Wael Al Qadi reveals how he evaded Roman Abramovich’s bodyguards to get his picture taken, his 80s love affair with Chelsea and why he likes to mix with the Rovers fansIt is hard to imagine many football club owners choosing the away end over the directors’ box.
Not just that but singing along with their club’s supporters on a cold Tuesday night at Milton Keynes Dons.
Yet for Wael Al Qadi that seemed like a perfectly normal thing to do a couple of weeks ago.
“This is what football should be about,” the Bristol Rovers president says. “It’s not going along and wearing a shirt and tie. You have to enjoy it.”
Qadi has been enjoying football ever since his father took him to see Chelsea in the Second Division in the 1980s.
Hooked from day one, he was soon travelling the country watching David Speedie, Pat Nevin and Kerry Dixon, and tells some terrific stories about that era and beyond, including the afternoon he eluded Roman Abramovich’s bodyguards to have his photograph taken with the Russian.
Ten years later he was talking to the same man outside the dressing rooms at Stamford Bridge after a match between their clubs. “If you were to tell me that before I’d think you were having a laugh,” Qadi says, shaking his head.
Born in Qatar and educated at Westminster School, the 47-year-old Jordanian is a fascinating character. He is an executive member of the Jordan Football Association, vice-president of the Asian Football Development Project and the assistant general manager of the Arab Jordan Investment Bank, which his family founded in 1978.
These days, though, he spends more time singing Goodnight Irene and celebrating Matty Taylor goals than checking interest rates. “Definitely more Bristol Rovers than banking,” says Qadi, laughing, when asked how he balances his different roles.
His family completed its takeover at Rovers in February, giving the youngest of three brothers a new lease of life as well as a long-suffering football club.
His wife says she has not seen him so happy since their children were born.
Yet getting those closest to him interested in buying Rovers was no easy task. “I dragged my family into this,” says Qadi, who had been scouring Europe for a club with potential.
“My father and my brothers – Hani, the eldest, is the guy in charge at the bank, a Harvard Business School honours’ graduate – they’re conservative and they look at business with numbers and charts. So to try to convince the family to come into football, something they see as just a game … they had no clue about the industry, about how it has grown.”
Eight months on and Qadi says the whole family have now “got the bug”. When Darrell Clarke, Rovers’ bright young manager, led the team to promotion to League One in May, Samer, the middle brother, described it as the greatest day of his life.
Even the parents are tuning into matches.
“They’re so immersed in it,” Qadi says. “But it’s not only the family; in Jordan as a whole there is a lot of interest – everybody knows about it.”
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