Despite having five promotions in England with clubs ranging from Ilkeston Town to Morecambe, 35-year-old Ben Pringle was starting to get “fed up” with life in the UK.

Thus, the forward relocated to Fleetwood United in Dubai last summer, where he took on the role of captain and led the team to promotion from the UAE Second Division.

The professional from North Tyneside spoke with me about his experiences there and how much he has been amazed by the calibre of the players, coaches, and facilities, despite almost retiring a few weeks after moving to the UAE

Ben, a brilliant first season with Fleetwood United, winning the Second Division. How was that feeling when you lifted up the trophy?

“It was a good feeling, probably one of the best I’ve had in a long time. It’s a bit of a strange story (going over to the UAE) but it’s one I’ve been thoroughly enjoying” 

What made you move over there?

“I was fed up with playing in England, to be honest. The football, the politics, a little bit of everything. I either had the decision to retire or try something new and I jumped at the chance. It’s not every day that you get the chance to go to Dubai, never mind to play football. I’ve loved it” 

There’s 19 different nationalities in the squad. How has that been to be a part of?

“It was a bit strange to begin with. I’ve played with foreign players before but 19 is quite a lot. It’s the environment that the manager and the head of football has created and everyone has bought into it as we’re all there to play and to win which we have managed to do”

Do you train at the Dubai Sports City Complex?

“That isn’t too far from where I live but we train at JAA, which is used by Premier League club’s when they come over for a warm weather break because they’re unbelievable. Their Championship, touching Premier League quality. Right in the middle of a desert so it is a bit of a strange one but we play and train at the best pitches in Dubai”

Have you been impressed with everything over there then? The players, the coaches and the pitches.

“Yeah, 100%. I came here not expecting much but to play and train at JAA is better than any pitch I’ve played on before. The same level as Championship training grounds, touching Premier League, which is why the PL clubs use it. People ask what the quality is like, in comparison to English football, even I thought it would be like walking football but the standard is competitive, physical and fast. It’s been a good challenge, perfect for me and I’d recommend it to everyone!”

Who would you say are the stand out players in the current Fleetwood United squad? 

“We have: Egyptian 24-year-old Mohammed Farouk and he scored 24 goals this season, missing out on the golden boot by one goal, David Webb; English lad, was at Gulf United last season and has been brilliant all year and goalkeeper Josh Lumsden. 

“We’ve had some really good players throughout the team, everyone has been very good. Back home, you wouldn’t have heard about these players but they’ve been very good. Some have played at a good level in Germany and in different countries so to get everyone on the pitch, winning, was special” 

Does the team have the perfect mix of experience?

“Yeah, the Director Of Football (James Ward) said to me last summer, before I signed, that they needed experience, players to grind the game out and show good game management as that’s what they had been lacking. So, that was perfect for me as I just wanted to enjoy my football again. I feel having English players in the team has helped, they’ve used their know-how to be successful”

Who is the Director Of Football?

“Michael Rice is manager, Andy Collins is his assistant and James Ward is the Director Of Football. I’d not heard of any of them but I noticed their professionalism straight away. 

“The club is run like an English club back home, the preparation and the training. The togetherness of the squad. If you didn’t know you were in Dubai, you’d believe you were in England because of the way everything is run. It’s professional from start to finish”

It sounds good the heavy workload and the professionalism but has the hot climate over there meant that it’s taken you time to adapt?

“Yeah, I thought I was going to retire after the first few weeks because I couldn’t do it in the heat, especially with being ginger and pale (laughs)! It wasn’t the perfect weather conditions for me but the one thing I noticed was that the teams who play there regularly know how to play and when to take a rest during the game and that’s a big component of playing over here”

How would you describe the team’s style of play?

“We’re very attacking, our front was: myself, Webby (David Webb) and Mohammed Farouk who scored 24 goals. We also had a striker called Durin Phillips who played the second half of the season as a left-back, having scored ten goals, so we were very attacking in the front four positions. 

“We were solid at the back and passed forwards quickly and then from there, we went out to score goals and scored 68/69 so yeah, very attacking!”

