DPMM v Warriors, Saturday 15th April 2017, 8.15pm

May 25, 2017

I’m not particularly good at geography. Old fashioned geography that is. You know, the type where you have to know which country is which, what their capital cities are called, or who owned them when they had natural resources worth pilfering.

Mind you, I’m even worse at the new-fangled geography where it’s all about coastal erosion, population changes and not a thought is given to the names of rivers or what colour a country should be on a map.

If you were wondering just how bad someones geography knowledge could be, I can reveal that for years, almost all of my years to be a little more precise, I’d thought that Brunei was in the Middle East. No idea where in the Middle East, maybe the middle or the east of it, but probably next door to somewhere like Qatar or Oman. Possibly another one of those emirates like Dubai. It sounds a bit like Dubai, doesn’t it? I knew that they’ve got a Sultan and that they do pretty well out of the oil business, so the Middle East is where I’d have stuck the pin in the wall map.

Brunei is nowhere near the Middle East though. It’s actually just a short flight from Kuala Lumpur and consists of less than three square miles over on the other Malaysian island, the one that’s got a bit of Borneo in it. Who’d have thought it? People who know their geography, I suppose.

As you may have expected, the reason for the trip was a football game. We saw some other stuff whilst we were there though. There’s a stilted village which was proudly described as the biggest in the world. I’ve no idea how many other places decided that it was a good idea to build houses on sticks in a river but Jen reckons that they are fairly commonplace in Louisiana.

It was a bit hot for walking around but we had a wander up a hill behind our hotel anyway in the hope of spotting a monkey or two. No such luck. No camels either despite me having always assumed that Brunei would be overrun with them.

Jen spotted a snake doing some snaking in the undergrowth, but the best I managed to see was a bird that had decided sitting on the ground was a much preferable activity to flying around.

Saturday evening was match time and local side DPMM had a fixture in the Singapore League. A little odd that they compete in the competition of another country, but it’s quite an odd league. As well as a team from Brunei, there’s a reserve squad from a Japanese club and the Singapore U23 national team get to take part as well. It seems to work, so fair enough.

We took a taxi to the Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah Stadium where it was eight Brunei dollars to get in and another three for a programme.

We had centralish seats in the main covered stand, just above what looked like a VIP section complete with red carpet. It was reported in the paper next morning that the chair that was wide enough for two people to share was occupied by the Sultan himself, whilst the fella next to him who was getting more and more agitated as the match unfolded might very well have been the Crown Prince. Apparently a couple of lesser princes made up the rest of the front row.

The ground holds 28,000 when full. There might have been a thousand or so in there for this game with most people being in the main covered stand with us and a fair few opposite making a non-stop noise.

The Brunei team had a forty-six year old goalie. That was never likely to go well. Mind you, how old was that goalie from the Euros last summer, the one with the grey tracky bottoms that looked as if he’d retrieved them from a bag destined for the charity shop?

The elderly keeper had plenty to do. Just as well really as you’ve got to stay active and playing football certainly beats the standard old folks staple of wandering around pound shops and pursing their lips at the price of stuff they already have plenty of in their cupboards at home.

The geriatric goalie didn’t save anything he shouldn’t have but likewise didn’t let any in that he should have stopped. I imagine he’d have settled for that.

I don’t often recognise any of the players in these games, but on this occasion Billy Mehmet seemed familiar. It turned out that we’d watched him play up front for Tampines Rovers in Singapore a year earlier. He’d had quite an interesting career, taking in St Mirren and a club in Turkey. I doubt you’d get to live in a house on sticks in either of those places though.

There was a familiar face on the home bench too. Blackburn bogeyman Steve Kean has been quietly rebuilding his career over here since escaping the somewhat misplaced vitriol of the Blackburn fans in 2012. It’s a long way to go for a fresh start but perhaps he thought that Brunei was somewhere near Dubai too.

The visitors from Singapore always seemed to have that bit more about them. They went a goal up midway through the first half and whilst the teams went in level at the break Warriors were soon ahead in the second half.

