This article is part of The Tomkins Times Free Fortnight, where for two weeks up until the start of the new season, all articles are free to all to read- there is a full explanation here.
By Nabs Al Busaidi.
In early November 2011, I was supposed to be on my way to the Antarctic, to walk to the South Pole (I am confident that that opening line has never appeared before on TTT – Ed!). Days before the flight to South America, I was in London when I got a call saying my nephew had died. I was on a flight back to Oman three hours later, and the South Pole was put on hold, indefinitely.
When I got to my sister’s house, my niece and I went into my nephew’s room to clean it up as soon as we could. This was the analogue version of deleting his browser history. My sister, my nephew’s mother, was also there, so we tried to do this under her nose. The only relevant item to the story is that I found a few spent bullet cartridges, and palmed them, and then slid them into an outer pocket of my backpack.
(For those do not know, generally a bullet consists of the metal projectile which comes out the barrel, and the brass cartridge, which is ejected sideways by the gun. The “spent” cartridge is harmless, and is usually collected as a souvenir or scrap metal. It is not a danger to anyone unless you step on one in bare feet. But I palmed them anyway so that my sister didn’t have more to worry about. She might have put two and two together and come up with armed insurrection. Understandably, she was not taking the loss of her first child very well.)
A couple of weeks later I flew to a nearby country for a few days. As with all my flights, I planned my flights around Liverpool’s fixtures, so I was scheduled to fly back to Oman on 27th November 2011, with several hours spare, which was plenty of time to get home, change and get to the home of Oman Reds in the Grand Hyatt sports bar to watch the big clash between a revitalised team under King Kenny; against the financially doped-up Ivan Drago called Man City. City were unbeaten after 12 games, with 11 wins and a draw and were 5 points clear already. They had just humped Man United 6-1 the month before… this was definitely a game to look forward to.
A bit of context and some reminders: in October 2011, Suarez had clashed with Evra, but was not banned yet. King Kenny was the permanent manager, again. And this was the year City finally won the league with Agguuuueeeerrrrroooooo.
As I was going through the final x-ray before getting on the returning plane, the police discovered that I had three bullet cases in my backpack. I had totally forgotten I had stashed them in one of the outer pockets. Initially, I didn’t think it was a big deal. Anyone with any knowledge of guns knows that the spent cartridges are as much use as jewellery, but that was not how the police were treating it. Airport security have the most tedious job. Nothing of consequence ever happens at airport x-rays, except discovering a forgotten water bottle, and then being able to act really officious at discovering a potential water bomb. But this time, it was like they had finally, actually, really caught someone who might be in Al Qaeda. All those years of staring at an x-ray screen had finally paid off.
So, despite my explanations and saying they were more than welcome to confiscate them, I was arrested, hauled off to a minibus with several others, and taken to jail. I was still in my suit, and so the police did not bother to cuff me, whereas the others all looked like labourers and were hand-cuffed to each other. And crucially, I still had my Blackberry in my suit pocket. (It was 2011 so a Blackberry was pretty standard back then.)
I had no idea what was happening as I was told nothing, and I did not know what was going to happen to me, as no one would tell me anything, but I figured as soon as I was able to discuss my situation with someone in authority, they would see that this was a whole lot of nothing, and I could still catch my flight, and make it to the game, with just an interesting story to tell.
Looking back, it is interesting to note that my biggest concern at this point was missing the match…
At the holding jail, I was put into a room that was roughly two meters by three meters. Concrete walls on three sides and floor to ceiling iron bars on the fourth. Classic wild west jail cell. Except no window. And no bed. And no chairs. And there were 12 men already inside. Twelve miserable, downcast men. And I made it lucky 13. The floor was already taken with people sitting, so it was standing room only.
For some reason, I was still hopeful that my situation was a misunderstanding that just needed a quick explanation and I would be on my way. So, as I walked in, I was cheerful and greeted everyone and asked how they were doing. All 12 were manual labourers from the Indian sub-continent, and 11 of them didn’t understand any English. But the 12th man did, so I struck up a conversation with him, and eventually asked him why he was in jail.
He had come from India to this country with the promise of a job, housing, pay etc. He had taken a loan to pay an agent to secure him the job, but once he arrived in the country, his passport was taken away, he was forced to share accommodation almost as cramped as our jail cell, and he was not paid for several months. He was desperate for food and money, so he ran away from his employer and started cleaning cars on the street to make ends meet with the hope of getting enough money to get out of the country. He was caught by the police and as he was reported as a runaway, he was arrested and was now awaiting deportation.
It was a terrible story. Totally unfair. I asked if he had reported his employer for breach of contract, but he laughed. It did not matter as the employer was a local national and therefore untouchable. But he was happy now. He would leave the country and never be allowed back. He still had massive debts back home with the agent, but it was better than staying.
I asked him about the man sitting next to him on the floor. They spoke in Hindi back and forth for several minutes, and his story was almost the same. Big promises. Big loan. Big lies. Cleaning cars to make ends meet. Caught and awaiting deportation. And his other neighbour. Same story. And every other person in the call. Same story. Different details, but exact same substance. Each telling of their stories made me sadder, and angrier… nothing changed except their name, and where they came from.
After that, we all stood or sat in silence, waiting for something to happen.
While waiting, I decided to surreptitiously message the British ambassador in Oman. We had known each other for a long time. He had been the UK ambassador in Bahrain before, and we became closer during the Arab Spring, when I volunteered as an emergency warden in case of the need to evacuate UK nationals. Now we were both based in Oman, so I thought I would let him know I was in prison, but didn’t need assistance. Just someone to know where I was. And match updates, if required! Again, my biggest concern at this point was missing the match!
