Although founded only 55 years ago, Al Nasr entered Saudi Arabian footballing folklore after representing Asia at the inaugural FIFA Club World Cup in 2000, an achievement that led their fans to call the club Al Alami (The Global Club). And though it has been a few years since the Riyadh outfit reigned supreme on the domestic front, they remain worthy opponents for the country’s other major forces, not least eternal foes Al Hilal.
Birth of an institution
Founded in 1955 by the Al-Ja’ba brothers Husein and Zaid, Al Nasr began life as an amateur club, taking their name from the Arabic word for "victory" and adopting a yellow and blue badge featuring an outline of the Arabian peninsula. Nicknamed Najd’s Knight, the newly founded institution had no official home, with meetings being held at the Al-Ja’ba brothers’ house and training sessions taking place at an old playground.
In 1960 Al Nasr registered with the General Presidency of Youth Welfare and Prince Abdulrahman Bin Saud became its president, with the club joining the Saudi Second Division and winning promotion to the top flight three years later.
The making of a legend
Al Nasr’s glory years began in the mid-1960s, a period of success that they embellished by winning both the Saudi King’s Cup and the Crown Prince Cup twice.
Their star player at the time was Nasser Jawhar, who joined the club five years before their maiden league title and remains a legendary figure among Al Nasr fans, having since taken over as coach of the Saudi national team on several occasions. Al Nasr were the predominant force in Saudi football again in the 1980’s, winning the league and the King’s Cup on three more occasions, including a double in 1981.
Inspired by the illustrious trio of Majed Abdullah, Fahad Al Bishi and Mohaisen Al Jam’an, the Saudi giants also conquered Asia, winning the Gulf Club Champions Cup in 1996 and 1997 and completing an AFC Asian Cup Winners Cup and Super Cup double in 1998.
Al Nasr entered the global stage two years later, representing Saudi Arabia and Asia at the inaugural FIFA Club World Cup in Brazil. After going down 3-1 to Real Madrid in their opening game, the Riyadh club overcame Raja Casablanca 4-3 in a titanic tussle only to exit the competition following a 2-0 loss to Corinthians, although they did pick up the Fair Play trophy as consolation.
Al Nasr have endured their fair share of problems since the death of Prince Abdulrahman Bin Saud in 2005, coming within only three points of relegation in finishing a lowly ninth the following season, their worst ever Saudi Premier League placing.
Their last league title came in 1995 under the stewardship of French coach Henri Michel, and though more foreign coaches of the calibre of Ilie Balaci, Jean Fernandez, Artur Jorge and Milan Zivadinovic have since slipped into the hotseat, Al Nasr have found success to be an elusive commodity.
Last season’s third-place finish earned them qualification for the forthcoming AFC Champions League, a competition in which they finally hope to claim some silverware for their long-suffering fans.
Al Nasr play most of their home games at the Prince Faisal Bin Fahd Stadium, which was built in 1971 and has a capacity of 30,000. However, matches against city rivals Al Hilal and Al Shabab and Jeddah club Al Ittihad are held at the King Fahd Stadium, which holds up to 75,000 spectators. It is a venue that Al Nasr fans hold dear following their exploits of 1998, when they beat Korea Republic’s Suwon Bluewings to win the Asian Cup Winners Cup before following up with victory at the same stadium over Pohang Steelers in the Asian Super Cup.