DPMM equalised through Billy Mehmet, but two more away goals put the game out of reach of the home side. A late Brunei consolation was countered by an even later strike by Warriors that maintained their two goal advantage and rounded off the scoring in a 5-3 away win.

Heavy rain in the closing minutes saw the Royal party dashing for cover and, as I hadn’t brought a coat, left me cursing my preconception that the Brunei climate would have been drier. Something, perhaps, like that of the Middle East.

Thai Army v Trang, Saturday 1st April 2017, 4pm

April 20, 2017

This was our fourth visit to Bangkok and I was determined that I’d finally get to see some Thai football. In a perfect world ex-Middlesbrough player Leroy Lita’s Sisaket team would have been in town. It’s always better if there’s a Boro connection. Sisaket were playing somewhere else though and so the next best option was a third division game between the Thai Army and Trang.

The stadium was just off the highway to Don Muang Airport. We’d spotted the ground from the elevated road as we’d arrived that morning and if you timed your journey to coincide with the rush-hour you could probably watch a good ten minutes or so of the action whilst your car inched its way into town.

The Royal Thai Army Stadium appears to be shared between the Thai Army and the second division Army United. Odd choice of name, unless there’s been some amalgamation of regiments going on. There was a sign outside of the stadium declaring that it was ‘The Home of Gentlemen’. That’s a lot better than the cringe worthy ‘Theatre of Dreams’ used elsewhere, but not really the kind of tagline that you’d imagine would strike fear into the enemies of an army. If you have to fight someone, it might as well be gentlemen.

There wasn’t anything going on at that first entrance and so we did half a lap around the ground to find the way in. There was no further mention of gentlemen, but instead we got a motto above the entrance pointing out that the third-rate kickabout that we had turned up for was ‘for country, religions, monarchy and people’. Quite ambitious, I suppose. I’ve always taken the view that football is just a way for people at a loose end to idle away an hour and a half or so.

It was sixty baht to get in, which is about a pound, fifty. Mind you the tickets weren’t even for the third division outfit, they were left over Army United tickets. The whole ticketing process seemed a bit pointless. After all, we could have just been waved through the gate after handing over our cash.

The army side were in a black and grayish stripey number, whilst their coaching staff were kitted out in a sort of red camouflage that might well have been ideal for hiding out in an Azalea bush. It didn’t really blend in at all though with either the pitch or the concrete stadium.

Trang were in an unusual combination of sky blue shirts with yellow shorts and trim. Both sides posed for the customary photos before we stood for the National Anthem which was bellowed out at top volume by a bloke to our left. They like their anthem in Thailand. Last time we visited Bangkok we went to the pictures, mainly for the air-conditioning. We got the anthem there as well.

The pitch wasn’t in much of a condition. It looked as if the home players had been carrying out foxhole digging practice in the goalmouths. There was one big covered stand, some seats in the bowl behind one goal and more at the opposite side to us. With the running track having plenty of room it did seem as if the ground was a little too big for football.

The crowd probably totalled around a hundred and fifty and I suspect most had some sort of military connection. The first half was scrappy with neither side looking threatening. Trang were probably the nearest to scoring late-on, but the Army keeper got down well to a low shot.

Five minutes after the restart the Gentlemen went a goal up. A free-kick was floated in and everyone missed it. The bounce almost beat the Trang keeper but he somehow managed to claw it out. It didn’t go any further though than an incoming striker who was able to nod the ball home to open the scoring.

The home side then doubled their lead on the hour with a well worked goal that was finished off at the back post.

A couple of the Trang players picked up yellows in the second half. Both nodded to the ref and smiled, acknowledging the decision good-naturedly. You don’t see that very often, which is a shame really. Maybe playing at the Home of Gentlemen had put the visitors on their best behaviour.

The Army saw the game out easily enough for a two-nil victory. We sloped off in the final moments and after a few failed attempts to explain to taxi drivers where we wanted to go we eventually, with some local assistance, managed to get a cab back into town.

