THERE will be no full stadium. No game plan to follow. No tension of a dressing room just before kick-off. No playing strip to wear. No boots to don. No clatter of sprigs on cement. No opposition to tame. No football.
For one day – Australia Day – football will take a back seat for Jets midfielder Ali Abbas.
At 8.30am on Thursday, Abbas will join 56 other people from 24 countries at Newcastle City Hall to take an oath of allegiance.
Four years after risking his life and that of his family by fleeing a Central Coast hotel and seeking political asylum, the Iraqi will officially become an Australia citizen.
It will be a remarkable moment in a remarkable journey.
‘‘Thursday will be a big day, a special day,’’ Abbas told 90 Minutes
‘‘To become an Australian citizen, I will be so proud.’’
To qualify for citizenship, Abbas first had to sit a test.
‘‘You have to read about the history of Australia,’’ he said.
‘‘They give you 20 questions and you have to get 15 right. I got 18.
‘‘To be honest, once I read the book I loved Australia more.’’
Citizenship brings with it advatnages.
But to fully understand how much Australia means to Abbas, you have to track back.
Back to Iraq and a life of persecution under the rule of Saddam Hussein and his son Uday.
A life where losing a game could mean jail or a bashing. Where the noise of gunfire and murder were constants. Where suicide bombings – like the one that struck a car in downtown Baghdad, killing all the occupants, including his father – are a daily occurrence.
It is a life that Abbas does not want to return to.
In November 2007 he was one of three members of the Iraqi under-23 team who fled the Mantra Resort in Ettalong seeking political asylum after losing to the Olyroos in an Olympic qualifier at Gosford.
‘‘It was such a big risk I took,’’ Abbas said.
‘‘I was scared because you did not know what was going to happen with my family back there.
‘‘After the game I was really angry because we lost and we had to go back to Iraq.
‘‘I was thinking if I go back home it will not be good for me. The situation back there was very dangerous.
‘‘Thank god everything has gone right.’’
Abbas, the second youngest of seven brothers and three sisters, has called Newcastle home for the past three years.
He worries for his family, who still live in Baghdad in a house he paid for with the $US200,000 he received from Iraq for winning the 2007 Asian Cup, and phones them twice a week.
The last time he saw his mother was in Turkey in June when he was in camp with the Iraq national team.
‘‘I have a big family, 10 all together, but they also have children. They can’t just pack up and come to Australia,’’ he said.
‘‘I am trying to get my mum to come here for a holiday. I want to show her Australia. I have told them everything about Newcastle and Australia.
‘‘I have a younger brother, Ahmad. He wants to come here, but it is difficult.’’
Australian citizenship, and the passport that accompanies it, makes it easier for Abbas to visit Iraq, but he remains cautions.
‘‘It is safe, but not 100 per cent,’’ he said.
‘‘If I want to go there, it will be in secret. No one will know.’’
In truth, football was the furthest thing from Abbas’s mind when granted political asylum in 2007.
But after resurrecting his career, initially with Marconi in the NSW Premier League, he now has 52 A-League games to his name.
‘‘I didn’t think I would play soccer. I thought I would have to work,’’ he said.
Apart from security, an Australian passport also opens the door to the rest of the world.
‘‘Before when I had [just] an Iraq passport, I could not go to Jordan, the country next door,’’ he said.
‘‘Now I can go anywhere. If not here, there could be a future at a different club or in a different country.’’
In the A-League Abbas is no longer considered one of five visa players each club is permitted.
Given the 25-year-old is one of a host of Jets players off contract at the end of the season, the change in status has improved his employment prospects.
‘‘It gives him a lot more opportunity,’’ Jets coach Gary van Egmond said.
‘‘Visas players are going to have to be players who really have a point of difference.
‘‘He has some lovely technical ability and is a very neat and tidy type of player.
‘‘It is great to see someone like that get an opportunity to come to our county and really embrace Australia.
‘‘He loves the country and is very grateful to get that opportunity.’’
Ideally Abbas would like to re-sign with the Jets, but he is prepared to leave if need be.
‘‘This is my home town,’’ he said.
‘‘The Jets are my team, but if I don’t get another contract here, I have to look somewhere else. Football is my profession.’’
For now he is no hurry.
‘‘I will continue to work hard and see what happens in the next few weeks,’’ he said.
First things first.
In true Aussie style, Abbas has planned a party to celebrate Australia Day.
‘‘We have to drink beer all night,’’ said Abbas, who is a Muslim and does not drink alcohol.
‘‘I’m just joking, but please come. I want to celebrate with everyone.
‘‘Newcastle people have been so good to me.’’