In the heart of this young country, a new Aston Villa Supporters Club is making a splash as the place for holidaymaking and expat Aston Villa fans to get the best atmosphere and the easiest company for each Villa game.
In the hot and dusty summer of 2014, Mark Forrester set out to find like-minded supporters in a region dominated by fans of the regionally-owned Manchester City, the powerhouse of Manchester United and the strangely popular Wolverhampton Wanderers. With a slightly pessimistic approach, Forrester, originally hailing from Great Barr, wasn’t expecting to find fellow Villans in Dubai, or anywhere in the UAE – a 47 year old country. However, slowly but surely, friends, expats and holidaymakers started to make themselves known as Mark set up The Dubai Lions in a location alongside some other supporter’s clubs - Rangers, West Bromwich Albion, Newcastle and Crystal Palace included, in the accommodating Centre Circle pub, based in the Ramada Chelsea hotel in the Al Barsha area of Dubai.
Soon joined by a handful of fellow expats, the Dubai Lions began to work on social media advertising to flush out more Claret & Blue fans; reaching as far as Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and nearby Abu Dhabi. By the start of the 2015/2016 season, the club had swelled to nearly 30 members, with a high of 50 supporters packing out the Centre Circle bar for the 2015 FA Cup Final.
Although relegation soon followed, this didn’t dampen the ambition of the new members who continued to spread the word about the atmosphere, rituals and banter of the group who would celebrate every performance, goal (and sometimes corners when the goals weren’t forthcoming). As a region visited by many current and ex-pros, the Dubai-based community invited ex-Villans Derek Mountfield, Mark Walters and Ian Taylor to join them in their home location, further boosting the notoriety of the fledgling supporters club.
Tough times followed for the Lions as they huddled around iPads, phones and radios to catch the latest Villa news in envy of surrounding supporters as they watched their teams live. A search for a new home followed as the club split between two well-known pubs in the city to attempt to increase their catchment area. End-of-season brunches, merchandise strategies, pre-season tour flags and viral social media posts succeeded in attempts to capture the imagination of the community and subsequent arrivals from Abu Dhabi and Bahrain followed with regular holidaymakers visiting from the US, Australia and Kidderminster. The reputation of the Dubai Lions was further enhanced with visits from Big Ron, and Peter Withe.
A move to a new home followed in 2017 as the members searched for their own space, eventually settling on the Upper Tier of The Rose & Crown at the V Hotel, Dubai. A central location with a Bar Manager, Brendan, offering wall space for the memorabilia, 20% discount for all Villa fans and prime reserved space in front of the wall-sized projector. A visit from club-legend Stiliyan Petrov spread around the Dubai supporters club community as their notoriety was cemented during their pre-season tours to Texas, Albufeira, Nantes, Duisburg, Dresden, and Leipzig.
From its humble beginnings, the club drew over 200 villa fans from around the Middle-East and beyond for the 2017/2018 and 2018/2019 Championship playoff finals and has big plans to continue its support from afar, now in the holy land of the Premier League.
Just like their city home, the Dubai Lions are growing at an exponential rate and are the hottest supporters club on the planet right now. Do yourselves a favour and pay them a visit.