HCMC v Hai Phong, Saturday 18th March 2017, 5.30pm

April 13, 2017

Vietnam is another of those handy to get to destinations. Or at least it is if you are starting from Kuala Lumpur and only going as far as Ho Chi Minh City. Our flight lasted less than two hours and from the air I was able to see the canals and channels of the Mekong Delta.

We’d arranged electronic visas in advance but whilst mine worked fine, there was no record of Jen’s. The immigration fellas were pretty good about it though and simply made a note on her printed copy that I assume said something like ‘looks ok to me’.

We saw a few of the sights. The war museum struck me as a little biased, as I’m sure both sides were more than capable of the odd atrocity. It’s the winners who get to decide the history though, particularly in their own country.

We also had a wander along to the Presidential Palace in the hope of seeing some seventies furnishings and an umbrella stand made from an elephant’s foot. No such luck unfortunately, but we did get to go upstairs, look out onto the front lawn and imagine the tanks breaking down the front gates as Saigon fell to the forces from the north.

Good as all that was, I was primarily in town for the match and with the pavements seeming to accommodate as many scooters as the roads we took a taxi for the short journey to the twenty thousand capacity Thong Nhat stadium.

It was fairly busy outside and as we stepped out of the cab we were met by a tout who wanted a hundred thousand dongs for each of the two tickets that he had for the main stand. As that works out at three quid fifty a pop I wasn’t really too bothered about whatever mark-up he’d added and was quite happy to take them off his hands.

A later scrutiny of the tickets revealed that they had a face value of seventy thousand and so we’d paid an extra quid for the convenience of not having to find the ticket office.

There were plenty of fans in our covered stand and around five hundred or so home fans on the terrace opposite. They had a brass band and fireworks. Proper fireworks with showers of sparks, not just smoke flares.

Up at the back of the home fans terrace were a small group with a union jack that identified them as the Ho Chi Minh City UK Supporters Club. I presume they now live locally in Saigon rather than travelling to games from the UK, but you never know. It’s a funny old game, as Greavsie used to say, and you’ve got to get your fix whatever way you can.

There was a decent turnout from the visitors too, although I’ve no idea how far their hundred and fifty or so supporters had to travel. They had a high flag to fan ratio and every now and then would run across the terracing behind the goal waving their colours in a half-hearted attempt at riling the home support.

The home side were in red, with visitors Hai Phong in yellow. I didn’t think the standard of the top-tier game was too bad but maybe watching the Boro has lowered my expectations a little. The big number nine for Hai Phong put himself about a bit without ever really seeming to get the ball under control.

Ho Chi Minh had a skillful left-winger with a trick or two and a tendency to embarrass the defenders in a way that put him at risk of being launched into the distance.

Whilst the hosts had generally looked the most likely to score it was the away side that broke the deadlock when one of their strikers followed up his own saved shot and put them one up. Ho Chi Minh put the pressure on in the final minutes but the single goal was enough to seal the win for Hai Phong.

We flagged down a taxi and headed off for some nems.

Middlesbrough v Oxford Utd, Saturday 18th February 2017, 3pm

April 9, 2017

The Boro’s cup run had coincided nicely with our trip to the UK and the fifth round tie with Oxford meant that I had another opportunity to go along to the Riverside.

Tom was working and as I’d already bought two tickets I took my six-year-old grandson, Harry. He’s not that bothered about football really. He has a kick around in the playground but his main interests are spiders and bats. I couldn’t promise him that we’d see any of those, but the day started well for him when we spotted a squashed rat after parking up.

I’d taken advantage of the reduced cup prices for hospitality and so our tickets were in the Fenton Club. The last time I’d been in a posh part of the ground I’d got away with black jeans. This time though the requirements were somewhat stricter and I needed proper trousers and a jacket.

Fortunately I found a suit in the lock up that I’d bought for a wedding in Kazakhstan nine years ago. I rarely get invited to weddings and so I don’t think I’ve worn it since.

Harry, however, had been to a wedding last year and was just about able to squeeze into the suit that he had worn on that occasion. I think he quite liked the dressing up. If he didn’t he certainly liked the frequent compliments on his appearance.

