Mohamed Adnan is hyper-aware of the small mercies he now enjoys. Win or lose today’s A-League grand final, he knows he can walk out of the stadium and not see his effigy alight should his performance be short of par.
He knows he will not be arrested, beaten or tortured by government officials for exercising his right to peacefully agitate for change. None of his relatives will be shot and killed before his very eyes, nor will his family or teammates be thrown in jail by association.
In the context of recent events in the decorated Bahrain international’s life, today’s match against Perth Glory at Suncorp Stadium is of little consequence. Exiled from his homeland, he values his safety, his freedom and his family above all else.
Yet at the same time, it means everything. Today marks the conclusion of a perilous football journey that began in Manama’s Pearl Square and reaches its peak in front of 50,000 fans as Brisbane defend their A-League crown against Perth Glory.
For Adnan, today is an occasion laced with hope and optimism. And with any luck, an orange jersey will be central to his future plans.
After dramatically parachuting into Brisbane last year, unsure if he ever wanted to play football again, Adnan is now facing the difficult decision to remain or rejoin his close-knit family in Bahrain, perhaps risking his well-being in the process.
The man who played 79 time for his country but was made a pariah for taking part in pro-democracy demonstrations in the Bahrain capital in February last year.
Many of his teammates were arrested along with hundreds of athletes, many of whom suffered beatings and torture in prison as part of a brutal government crackdown.
The central defender said there had been overtures from clubs in Qatar and the Arabian Gulf but he would love to remain at the Roar with his young family. Settling in Australian permanently is not out of the question.
“I’m really happy to be here, in a different area, a different country. No-one can imagine I would be here in my life. I want to continue here, maybe the next two years or three years – if I can do I’ll stay more,” Adnan said.
Adnan said he missed his parents desperately but they had urged him to remain in Brisbane, where he has started a new life with his wife and young daughter far away from the troubles in Bahrain, which are still bubbling on the surface.
“I’m safe. They are happy. But I miss them. I want to go back to the Gulf to see them. Then I can take my decision,” Adnan said.
“It’s really hard to leave them. My father and my mother, they want me to stay here. They don’t want me to go back and play in the Gulf. I told them there are some clubs, they want me. They tell me not to go back – just stay there if you are happy. If your family is happy, we are happy.
“For me, it’s 80 per cent I’ll stay here.”
Adnan bravely told his story earlier this year when he spoke for the first time about his role in the protests, how we watched his cousin shot and killed by troops and how his close friend and national teammate, Ali Saeed Abdullah, had renounced him as a traitor on state television after alleged torture in prison.
The pair are once again close friends, while Adnan has made it publicly known he has forgiven all and wants to once again play for his nation.
More than 40 people were killed in the protests, which began as peaceful demonstration against the ruling Al Khalifa party, Sunni rulers of a Shiite majority. Adnan found himself right in the middle before he fled to Australia, linking with suburban club Oxley and then the Roar.
One of the biggest adjustments for Adnan has been the reaction of fans. When he famously missed a penalty against New Zealand that prevented Bahrain from qualifying for the World Cup, he was almost run out of the country, this time for non-political reasons.
“In the Arabian Gulf, it’s not like here. When you lose the game, the crowd tells you ‘thank-you Mohamed, or thank-you Erik (Paartalu)’. They still support the team,” Adnan said.
“Over there, they shout at you, they make your life shit. You hate yourself – you can’t go outside. I swear, you can’t go outside. Here, they make me happy.
“I punish myself but the people try to support me. In the Gulf, when I missed the penalty, I needed three or four months.
“My owner with my Qatar club, he came with me to Malaysia for two weeks just to make me feel good. I told him I didn’t want to play football anymore because we missed the World Cup.”
Adnan feels deep gratitude to the Roar, the city and the fans and wants to repay them with a grand final win against the Glory. He will carry a knee injury into the game but knows this is the time to rise to the occasion.
“If we don’t play well in front of 50,000 people, when are we going to play well? In front of 10 or 12,000 or 7000 people? We say thank you to them but in front of all of Australia, they look at us. This is our chance. We have to work hard,” he said.
He will save a special thank you for close friend Matthew Nunn, an Oxley player who has taken Adnan under his wing. It was Nunn who helped facilitate his trial at the Roar, a move which has given him to start his football career and life off the field all over again.
“For that, I have to say thank you to Matthew Nunn,” Adnan said. “I have to say thank you forever, not just now.”