily going to be straight back in at the top. We’ll see what state we’re in when we get back in August.”

Pre-season will start on August 27, taking place on Tuesday evenings from 7.30pm at King’s School Al Barsha, coinciding with the return of many people from their summer holidays.

Paton revealed former Sharjah star Isaac Porter is returning to the club after spending 2018/19 with Eagles, a campaign which ended with international recognition. The Irishman was part of Apollo Perelini’s UAE side that earned promotion back to Asia Rugby’s Division I after victories over Guam and Thailand.

He will be returning to Sharjah from Eagles along with Shane Fowley and Paddy Barcoe.

“Isaac tapped me up, he’s been one of the driving forces behind getting the club back together, it hit everyone pretty hard last year,” added Paton.

“It’s all turned around though and everyone’s mad keen to get back up and running again. Everyone, bar one or two who were here previously, are back involved and there’s a few who’ve moved clubs who are sticking with those clubs, and that’s fine.

“But we’ve got five or six new players which is a good start, hopefully we get a few more. Isacc was keen to be back involved even though he’s missing the first half of the season through injury.”

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