After months of uncertainty, Pascoe Vale defender Hakeem Al-Araibi returned home to a hero’s welcome at Melbourne International Airport as friends, family and supporters gathered.

One of those in attendance was Pascoe Vale FC president Lou Tona who, in an emotional interview on Evenings on FNR, thanked the Australian public and the football community for their support.

The Australian football community was quick to assist the 25-year-old, with three fundraisers set up to raise money for expenses, and #SaveHakeem trending on social media.

“To see the Australian and football community get behind him has been so liberating,” Tona said.

“It’s Australia at its best – from the bottom to the top.

“I hope our game can learn from this and how important it is that we’re all united and pulling in the right direction.

“For our game to do that it shows how strong we can all really be.

“To go to the airport today and see the support and amount of people that we’ve met through all walks of life who have supported this person that no one knows.

“It gave all of us something to cling on to.”

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One of Al-Araibi’s teammates Gonzalo Abascal visited Hakeem in the Bangkok prison – something which, according to Tona, took a great emotional toll.

“Gonzalo (Abascal) went to visit him in prison in Bangkok and spoke to Hakeem,” Tona said.

“He said he broke down when he left the gaol, he couldn’t believe one of his mates was being treated like an international criminal.”

Tona was also thankful to the game’s high-profile figures who showed their support and played an active role in Al-Araibi’s release.

Al-Araibi has been given time off by the club to spend with his family, but may return to action in time to face Bentleigh Greens on Friday the 22nd of February.

“We’d like him to spend time with his lovely wife who’s gone through hell and back, and we’ll reassess how he’s feeling early next week.

“Knowing Hakeem, he’s going to want to play next week.

“I hope it’s a huge crowd – for the reason that everyone supported him, and he needs to know and feel the love that everyone’s given him.

“I’m sure he does [know], he absolutely does, but it doesn’t hit home until you see it first hand.

“I’d like to reward the Victorian public – hopefully we can show him off next week!”

Athos Sirianos