The Fenton Suite is a large room in the West Stand with a small bar at one end and a carvery along the side. It overlooks the pitch. You get your own table and there are tellies everywhere for watching the early games. Best bit was probably the framed shirt and cap from a Micky Fenton England appearance.

In the corridor on the way in and out were the pre-season team pictures cataloging our squads for the past century or more. It would be nice to have some of those images blown up a bit and added to the walls in the concourses in the ground so that everyone can see them. I was up at Hampden Park last year and they’ve got loads of old photos dotted around.

We started off with carrot soup and then tried the carvery. Harry was offered a secret option of chicken nuggets which he accepted on the basis that he could also have exactly five roast potatoes with them. He’s precise about things like that.

There were a few Oxford United fans in the suite, including former children’s entertainer Timmy Mallett. He seemed pleasant enough but I couldn’t quite work out if he wearing a headband that spiked up his hair or if the entire thing was actually a hat that was intended to resemble a shock of hair.

Either way, it smacked of attention seeking in a way that made me wonder if his ‘wacky’ tv personna is actually the way he is in real-life. Admittedly, I didn’t see him twat anyone on the head with a hammer but you got the impression that he might very well have done if he were allowed.

We were a couple of goals up and cruising at half-time, but two goals in a minute mid-way through the second half brought Oxford right back into it and Mallett to his feet in celebration. He’s perhaps a little fortunate that he was in the hospitality section as his reaction might very well have brought about a nostalgic sharp blow to his own head in other areas of the ground.

It all worked out though as Stuani popped up towards the end with another of those vital goals of his and we were through to the quarter-finals. We trooped back into the Fenton Club for ice cream before Harry informed me that, good as it was, he’d quite like to go home now. So that’s what we did, making sure that we kept an eye out for squashed rats.

Crook Town v Tow Law Town, Friday 17th February 2017, 7.30pm

April 7, 2017

Jen and I were staying in Sedgefield for this UK visit  and that made it handy for getting to a Northern League Division Two fixture at Crook. I was reasonably confident of finding their Millfield ground on the basis that if I followed the sign at the A1 roundabout for Bishop Auckland, sooner or later there would be a sign for Crook. Sure enough, that’s exactly how it worked.

I’d also assumed that Crook would be a small enough town to make finding the stadium a doddle, but if it hadn’t been an evening kick-off under floodlights I’d probably have struggled a little more than I did.

It was five quid to get in, with another pound for a programme. From what I can gather, the ground pre-dates Crook Town’s formation in 1889. It has seen a few Amateur Cup winning sides including one that featured Frank Clark, a future European Cup winner with Nottingham Forest.

There was a main stand that was built in the twenties and a slightly smaller one to its right. The goal at that end had some concrete terracing and the other two sides just a grassy bank apiece.

Tow Law were the visitors in a reverse of the fixture that I’d seen at their Ironworks Road ground last season. Most of the noise came from the players who, in what didn’t seem to be an ironic manner, spent the match shouting to each other that they were “too quiet”. I’m not sure that any situation can ever be too quiet.

If the players weren’t berating each other they were having a pop at the ref and each side seemed to have a rota for carrying out the criticism. If all of the players are critical in turn, I presume it’s less likely that one will be singled out for a yellow card. I’d just book them all.

There were a couple of hundred home fans and a small section of visitors up in the main stand. Although with the two towns only being five miles apart there were probably a few more Tow Law supporters dotted around the ground. Neither set of fans made much noise, with the biggest contribution coming from a bloke leaning on the railing who was coughing so hard that I thought he might hack his rib cage up.

Tow Law were the better side and after being a couple of goals up at half-time kept adding to their score as the game went on. Crook had neither the necessary composure or luck in front of goal and as the second-half drew to a close found themselves five-nil behind.

I hung on to see if the visitors could match the six-nil score of the game I saw between the teams last season.  Tow Law came close, hitting the post with the final kick of the evening. I suppose Crook can take some comfort from the slightly smaller defeat. I might turn up next year and see if they can maintain their improvement and limit the deficit to four.

