Via PA News Agency
FANS travelling to Qatar for their first football World Cup hope for a “once-in-a-lifetime” experience after spending months saving up to make the journey.
Up to 3,000 Wales fans are expected to fly out for their country’s first World Cup since 1958 while officials believe around 3,000-4,000 England fans will make the trip for the group stages.
Both sides could see their numbers in the stands bolstered by expats living in the region, while some fans are planning to fly in and out of Doha for games and visit other countries in between.
Supporters have spoken of their excitement and financial sacrifices made in order to travel to the tournament, which begins on November 20, but also acknowledged the concerns raised about the host nation.
Accusations over the treatment of migrant workers and a poor record of human rights have plagued the Gulf state, where same-sex relationships are criminalised, since it was controversially awarded this winter’s finals.
Lauren McNie and her sister Kerrin, from Rhondda in South Wales, will be staying in Doha and have paid £2,500 each for the trip so far.
They have tickets to all three of their side’s group games and also have a conditional ticket for the final, so will be flying back out should Wales beat the odds and make it to the end of the competition.
Lauren, 34, said she has diverted money she was saving to buy a house towards the trip.
She said: “It wasn’t even much of a decision to be honest, seeing Wales away has become such a big part of our lives over the last eight years, it was something we felt we had to do.
“I had saved quite a bit up for a deposit on a house but now I think my mum is going to be stuck with me for another couple of years as I top-up my savings again.
“I’ve got the rest of my life to save a deposit for a house and right now I think going to the World Cup is more important than owning my own home.”
“To hear the Welsh national anthem in the World Cup – I’m expecting to see a lot of grown men crying” – Kerrin McNie
Kerrin, 33, said the World Cup is the “pay-off” after following Wales to “countless” countries over the last eight years.
She said: “It’s the tournament every fan wants to see their national side in.
“With it being in Qatar there is a slight nervousness because they haven’t got a great reputation for women’s rights.
“But this could be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and it would break my heart not to be there.”
She added: “I’m looking forward to seeing the first time the anthem is played.
“To hear the Welsh national anthem in the World Cup – I’m expecting to see a lot of grown men crying.”
Jack Adcock, 25, who lives in Bolton, will be staying on a cruise ship docked in Doha and has tickets secured for England’s games with USA and Wales.
He will also take in a couple of other games and “fingers crossed” will be returning for the final should England make it, having secured a conditional ticket and flight.
Mr Adcock, who travelled to France for Euro 2016 and watches England home and away, said of the cost: “It’s been tough, it’s been a big chunk of my wages every month put aside in an account and from what I know it’s not going to be cheap out there.”
He added: “I’d have loved to have done South Africa but I was too young, so I compare this to like that – it’s a country that you wouldn’t usually go to.
“I never planned to go to Qatar if it weren’t for football, so it’ll be worth it, it’ll be a once-in-a-lifetime experience and if we play well then it’s a bonus.”
The Oldham Athletic supporter said he usually sees the “best of England” when following the Three Lions overseas and believes fans will be “more cautious” in a bid to respect the host country.
Mike “Moppy” Rees, 54, a civil servant from Mountain Ash, South Wales, said: “I’m going to Qatar with four mates, and we’re all staying in central Doha.
“If it had cost £20,000 I still would have gone. I had to go it was as simple as that.
“It has played on my conscience, if I’m being honest, because everything that’s gone on out there (in Qatar) but I’ve invested so much time and emotion in Wales, I may never get to see this again in my lifetime.
“The first few seconds of the USA game are going to be a moment. It’s from that moment that I can always say I’ve seen Wales play in a World Cup.”
Meanwhile, Wales’ first match against USA on November 21 will be Tommie Collins’s 106th away game.
The 59-year-old postman and freelance sports writer, from Porthmadog in North Wales, is heading to Qatar with his son Brad, having paid just £1,700 for the trip so far.
Mr Collins said: “The moment I’m looking forward to is that first game against America.
“To be in the stadium with my lad, and with people I’ve known for 30 or 40 years, with our arms around each other singing the national anthem – it’s going to be amazing I reckon.”