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How far Qatar? World Cup 2022 #1 (20th Nov)

Qatar. Trevor Francis’ favourite musical instrument.

(There - that’s that gag used and out of the way right at the top)

I’ve been in the Middle East for a couple of days now experiencing my 5th World Cup for talkSPORT, and the experience thus far has been the usual mix of acclimatisation, decompression and readjusting to being 3 hours ahead of home.

Our home is a hotel on the outskirts of the capital Doha, which will be my permanent residence for the duration of my stay - thus making it the most unique World Cup I shall ever attend.

You’ve probably seen the picture where the map of Qatar is shown to be able to fit comfortably inside Yorkshire with a bit of room to spare, so getting to and from games is not a mammoth undertaking it seems - unless the public transport networks get completely banjaxed I suppose. More on that as we go.

I arrived with several colleagues early on Thursday evening at Doha airport and we all experienced that moment when walking outside of the air-conditioned arrivals lounge to be smacked in the face by the oppressive humid heat of an early Qatari evening. I remarked to Natalie Sawyer that her straight raven black hair could just go ‘BOOIIIIINNG!!!’ like Monica’s from Friends when she went to Barbados and become a wild untamed mop, which was a fear she clearly shared! (It didn’t happen)

Transfer to the hotel was pretty straightforward and soon enough I was ensconced in my room trying to work out what the buttons did with the lighting (it’s now day 3 and I’ve still not sussed it). A hotel room is a hotel room when you’re on tour. All you really want is a comfy bed and a shower that works. My shower works well enough it seems, without being the raging torrent of water that I usually hope for - but it’s a good few notches above dabbing your head with a wet mop.

The talkSPORT crew who’d already arrived and settled were waiting for us to arrive to welcome us along, and a meal in the restaurant on that first night allowed my boss Jason to run through a few things whilst we ordered our food and (soft) drinks - interesting that the food arrived a little late, but the drinks later still!! Parched didn’t cover it!

You’ve also heard about beer prices over here being exorbitant. Yep, true! £12 a pint being a sort of average, but I don’t drink anything like my halcyon days of Jim Beam and Coke cans for a quid at Edwards No.8
Rock Club back in the day, so I shan’t go mad.

I need to lose weight anyway whilst I’m here, so the upstairs gym and pool will be used daily by me. I’ve tried keeping fit before when away for work and not stuck to it well enough, but hopefully I’ll show the requisite willpower to fight the flab.

Which means not going mad at the buffet breakfast each morning. Fruit, cereal, yoghurt etc…the chicken sausages and hash browns do look inviting, and seeing them on Alex Crook’s plate next to mine was a temptation, but I’ve resisted well for now.

It’s hard to ignore the negative headlines that frankly have accompanied this tournament ever since Sepp Blatter pulled this country’s name out of the envelope back in 2010. The Infantino speech today that he seemed to think was his Martin Luther King moment has only served to heighten the general bewilderment swirling around here.

Factor in the whole Budweiser ban thing and the idea of discussing the game of football has become secondary on the eve of the tournament starting. Which is absolutely the right thing, given the seriousness of what’s going on, but I have an opening match to prepare for as a commentator nevertheless.

And it’s the hosts I get to watch first as they play Ecuador in the Al Bayt Stadium…a ground on which Qatar have won all 3 previous international matches. So much of an unknown quantity, despite their appearance at the Copa America and winning the Asian Cup in 2019 - Qatar will see this as their moment to prove themselves when it matters most, but Ecuador scored a record 27 goals in 18 gruelling South American qualifiers to make it here…and we know about the impact the 3 Ecuadoreans have made at Brighton in the Premier League, especially Moises Caicedo!

An old talkSPORT colleague of mine Rhodri Williams has been living & working in Qatar for over a decade now, and runs several restaurants in the West Bay area of Doha including a curry house. This generated a lot of interest amongst the hungry talkSPORT crew so I arranged a night there for 16 of us with Rhod on the Friday night.

It wasn’t the sort of ambience you’d expect from a curry house when we arrived at the Intercontinental City hotel that the restaurant was located in. In fact, it was quite the opposite - bedlam!

Evidently this day was the final day of work for a whole
month for Doha’s teaching fraternity and they were most certainly letting their hair down in a raucous, noisy atmosphere that shocked us all at first!

But eventually we got to the pace of the place and the food, once it arrived, was quite sensational! Not so sensational was the singer in the corner belting out ‘the hits’ to backing tracks. She chickened out of a good few high notes that shouldn’t have been a problem and my better half would have been singularly unimpressed with her version of Bryan Adams’ “Summer Of 69”. Still the views over the West Bay neon lights and skyscrapers was spectacular…the giant, gaudy portrait in one corner of ex-talkSPORT alumni Richard Keys and Andy Gray was a bit of a surprise to behold, though! I’m sure there’s a story behind that…they have worked here almost as long as Rhodri!

It was lovely to see Rhod. Those who remember his jolly persona on Sky Sports News will be unsurprised to learn that he hasn’t changed a bit! Still jolly and happy…and clearly an influencer in this part of the world too. We’ll doubtless come back before home time - when the atmosphere should be a tad more sedate.

More of talkSPORT’s team are arriving hour by hour it seems. Simon Jordan and Jim White the latest to join us at our hotel. Never known the station have such a massive presence at a major tournament…hopefully England will too !


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