Middlesbrough v Everton, Saturday 11th February 2017, 3pm

March 30, 2017

The first game of my latest trip to the UK took place just six hours after we’d completed a twenty hour journey from Malaysia. Tom had been supposed to be coming to the home match against Everton with me but he’d just started a new barbering job and so would be missing Saturday games for the foreseeable future.

As I approached the Riverside I could see a new boat in the dock. The North Sea Producer had moved on last year to be scrapped and something a little bigger had taken its place.

My ticket was in the South Stand, but I had plenty of time and so I had a wander around to behind the North Stand for a better look. I’m not expert on these things but I’m told that the MPI Adventure is a wind turbine installation ship, presumably for those wind turbines that you see a few hundred yards out to sea, rather than those up on the moors.

I know that most people don’t like the turbines, particularly those that spoil a view, but I don’t mind them. I imagine technology will move on and that in a hundred years time or so I doubt that any of the existing ones will still be in place.

I continued around the ground only to discover that you can’t do a full lap anymore and you have to head out onto the road at the South East corner. I’m not sure that’s an improvement.

When I got to my seat I could see the top of the wind turbine boat behind the North Stand. The grey sky and the circling seagulls made it look like an ideal subject for a Mackenzie Thorpe painting.

We played ok in the wet and windy conditions. Foreshaw struggled a bit but perhaps he was trying too hard against the club that he’d joined as a seven-year old. There were a few moans around me about Negredo and Karanka but overall it was a decent performance that earned what might yet turn out to be a valuable point.

Zwekapin United v Shan United, Saturday 28th January 2017, 5.30pm

March 27, 2017

Myanmar, or Burma as it was formerly known, isn’t too far away from Malaysia and so Jen and I popped over for a visit. At the time that I booked the flights to Yangon I hadn’t realised that it was Chinese New Year and so the airports were a whole lot busier than they usually are.

Yangon’s an interesting place. It’s not yet as developed as some of the major cities in the nearby countries, but with the coffee shop chains already established I doubt it will take them long to catch up.

The game we were attending was at the Bogyoke Aung San stadium and just a twenty minute walk from our hotel. The route took us past the railway station.

We returned to the station next day to take a ride on a circular line that laps Yangon. It’s something that’s recommended in some guidebook and it seemed like every foreigner in town was keen to experience the trip.

I can’t say that I was impressed. Some bits, such as watching rice planting through the window, were interesting I suppose. Most of the time though we were looking at the back walls of houses or factories. I expect the locals, who were no doubt actually going from A to B for a purpose rather than all the way back to A again for no good reason, thought we were off our heads. There was no air-conditioning either and so we got off half-way around and took a taxi back instead.

Back to the match. It was a thousand whatevers to get in, which is about seventy pence. It’s also the same amount of money that I’d given to a small girl earlier that day. She was around five years old and had shyly given me a flyer for something or other as we’d queued at a stall to buy some water.  I thanked her and she then held out her hand for a payment in return.  I quite liked the idea that she’d sought to turn a scrap piece of paper into a money making opportunity and so I paid up. The seventy pence note was enough to make her scream and then literally jump for joy. It’s nice to make someone’s day for under a pound.

We entered the stadium at the back of the one covered stand and bought some still warm boiled peanuts. Jen quite likes them, but I’m not overly impressed by the sogginess and think that they’d be better roasted. I still ate most of them though.

The stadium, which is named after the assassinated Burmese leader Bogyoke Aung San, is at least fifty-odd years old and, like most of us, looks its age. It was used for the South East Asian Peninsular games in 1961, but could well have been built long before that.

In addition to our covered stand that had around a hundred and fifty or so people in it, there were three open terraces with a handful of people opposite and another twenty or so fans in the corner to our left.

The terrace to our right was home to a flock of pigeons that were frequently moved along by the three stray dogs making half-hearted efforts to catch one.

Home side Zwekapin were in yellow with a white band whilst the visitors, Shan Utd, were in all red. Both sides looked to have a quota of Africans who, similar to the US imports to Korean basketball, were a good foot taller than the locals and spent the game carrying out their own private battles among themselves.