Like the Man City of Dubai?

“Yeah (laughs)! We could say that, that’s what we tried to do! We had a solid defensive structure, including the keeper, so the blend of the team was perfect”

Pringle with David Webb.

That sounds good! Are you looking forward to next season then?

“Yeah, I can’t wait! There’s a bit of a long break now and the majority of the team will be broken up as we try to meet the rules and regulations in a new league but it’s a challenge that we’re looking forward to!”

Would you mind telling us more about those rules and regulations?

“This season, in Division Two, we could sign 14 foreign players so effectively you could have 14 English lads and then ten resident players under a certain age. However, in Division One you’re only allowed four foreign players and the rest have to be ten residents, below a certain age, and you have to have ten Emirates, as in locals born in Dubai who live here. The better Emirates go to the top clubs because they can pay more money and it’s more attractive for them to be there and then it filters down. 

“We’re hoping that with the two promotions in three years that players view us as an exciting club to join, to not just play in Division One but to be part of an English mentality set up”

It sounds tricky having so many players leaving! 

“Yes, it’s a challenge. I’ve always said that this season wasn’t easy but you could sign a lot more players, from England or from other clubs. I’ve always said that it’s hard to be a manager but when there’s such restrictions put in place of who you can sign, for any manager at any level, you have to go out, find them, ensure that their personalities match and see if they fit into the group, it’s a greater challenge. However, the manager has been here for a long time so he’ll have good contacts so it will be good. We’re looking forward to the challenge”

What are the fans like over there at the moment?

“There’s no fans really, just families and other teams who have come to watch. It’s not in central Dubai, it’s in the South where we play so it’s a bit far to get to but with being in the top league and our rise, with the media coverage ensuring people learn a bit more about us here and back home I’m hoping that there will be a few more people coming to watch next season. Then, if we ever get into the Pro League, which we are hoping to do, then that unlocks another opportunity of exposure to get fans and acceptance inside Dubai for the team” 

Are there any Fleetwood Town links at Fleetwood United?

“There’s four teams in the group: Fleetwood Town, Fleetwood United, Waterford in Ireland and Western Cape in South Africa. There have been a couple of success stories where lads have been picked up from agents watching them in Dubai, one lad in particular Keito Lipovschek trained and played for Fleetwood Town U21s before coming to Fleetwood United. 

“It’s a good set up which is very similar to the City Football Group which has partnerships and links with different teams. Fleetwood Town have their own model, we’re trying to get the best players at Fleetwood United ultimately but if they succeed it’s easier to send them to Waterford and Fleetwood Town in England”

Would you say you’ve learnt anything since being over there, despite being a well experienced player already?

“Yeah, it’s been a completely new experience for me. I didn’t know what to expect in terms of how the club is run, the standard of play, and the many different nationalities coming together but it has been great to be part of it all and to learn about everything. 

“Everyone has got on, everyone has great ambition and everyone has brought into what the club is aiming to do”

So, might you go into coaching in the near future?

“Potentially! I’m enjoying playing at the moment so I’ll definitely be available for next season and we’ll see how that goes. 

“I feel like I’ve got another two more years on the pitch but after that, who knows? I wouldn’t mind going into coaching but I enjoy the business side of the game also so that might be something I look into doing as well, out here. We will see”

When does the 2024-25 campaign start?

“The season starts in August, or September, so there is a four/five month gap now”

Are you looking forward to a hot summer in Dubai?

“Yeah, it’s one of them where in England I wasn’t necessarily enjoying it but I’ve been loving it over here so I could’ve carried on for another month or two but now will be about resting and getting ready to go again”

In the heat!

“Yeah, it’ll get hot again now as pre-season starts in July/August so that won’t be pretty but that’s what you have to endure if you want to be playing out here!” 

It’ll be nice on the sun bed for a month! 

“Yeah, exactly!”

Fleetwood United won 20 of their 26 games, drawing four and only losing two in the process of claiming the Second Division title. With a goal difference of +48, they won the league by five points, ahead of second place, Al Dahra.

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