Qatari family’s ‘heartwarming’ World Cup birthday gifts to England fan

Debbie Perera wants to spread the word about the British non-league game at the FIFA World Cup 2022 in Qatar (Picture: Debbie Perera)

A football-mad England fan who moved to Qatar for the World Cup has defended the host nation after celebrating her birthday with a commemorative cake from her bosses.

Debbie Perera is following the Three Lions on her own but says she has made many friends from around the world along the way and has no fears about being a lone woman supporter.

The maternity nurse, originally from Teeside in the north of England, is working privately for a Qatari family in Doha who marked her 57th birthday yesterday with World Cup-themed gifts. 

She is due to sit near the halfway line for the USA clash tonight and plans to head to the Al Bayt Stadium with a ‘United Nations of fans’.

The FIFA games have been clouded by concerns over the hosts’ treatment of LGBTQ+ people and the suppression of rainbow flags at the stadiums.

The seasoned traveller, who moved to Qatar six months ago to work so she could embed in the country before the competition, told she has no reservations about the welcome so far.

‘There have been some negative stories but the Qataris have been so welcoming, they have been lovely,’ she said.

‘For my birthday, my bosses bought me a beautiful cake with one half the flag of England and the other the flag of Qatar and an England shirt with Debbie 22 on it to commemorate the World Cup year.

Debbie Perera is heading to matches on her own but has joined other fans from around the world (Picture: Debbie Perera)
The ‘half and half’ commemorative birthday cake gifted to Debbie Perera by her Qatari host family (Picture: Debbie Perera)

‘They have also given me some World Cup mementoes for my son Thomas, who has cerebral palsy and is a massive Redcar fan, from the hospitality and VIP areas of the games they have been to.

‘He is going to send them a Redcar Athletic scarf in return.

‘My bosses have offered me the same hospitality treatment but I want to be out in the stands among the fans.

‘That sums up how the Qataris are, they are so hospitable and welcoming.

‘There is another England fan who the Qataris have taken to the desert to go and see inside a Bedouin tent and to see their culture.

‘There have been some good interactions between the locals and the England fans. It’s heartwarming.’

Debbie (centre) and her friends enjoy a meeting of fans from around the world at a villa in Doha (Picture: Debbie Perera)
England fan Paul Townsend wears his club colours as he meets an Iranian supporter (Picture: Paul Townsend)
Debbie and Omegar Chinseu from Malawi at a private party in a Doha villa before the England v USA game (Picture: Debbie Perera)

Debbie has tickets for seven matches, which included the Iran game, and is using the competition to spread the word about British non-league football.

Qatar is the 24th nation in which she has watched football, with her previous travels taking her to fixtures in nations including Saudi Arabia.  

The Redcar Athletic fan is accustomed to cultural mores in Middle Eastern countries and had no sense of trepidation of paying the equivalent of £1,500 for the tickets in a country that has been criticised for the treatment of women and where same-sex relations are illegal.  

She has met other fans including an Iranian couple who she went for a coffee with after the Three Lions’ victory on Monday and plans to meet them again before they return home.  

‘I’m going to games on my own with my Redcar Athletic flag but I’ve made so many friends from around the world along the way,’ Debbie said.  

‘It’s a friendly, welcoming atmosphere where everyone is getting on really well. Even the police have been joining in on the metro, helping guys to put their headdresses on, it’s really funny to watch.

‘I’ve been wearing red and white all the time, I’m wearing an England shirt to the USA game tonight with red trousers and red trainers. 

Debbie was given a World Cup England T-shirt by her bosses in Doha to commemorate the FIFA games (Picture: Debbie Perera)

‘I’ve not seen any trouble or heard one single person say anything negative since the World Cup started. I’m going to the game with two Canadians, a Qatari, a Croatian, a Latvian and another Brit.

‘We’ve not got seats together but we’ve met during the World Cup and we’re like a United Nations of fans.’  

Also going to the USA game is Paul Townsend, who has enjoyed the atmosphere so much he hopes to make a second trip back to Qatar — clocking up 16,000 air miles in total. 

Paul, 42, arrived on Sunday for his fifth consecutive World Cup and had intended to stay for a week, taking in the Three Lions’ first two games.

The building company director was apprehensive after hearing ‘horror stories’ before heading out to the emirate but has also enjoyed partying with fans from around the world. 

Debbie and Thai England fans after they arrived at the Khalifa International Stadium several hours before the Iran game (Picture: Debbie Perera)

He spent a total of £1,700 on his trip and is due to return home to Barnt Green, near Birmingham, on Sunday but now wants to follow England further into the competition. 

Three Lions fans have reported problems with the official accommodation and prices of £12.50 for a beer at the festival parks. 

‘The welcome from the Qataris has been great, they have been really friendly,’ Paul said. ‘There are some issues with the arrangements, but they are not the horror stories that are being made out.

‘I am in the Zafaran fan camp, which isn’t the best. I was told it is all-inclusive with the metro system, which takes you everywhere you need to go, but you have to get off and get a shuttle bus.    

‘It makes time drag a lot, so I’ve been Uber-ing it everywhere.  

‘The room got a bit dusty so I had to get them to clean it after four days and the airconditioning is loud, you can’t have it on at night because it’s like a bus in the corner in your room.

Paul Townsend has also flown out to Qatar where he has joined other football fans following the Three Lions (Picture: Paul Townsend)
Paul Townsend soaks up the atmosphere in Qatar where he says England fans have been given a friendly welcome (Picture: Paul Townsend)

‘The beer is obviously expensive too, at the fan parks it costs £50 for a round of four and you can end up paying up to £20 in a lot of the hotels.

‘Apart from that though it’s great out here. Between games there’s a DJ at the Al Bidda fan park and it’s like a rave there.

‘The 900 Park as well has a good vibe to it. You can’t go round getting drunk everywhere, which you can understand in someone else’s country, but as long as you’re respectful there’s no problem.   

‘I’m flying home after the USA game because I had heard horror stories but now I’m planning to come back out here. It’s always been important for me to get behind England, I take my son to all the home games.

‘I’ve been to all the Euros and some of the qualifiers too. It’s our identity and it’s in my DNA. I won’t stop supporting them until I physically can’t do it.’  

England kick-off against the USA at 7pm UK time, with the Three Lions assured of qualification to the final 16 if they emerge triumphant.

Sam Tabuteau, a freelance sports journalist and founding member of the 10Teams World Cup game, weighed up the Three Lions’ chances.

He said: ‘I’m quietly confident after England’s dominant display against Iran.

‘But this is England vs USA, it’s a lot bigger than a football game.

‘And when there’s a weight of expectation outside of the game itself England tend to fold, as their draw with Scotland at the Euro’s showed.

‘Beating the USA will reinforce a resilience that bodes well for their progression into the latter rounds.’ 

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