The first half was goalless. Zwekapin had most of the chances, but Shan always looked dangerous on the break and their number 90 almost scored with a scissor kick bang on the forty-five minute mark.

In the roof of the stand was a cameraman in his gantry. I suspect that the footage he was taking was more likely to be for the use of the teams rather than for broadcasting as he was filming the game on his phone. At the break he nipped down the ladder, after first unscrewing his phone from its tripod. I suppose a half-time game of Candy Crush or the like was in order.

The seven-foot tall centre-half gave away a penalty midway through the second half that enabled Zwekapin to go a goal up. Strangely the crowd barely seemed to celebrate. I think that Shan were a Yangon team but ‘home team’ Zwekapin were actually from out-of-town and were temporarily using Yangon United’s stadium for some reason or other. Certainly the majority of the crowd were urging Shan on rather than Zwekapin.

There was a lot of pressure from Shan, including hitting the post in the final minute, but it wasn’t to be and the single goal was enough to clinch the points for Zwekapin.

As a bit of a footnote, we just missed a double murder at the airport on the way back. We arrived in our taxi to see soldiers running away from the terminal and policemen trying to load bullets into their handguns by banging the magazines on the ground. Jen, who is ex-army, was able to confirm to me that it isn’t usual practice to load a gun in that way and that any decent drill sergeant would probably restrict anyone trying it to the use of nothing more deadly than a small stick.

A mob was by the side of the road and we later found out that they were surrounding a fella who, moments before, had shot a government official in the head and then killed a taxi driver who got in the way as he ran off. The government official was a well-known legal adviser to Bogyoke Aung San’s daughter, the Myanmar de facto leader and Nobel Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi. Seventy years on from her Dad’s assassination, it’s all still kicking off.

Desetra v Football Combination, Monday 9th January 2017, 5.30pm

March 13, 2017

A lot of planning goes into some of my trips to watch football, although you might not necessarily think so judging by the number of times that we’ve turned up somewhere and the match has been postponed, relocated or maybe never really existed in this first place.

Sometimes, though, there’s no planning at all and this was one of those occasions. Actually that’s not altogether true. I was driving into Port Dickson after work to go to the cash machine. There is a slightly more direct route, but I didn’t take it. Instead I went the longer way around because it would take me past a football ground and you just never know, do you? There might have been a game going on.

And surprise, surprise, there was. I initially drove past on the basis that I could call in after I’d been to the bank. But what if the game were almost over? You can’t take a chance on something like that happening and so I turned around and parked up.

I’d been to what I think is called the Merdeka Stadium before, but there had been a nine a side tournament going on and I don’t count them for ground hopping purposes. It has to be a proper eleven a side game with linesmen. This game fitted the bill though and I was extra impressed by all the officials wearing proper and matching kit. Just like the big-time.

There were only a handful of spectators, but one of the teams had a few people on the bench and so I headed over that way to find out who was playing. The lads I spoke to were turning out for Football Combination, the team in green, whilst the opposition in the yellow and red abominations were Desetra.

We chatted for a while and I discovered that one of the subbed players works at the same construction site as me. I should try to get a job with his company as they must knock off at least an hour earlier than I do.

There wasn’t much time left in the friendly fixture and Football Combination were 4-2 down.  I had stuff to do and so I left them to it, quietly pleased that as I’d now ticked the stadium off I’d no longer feel compelled to drive the long way around to the cash machine.

Muay Thai Boxing, Bangkok, Saturday 24th December 2016

March 9, 2017

Jen and I have already been to Bangkok a couple of times this year, but my plans to see some football had been thwarted by heavy traffic on the first occasion and then, on our next visit, by the cancelling of their FA Cup final due to the Royal mourning period.

This time we were in town so that Jen could run in the Christmas Day Half Marathon. The 2016 Thai football season is over though and so I’ll have to wait until March or so to get to a game.

The race began at 4am, a time that I regarded as ideal for getting up on Christmas morning as a child, but one that seems a little on the early side these days. Still, it went well and I was able to cheer her home in what turned out to be a year’s best time.

The previous night we’d went along to Lumpinee Stadium to see some Thai boxing. It was quite difficult to grasp the ticketing situation. From what I could work out, there were three categories of ticket; ringside, second class and third class and priced at 2,000, 1,500 and 1,000 baht respectively.

I think, although I’m not certain, that the ringside and second class tickets can be bought either from the box office or from one of the boxing clubs associated with the stadium. I presume that the clubs get a bulk discount that enables them to sell the tickets at face value and still be able to take a cut of the price.

We bought ringside seats through one of the clubs and were given a ‘free’ tee-shirt each before being escorted to a section of reserved seats at ringside. Our chairs were in the second row, but had we arrived earlier we could have taken a front-row seat.

The stadium wasn’t that big. There were only three rows around the ring and the remaining seats beyond that were banked. To our right was the second class area that had individual seating. I had a wander into that section and it provided a decent view. It was further away from the action than our ringside seats, but it had the advantage that the view wasn’t obscured by the ropes.

On our left was what I assumed to be the third class section. It didn’t have seats but had concrete terracing. Initially people were sat down but as the action started everyone stood. Most of the people in the third class section looked to be local, whereas in the ringside and second class areas it seemed to be foreign tourists.

There was plenty of betting action going on in Third Class, with wagers being struck via shouts and waved fingers, presumably denoting the round in which the fight would end. It all appeared very chaotic, a little I suppose, like the stock market trading used to be. The settling up of stakes and returns took place in the much less frenzied atmosphere at the end of each bout.

Each fight lasted for up to five, three minute rounds and there were twelve contests on the card. The fighter’s weights ranged from about seven and a half stone up to maybe, nine and a half. I’d have thought we might have seen some lighter boxers, although I don’t know the rules on weigh-ins. Maybe the listed weights are ‘on-the-day’ weights rather than from the day before and prior to re-hydration.

I’d initially wondered if the boxers were all ‘house fighters’. Their club affiliations were listed on the bout sheet though and they came from a variety of different clubs.

I’d not seen Muay Thai live before and I was struck by how brutal it was compared to regular boxing. The infighting consisted mainly of kicks to the legs and knees or to the guts or ribs. I’d expect that cracked ribs are commonplace.

The fellas spent a lot of time on the floor as well. Grappling and then throwing your opponent to the canvas, before falling on top of him was routine. Again, I’d have thought that broken bones would be a frequent occurrence. The referee would often be caught up in a fall and the fighter at the bottom of the pile risked having two bodies land on top of him.

First bell was at 4:30 in the afternoon and each fight was quickly followed by the next. The initial four bouts which included the main event were televised. We had an early night planned due to the 3am alarm call for the next day’s race and so we left after a couple of hours and six of the twelve fights.

It was an entertaining evening though and so next time we are in town I’ll try and check out one of the other Muay Thai venues.

Semen Padang v Gresik United, Saturday 17th December 2016, 4pm

January 4, 2017

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Whilst the football season has been over for a couple of months in Malaysia and most of the nearby countries, the Indonesian Soccer Championship has been dragging its feet. As there’s a direct flight from Kuala Lumpur to Padang in Sumatra, Jen and I popped over for the weekend to take in a top division game between Semen Padang (yes, really) and Gresik United from East Java.

I was looking forward to checking in to our Padang hotel as the booking information made it clear that couples would have to produce a marriage certificate. When you have the added bonus of being able to legitimately make the reservation under the names ‘Mr and Mrs Smith’ I was hoping for some Basil Fawlty style fun before eventually handing over the certificate.

Sadly, we must have looked too respectable for the trip to be for any extra-marital monkey business and we weren’t asked for any documentation other than our passports, which these days both show the same surname.

Padang is a seaside town that doesn’t really  seem to be a tourist destination. Bit like Skinningrove, really, although with fewer burning tyres. It’s more the sort of place that people land at before moving on to somewhere with a bit more going on. I quite liked it though and we had a couple of walks along the river and the coast.

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I’m not sure that they get too many strangers in Padang. Everywhere we went people called out a welcome to us, even if they were passing on a scooter and would be ten yards into the distance before the greeting could be acknowledged.

We passed a school graduation ceremony and were pleaded with to come in. People were turfed out of their chairs to make way for the two new guests of honour and we were given food and drink whilst posing for photographs with everyone present. After ten minutes we tried to make out escape and had to submit to even more photos as people took their last opportunity to record our presence.

I’ve never had any desire for fame and ten minutes of having to pose for shot after shot with people I didn’t know reinforced my view that it wouldn’t be fun at all. I can see how celebrities get a bad press though as you only need one person to be disappointed and nobody will remember the twenty photos that you did pose for.

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Before the game we called into some museum in a nearby park where we had a similar welcome, with groups of kids following us around as if we were dishing out handfuls of sweets or tickets for Top of the Pops.

One young lad was waving a small cage that contained two finch-like birds. There was just enough room for them to stand up and they seemed to spend most of their time bouncing off the interior of the cage. It’s unlikely that they would have survived much longer in that cage than goldfish would have done. I tried to get a photo but had to settle for one of the whole family. You can see the cage on the ground though if you look closely enough.

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Later that day we took a taxi to the Stadion GOR Haji Agus Salim. With half an hour to go to kick-off it was busy outside, although I suspect that most people were selling or buying stuff rather than intending to go to the match.

Jen bought a couple of football shirts with the home team’s name on the front. After all, what girl wouldn’t relish Semen being splattered all over her chest?

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I asked around as to where to buy tickets in the shade and a women walked with us half way around the ground to meet with a tout. I doubted we needed his services but he only charged a total of sixty pence premium on our two seven quid VIP tickets.

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As it turned out, there are different levels of VIPness. It’s no surprise really and at the match our school graduation celebrity status counted for nothing. I remember having VIP tickets at Barcelona for a Champions League game once and after laying out a couple of hundred euros for the privilege we got to sit near the corner flag and queue for a still-chilled in the middle hot dog at half-time. I doubt Sepp Blatter was in our section.

On this occasion a fence separated us from a more central viewing position and what might have been slightly more comfortable seats.

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We were positioned behind the dugouts and shaded by the roof above, but as the sun sank lower we could feel it on the backs of our necks. It was the final game of the season and the home side’s players had brought their kids on to the pitch for the pre-game photos. Some were taking selfies with their teammates, perhaps knowing that they would be off for good at the end of the game.

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A fella was selling cartons of water at the equivalent of thirty pence for three. I offered a note that was enough for six cartons and was given three bags of boiled peanuts as change. There were also duck and quail eggs as well as sugar cane for sale.

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I didn’t see any away fans but there were three separate groups of home ultras amongst the two thousand or so fans. We had one lot behind the goal to our left that tended to focus on flags and banners. Given the clues in the banners I’m going to call them The Kmers.

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There were a second lot of fans at the other end who had decided to show their support by waving balloons. They might have called themselves Spartacks. Both of the groups kept up their singing just about all of the way through the game.

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The third set of fans didn’t do any singing. There was a small group of around fifteen of them dressed mainly in black and stood around doing their best to look menacing. Their banners appeared to commemorate something that happened in 1980. I’ve no idea what though.

If I think back to 1980 it’s memories of The Jam, house parties with Woodpecker cider and the Boro thrashing Arsenal 5-0 one sunny evening at the end of the season. I’d like to believe that those Indonesian lads in black were harking back to exactly those same things.

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Whilst the fans were top quality, the standard on the pitch was poor with many of the players unable to judge the pace or flight of the ball. If a pass was hit in their direction they often looked as if running in quicksand as the play passed them by or the ball bounced off their shin for someone else to then take his turn to mis-control it.

After twenty minutes of nothingness Semen took the lead when the rebound to a missed penalty was scrambled home.

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The hosts had a few chances to clinch the victory in the second half but had to wait until the final moments for the money shot. The Gresik keeper fumbled the ball on the edge of the box leaving a Padang striker to collect it and walk it into an empty next.

The two nil victory relegated Gresik and brought the Indonesian season to a long-awaited climax.