I had been standing for nearly two hours, and nothing seemed to be happening, so I hatched a little plan. I told the guards I needed to use the toilet. There was no toilet in the cell, and I could see no facilities for the prisoners, so I wanted to see how they would handle my request, and take it from there. One of the guards took me to the policeman’s bathroom. He stood nearby while I stood at the urinal. I didn’t actually need to go to the toilet, so while explaining that I had stage fright with him watching, it gave me the opportunity to talk to him, and hopefully make some type of connection.
He was from Syria, and all the non-commissioned policemen were from the poorer Arab countries – Egypt, Palestine, Jordan, Yemen etc. He had been in this country for seven years, and liked the place and his job. After a bit of bonding, I decided to test the waters. I asked him if he knew why the other men in my cell were arrested, and he did. But he said the real criminals were untouchable because they were locals, so they were only allowed to process the foreigners. It wasn’t fair, but there was nothing he could do about it.
It was fair enough. He was low down on the totem pole, and just trying to get by in life. I managed to get a few more details out of him, and went back to the cell, where I found out my legal case had been referred urgently to the court for processing. Good news I thought. Still time to make the game…
I was taken to what looked like a converted school room and interrogated in Arabic by three men behind a long desk. The man that I guessed was my interpreter couldn’t speak English, and I couldn’t speak Arabic, so I didn’t see this going well for me. In a fit of anger and frustration the middle of the three men broke into English and said I was being charged with terrorism, possession of illegal firearms and piracy.
PIRACY of all things! They clarified that they meant air piracy, still, probably not the best time to laugh, but it was laughable.
And having laughed at them, it turned out the three men behind the desks were the judges, and the interpreter was my lawyer. My lawyer was trying to convince me to say I was guilty and beg for leniency! So, first things first, I told him he could fuck right off. I mean, I told him that I was very grateful for his time, but I would rather deal with this myself. Even if I couldn’t speak Arabic, I couldn’t represent myself any worse than this court-appointed lackey.
But in several coincidences of life-saving proportions, there was a lawyer present in the court whom I had met the day before. He came to my defence, not only with the ability to be able to speak English and Arabic, but also a newspaper article from that day’s paper, with me in it, receiving an award from one of the most famous people in the country.
I explained the whole convoluted story of trying to find my nephew’s porn stash after he died, and finding the used cartridges instead. But the part of the story that got them really agitated was that I claimed to have brought all three empty used cartridges all the way from Oman, through all the security checks on the outward journey, and then through half the security checks on the outward journey.
They suddenly realised that if my story was true, it would expose how ineffective the checks had been, in Oman and their own country. They questioned my story backwards and forwards, and couldn’t find a flaw. The lawyer and I were getting more and more evidence to prove my innocence… so I was suddenly dismissed, as quickly as possible, and sent back to jail for out processing, which meant back to my two by three cell, but without my previous friends.
It was now several hours into my piracy drama, and there was no way I could get to Oman to watch the game. My best hope was to watch the game in country. But out-processing seemed to move at a different pace than what I wanted and kick off arrived, and I was still incarcerated. I was stuck with using my contraband Blackberry to request updates from the Oman Reds watching the game.
I also tried to find out when I was being released, and whether I could watch the game. It was too much to hope that the police had a TV with match coverage, but one thing I have found in the 85 countries I have been to, men will like football, and they will probably watch the Premier League. Turns out my Syrian friend was a lot more helpful now that I was no longer under arrest, and although they didn’t have a TV with coverage, they did have a computer which he would let me use…if I added him on Facebook!
Seemed like a fair trade. I still wasn’t able to get a live feed… but I was able to get text coverage. For those of you who are old enough, this is the 21st century version of watching a match on Teletext.
Gary Speed had died that morning, apparently from suicide, and so the lively Craig Bellamy was not playing. But we had Suarez, and we had King Kenny managing. The match at Anfield started and it seemed to be all one way traffic. For City – after half an hour Kompany scored, and my heart sank when I saw that Lescott scored two mins later… a drubbing was on the cards… except it was an own goal. The score was 1-1! The game was fairly quiet after that, at least according to Facebook updates and text commentary.
At half time, I asked my new police friends to slow down the paperwork, so that I could finish the second half before they released me. They were totally understanding, and asked for updates as well.
In the second half, the game seemed to be on Red Bull. Chances were flying in so fast, I did not know who was getting the better of the match. Then Balotelli came on. And then went off mins later, after two yellow cards. After that, it seemed to be one way traffic. I was doing my best to visualise a goal for Liverpool. Channelling my inner Secret, the texts were flying in fast.
Charlie Adam… Hart saves
And then it was the final whistle. Only the second team to take points off City in the league so far, but both teams left believing they should have had more.
The police out-processed me quickly after the game ended, but couldn’t release me, as I had already gone through immigration, so I was taken back to the airport, and put into the transit area to wait for the next flight to Oman eight hours later…
Since 1998, I can probably count the number of Liverpool games I have missed for funerals, surgeries, expeditions… but this reason, arrested for piracy, is probably the most unusual, and one that I had conveniently forgotten until recently.
PS: Until I wrote this article, I had never seen the game, or even highlights. After nine years, I felt I should, just to make sure my memory was not playing tricks on me, and Hart really did pull off some great saves to keep City in the game.
Nabs Al Busaidi
Chairman, Oman Official Liverpool Supporters Club
*Paul Tomkins’ new book “Perched: Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool FC – Champions Of Everything” is available NOW!
The paperback should be available in all major Amazon stores (UK, USA and a few others that provide the service), and the Kindle version on any store that sells Kindle ebooks. If you can’t get the paperback on your local Amazon store then use the UK or US ones: