Middlesbrough v Brighton and Hove Albion, Saturday 7th May 2016, 12:30pm

August 15, 2016

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Well, what do you know? We only went and did it.

A year on from that non-performance at Wembley a draw at home to Brighton in the last game of the season was enough to secure our return to the Premier League seven years after it slipped away that afternoon at West Ham.

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I’d bought tickets for the game as soon as I knew I was leaving Australia and long before the inevitable sell-out. Tom and I were in the South Stand, to the side of the goal nearest the Brighton fans.

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I’ve never been to a Boro game, or any game for that matter, where the support was so intense and where the singing was non-stop despite the tension of the occasion. It wasn’t like Eindhoven where most of us peaked too early and failed to play our part, or Wembley on just about any visit you can think of when it was either more about just being there or an early setback knocked us back. Or both.

It wasn’t like Cardiff where the team did their bit early on and then left us to bite our fingernails for almost an entire match. This was so different to any of those times. It was a crowd playing their part and providing the background for the lads on the pitch to get us over the line.

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If ever a lull in the noise threatened, a Red Faction-led chorus of “Follow, Follow, Follow” filled the potential void to the extent that the words were still resounding through my head days later. Even as the board was held up showing an additional eight minutes, the support never wavered.

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As we entered the final seconds I felt a few tears in my eyes. Sometimes it means more than you realise. I tend not to get emotional when it goes badly; I was able to put last season’s play-off defeat behind me before the game had finished and within an hour or two was already looking ahead to this season rather than dwelling upon what might have been in different circumstances. This was another matter altogether.

The whistle blew and Tom and I hugged. My thoughts went back to our last promotion eighteen years earlier. Tom and I had been in the West Stand for that one, me in my thirties rather than my fifties and him just eight years old and in serious danger of having someone’s eye out with his flag.

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I’ve enjoyed being in the Championship with trips to some of the so-called ‘less-fashionable’ grounds and in the last couple of years it was nice to win a few games.

But it’s good to be back. Back in the big time.

Point to Point at Witton Castle, Monday 2nd May 2016

August 14, 2016

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Whilst driving back to Teesside from a Northern League game at Tow Law I spotted a sign advertising a point-to-point meeting a couple of days later. I like horse racing and, as is the case with football, it doesn’t have to be elite level.

Bank Holiday Monday rolled around and we had a drive out to Witton Castle. Entry was ten quid. That was for however many you had in your car and so whilst it was decent value for Jen and I, it would have been a real bargain with a car-full.

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The meeting was organised by the Zetland Hunt. It must be at least ten years or so since hunting with dogs was outlawed but it doesn’t seem to me that a lot has changed. The packs still exist and I’m sure that when they go out for a run in the countryside they inadvertently stumble across quite a few foxes.

There was a lot of pro-hunting propaganda put out over the loud speakers, but I imagine that most of those present  didn’t need any reinforcement of their views. I’m fairly open-minded on the whole issue, although I suspect that could just as easily be translated as I couldn’t give a toss either way.

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There were about five or six hundred people spread between the beer and food tents with others watching the racing from a grassy bank. A handful of bookmakers looked to be taking plenty of cash.

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I’ve been to a few point to points before and a decent jockey tends to make a big difference. As I had no idea who could ride and who couldn’t, I wasn’t able to put that knowledge to good use and so we struggled for winners.

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The side of the hill was a handy place to watch the racing. Any event that I can watch whilst lying on the grass gets my vote. Or at least it does when it’s dry.

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The rain arrived after the first couple of races and whilst we were able to take shelter under the overhang of a nearby sponsor’s tent, it meant that lying on the grass wasn’t as an attractive proposition once the rain had stopped.

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We had no winners from the first four races and with the wind getting up and the rain still in the air we left them all to it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stokesley Sports Club v Thornaby, Monday 2nd May 2016, 11am

August 13, 2016

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The Bank Holiday games in the Northern League tend to start a bit earlier than the regular three o’clock kick-offs. It makes a lot of sense as it still leaves enough of the day to do other things afterwards.

A quick scan of fixtures revealed that Stokesley were at home to Thornaby and as Jen and I were staying just down the road in a cottage at Ingleby Greenhow it seemed an ideal choice.

We’ve stayed at Ingleby a couple of times now. It’s quiet, but close enough to Norton to make doing the family stuff easy enough. Being out in the countryside makes it interesting for the grandkids too and they revelled in talking to the sheep and horses, poking a dead pheasant and chasing rabbits down the long driveway.

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It was also handy enough for Jen and I to do a bit more of the Cleveland Way and we hiked from Clay Bank to Osmotherley and back over a couple of days.

The weather was fine and whilst I tend to prefer the coastal sections of the trail, the mix of woodland and open moors, together with the views of Teesside made both days decent walks.

Mind you, we probably could have done with an earlier start on the second day as we ended up coming down off the moors in darkness.

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The weather was less impressive for the game at Stokesley’s ground, with strong winds and the odd spot of rain. It was five quid to get in and the bloke on the gate apologised for being sold out of programmes. He generously offered to post one to me, but as I’m trying to give up accumulating stuff that will never see the light of day again I very politely fucked him off.

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I made my way around to the far side of the ground just as the game began, passing a dog with a burst football in its mouth. I’m not sure that it’s particularly wise to bring to a dog with that sort of hobby to a match.

I’m not a fan of Banning Orders, mainly on the basis that we have sufficient proper laws to deal with football-related skullduggery, but I’d find it hard to oppose one for the owner if Fido decided to add to his popped Mitre Multiplex collection.

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Thornaby were in blue shirts that were way too big for most of their players. The blustery conditions meant that the wind kept getting trapped inside of them. Part of me wanted the wind to pick up further on the off-chance that some of the lighter members of the visiting team might get literally carried away.

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Spurred on by the presence of a bumper bank holiday crowd of forty-seven (and a dog), Stokesley took the lead on the half-hour. I was quite surprised as they hadn’t been doing at all well this year and weekly hammerings had left them well adrift at the foot of the table and long-since relegated.

In fact, in what I’d assumed to be a reasonable form guide, they’d suffered at nine-one defeat to Thornaby in the reverse fixture, just the previous week.

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Normality was restored before the break with two Thornaby goals and with the rain getting heavier I took my eighty pence cup of coffee into the covered stand for the second half.

A few visiting fans with their blue and white scarves had made the trip from Thornaby and they were rewarded as the visitors extended their lead to an eventual four-two victory.

That was it for the for the season for those two teams. That was also it for the Northern League as far as Stokesley are concerned as they will start next season in the not quite so prestigious Wearside League. I doubt it will make much difference to the dog.

Tow Law Town v Crook Town, Saturday 30th April 2016, 3pm

July 31, 2016

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A couple of days after arriving in the UK, Jen and I had a drive out to Tow Law for their derby with Crook Town in the second division of the Northern League. I don’t think I’ve ever been to Tow Law before and it was a lot more pleasing on the eye than I’d imagined it to be.

Whereas I’d been expecting somewhere run-down, with polystyrene take-away trays blowing down a deserted high street, it was actually a pleasant little town with plenty of countryside around it. More green than the grey that I’d anticipated.

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The Ironworks Road ground dates back to 1893 although the ironworks that it is named after had actually closed a good ten years or so earlier than that. I’m not sure how much of the ground is original, although the fella that took our fivers to get in reckoned that the ‘step-on’ turnstile might very well have been.

There were plenty of options for viewing the game and we initially stood behind the goal at the end where we had come in. When the rain that had threatened for a while finally arrived we moved to the stand behind the dugouts.

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A good proportion of the sixty or so crowd had the same idea, with a few kids seeking shelter at the far end in the standing enclosure with a small roof on it. A handful of older blokes braved the drizzle on the terracing opposite us, whilst one or two fans tucked in close to the walls of the changing rooms.

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I was a bit disappointed with the standard of play, although I seem to think the same thing every time I go to a Northern League game. Surely the technical ability of the players should be so much higher these days with the academy system. Whilst I’ve no idea if any of the players were ex-pros, you’d think that most of them would have been in academies for some of their formative years. If so, it didn’t show.

Tow Law created plenty of the chances and the Crook goalie managed to somehow get out of the way of most of them. He had a signature move of quickly dropping to his arse whenever a shot was fired in, as if he was playing Musical Bumps.

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If only the keeper been as successful at getting out of the way of the barber he might not have ended up with a curly perm on the top inch of his head with the remainder shaved to the bone.

At half time I got myself a coffee and some chips from the window near to the turnstiles and we had a chat with a bloke who had brought a wooden rattle. He was younger than us, so it wasn’t as if he’d had it since the nineteen fifties or whenever they were popular. I doubt you’d get into the Boro with a device like that these days.

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We watched the second half from the terracing on the opposite side to the stand. It meant that we got to hear the linesman keeping the players straight as to what they were doing wrong. He’d quite happily point out to a whining centre-half that “you played him on” or that “the full-back didn’t step up”.

At one point he got into a shouty exchange with a coach over the hand signals that he had used to indicate that a player had returned from a previously offside position. I suspected that the most recent offside change that the other fella was aware of was when it changed from three defenders to two, back in the days when the Ironworks still had that lingering smell of fresh paint.

The officiating was all very impressive, but wasted on those players and coaches. I doubt I’d have had the inclination or the patience to explain my decisions. Nor, come to think of it, the stamina to run up and down the line.

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It wasn’t much of a contest, with Tow Law being five goals up by early in the second half. They could probably have had more but a few of the home players looked happy to see the season out at a canter.

The excitement levels perked up towards the end when with all of the Crook Town subs used, or more likely, an incomplete bench to begin with, an injured outfield player had to swap positions with Mr. Musical Bumps. The change made little difference, apart perhaps from reducing the opportunities for the original goalie to have a bit of a sit down.

Tow Law rounded off the afternoon with a sixth goal before the end and brought their season to a close. It wouldn’t be overly harsh to suggest that for some of the Crook players, the season had finished long before kick-off.

Horse Racing at Alice Springs, Saturday 23rd April 2016

July 10, 2016

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When I decided to take the job in Australia there was one trip that I wanted to do more than any other and that was to visit Uluru, or Ayers Rock as it’s more commonly known among English folks of my generation.

A little bit of research suggested that the best way to do it was by way of a road trip from Alice Springs and so that’s what we did, taking a flight there from Darwin to save fifteen hundred kilometres of driving each way and then making the journey from Alice Springs to Ayers Rock and back in a camper van over a five day period.

There’s not a great deal goes on at Alice Springs. If I mention that, horse racing aside, the highlights of our time there were visits to museums celebrating the School of the Air and the Postal Service respectively, you’d probably conclude and quite rightly in my opinion, that Alice Springs is fine for a night or two whilst on the way to somewhere else.

We picked up the camper van with the intention of driving the five hundred kilometres to Ayers Rock in one day. However, a later than planned start meant that I wasn’t sure that we’d be there before dark. With that in mind we called it a day at the Curtin Springs Campground, about an hour and a half short of our original plan.

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It was a good decision. The campground had electric hook ups so that we could crank the air-conditioning up and an outdoor restaurant with a couple of small dogs that we could discreetly feed with sausages.

Best of all we had a view in the distance of the ‘fake Ayers Rock’, Mount Conner. To my untrained eye it didn’t look any different from its more famous rival. Perhaps it’s all about marketing.

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Next morning we drove the remaining one hundred and forty kilometres to Ayers Rock, arriving at around 9am. It was already busy with coachloads of tourists listening to their guides telling them about rock art, whilst others were taking the path to the top.

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The traditional owners, the Anangu people, don’t approve of visitors walking on the rock and request that visitors don’t do it. It looked quite steep to us and so we were happy to comply with their wishes, choosing instead to take the eleven kilometre trail that went around it.

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A small part of the walk was in the shade but our late start meant that most of it was in the sun. It was ok, as rocks go, but if I’m honest a bit on the dull side. The flies were a nuisance too. We’d bought head nets but who wants to walk around with a net on your head?

Jen’s net came attached to her hat which she thought made it ideal for a wedding.

The next morning we called in at Ayers Rock to catch the sunrise, or at least we would have done if we’d managed to arrive three or four minutes earlier. We then drove on to Kata Tjuta, or the Olgas as it was previously known.

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This was a much more interesting place and we walked the Valley of the Winds trail. It was as windy at times as its name would suggest and there were more flies than at Ayers Rock but we had our nets so it wasn’t a big deal. The scenery though was fantastic, like nothing I’d seen anywhere else.

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The Valley of the Winds is a circular, eight kilometre walk with a steepish descent, then a climb up to the sort of place that would have worked well for holding up Simba in the Lion King. Or at least it would have done if Australia had lions.

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It was less busy than Ayers Rock and that’s another reason why I preferred it. The park authorities only let you walk if it’s below a certain temperature so it’s definitely worth setting off early.

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The next day we drove to King’s Canyon. I suppose what we should have done was just set off once we’d finished our Olgas hike. There’s not a lot to do in these places once you’ve finished walking and if you are keen, like me, to be somewhere with air-conditioning then you might as well be driving rather than just sitting about in the camper van.

The campsite at King’s Canyon is notorious for dingoes and we were fortunate enough to spot some wandering around. We barbecued some sausages that evening in the hope of tempting them in but it didn’t happen. I reckon I could have trained them to sit up and beg if I’d had some of Blackwell’s finest.

Despite the scenery at the Olgas, King’s Canyon turned out to be the best walk of the trip. We did the route around the rim that has an initial steep ascent but then takes you around both sides of the canyon before making a gradual decent into the valley.

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A lot of the rocks reminded me of those in Africa as we’d seen similar on the various farms that we’d stayed at in Gauteng or Mpumalanga, although not many of those places had as impressive a canyon.

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The rim walk was about seven kilometres from start to finish and then we extended our hike by adding in a couple more kilometres along the less strenuous valley walk inside the canyon.

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I’d learned my lesson the previous day and despite having a campsite booking for two nights we made better use of our time by driving back to Alice Springs that afternoon. It meant that we didn’t have to rush the next day to get the camper van back before the office shut and it also freed enough time to be able to go to the races.

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I suspect the race meetings at Pioneer Park are the highlights of life in Alice Springs. After all, there’s only so many times that you can spend your weekends at the Postal Museum.

Everyone seemed much more dressed up than I’d have expected them to be, or at least they were much more dressed up than we were. Mind you, that’s not unusual, even in Darwin. Maybe Jen should have worn her fly-net hat.

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A quick scan through the race card showed that most of the horses were trained in Alice Springs. That’s not surprising I suppose, as it’s a couple of days drive minimum to anywhere of note. It means that the same horses will run against each other throughout the season though.

As with a lot of country courses there was a decent backdrop. I like that. Hexham is probably my favourite UK racecourse and it’s as much for the scenery as anything else.

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As in Darwin, there were proper bookmakers. I like that too. It’s always good to be able to shop around for the best price rather than having to take the tote return.

If I remember rightly we had one winner, although once we’d taken the ten dollar admission, the racecard, the pie and chips and ice creams into account we were probably down on the day.

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That day at the races brought the Ayers Rock road trip to an end. It brought the Australian adventure to an end too. My job had finished a month or so earlier and after spending some time seeing the places that we hadn’t yet gotten around to it was time to fly back to the UK to catch the climax of the Boro’s promotion campaign.

There were some great places to visit in Australia; Sydney and Brisbane were good, whilst I’m pleased we made it to Litchfield, Kakadu and managed the outback trip. We’ve watched dingoes, koalas and kangaroos in the wild and seen enough spiders to fill a bath. The Darwin climate wasn’t for me though and I feel as if I spent most of the seven months that we were there in an air-conditioned bubble.

My next job is in Malaysia where it looks to be a few degrees cooler than Darwin. I’ll settle for that.

Casuarina v Litchfield, Saturday 9th April 2016, 12.30pm

July 7, 2016

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All of the Darwin area local football leagues start up again in April and this game was the first in the Women’s League.

Despite the lunchtime start, Jen and I had plenty of time to pay a visit to the Crocodylus Park on the outskirts of Darwin, which as you might have suspected, is a park full of crocodiles. If you’ve ever been to Gatorland in Florida, it’s a bit like that, although you couldn’t feed the inmates with raw sausages at Crocodylus in the way that you can at its American counterpart. Possibly because sausages, or ‘snags’ as they call them over here are too highly regarded in Australia to be lobbed at reptiles.

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We did watch a keeper feeding the crocs and we got to hold a small one with its mouth taped up, so it was a worthwhile morning. They had other stuff too, a few lions, some dingoes and a colony of meerkats. I could watch meerkats all day.

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We had to pay ten dollars to watch the women’s match which is probably the first time that either of the teams had played in a game with an admission charge. It was because the game was taking place on the Larrakia pitch nr 2, which shared an entrance gate with the main pitch and which was hosting the final game in the East Timor Cup later that day.

One team was in red and the other in black and white squares. I should really have asked someone which team was which, but to be honest, I wasn’t interested. The black and white team were the stronger and in the first twenty minutes or so the ball was rarely in their half.

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I counted eleven spectators, including a bloke who was videoing proceedings and so I suspect had some sort of connection to one of the teams. If not, he was a sucker for punishment as it was bad enough having to watch the game live, never mind the thought of watching it all again at home.

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The Number 2 pitch backed onto the main stadium and whilst you could have watched the game from the rear of the big stand facing the other way, a small ‘bus shelter’ stand was provided. It probably held fifty, which was more than ample for today’s attendance.

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The red keeper made a couple of decent saves before the black and whites went a goal up. I’d had enough before we even got to half-time as the standard was probably poorer than any game I’ve ever seen.

No shame in that though and it’s good to see people enjoying themselves. For half an hour so at least anyway.

Dili Benfica v Kupang, Friday 8th April 2016, 7.30pm

July 6, 2016

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After six months without any local football, it was all starting to take off. The Timor Sea Cup is an annual U17 event between teams from countries that I imagine have some sort of connection to the Timor Sea. A bit vague, I know, but do you really care? It’s a football match and it was taking place at the nearby Larakia Stadium.

Kick-off wasn’t until the evening and so Jen and I decided to spend the day at the Territory Wildlife Park.

It’s called a wildlife park but I suppose it’s really a zoo, although quite a good one, with decent paths between the enclosures and some areas, like the bird place, where you can walk through with it seeming big enough for not for them to appear unduly restricted.

As with everywhere in Australia there were plenty of spiders and we spotted these two dangling over water that had crocodiles in it. I imagine crocodiles were the least of the smaller spider’s worries.

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We did one of those behind the scenes tours and got lucky by being the only two people there. I got to handle a lizard thing with a blue tongue. It didn’t seem too bothered about me, but I was a little worried that I might drop it and bring the tour, and possibly the lizard, to a premature end. My sister dropped a tortoise when she was a kid and cracked it in half. Even the newly invented superglue wasn’t able to save it.

We were able to go into one of the enclosures in the nocturnal house where we hand fed an owl with minced mice and then gave syringes of sugar solution to some little chipmunk type creatures. At times we had two of them feeding simultaneously whilst a third sat waiting.

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As it grew dark we drove over to the Larakia Stadium for the second fixture in the Timor Sea Cup. The previous night the ground had hosted the opening fixture in the three team round robin, a one-sided 10-0 victory by a Northern Territory select over Dili Benfica of East Timor.

With Dili making a re-appearance that evening against Indonesian side Kupang I wasn’t sure whether I wanted a more even contest than the previous night or whether I fancied watching through my fingers as Dili took an even bigger hammering.

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The early impressions suggested that Kupang might emulate the Northern Territory scoreline. They had more time on the ball, pressed the opposition better and their players looked a lot more physically developed than the East Timor team.

Kupang failed to make their advantage count though and it was still goalless at half-time. I looked around the crowd and got the impression that, with the exception of the fella to our right who moaned non-stop about the price all evening, Jen and I were probably the only ones who had paid the necessary ten dollars to get in. Everyone else appeared to be either a player, an official or accompanying one.

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The second half had more going on with Dili scoring against the run of play not long after the re-start. Unfortunately the East Timor keeper let one through his legs soon after and Kupang quickly followed their equaliser with another couple of goals.

It looked like Kupang might run away with the game at that stage, but Dili pulled one back to set up an interesting final few minutes.

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Dili had a glorious chance to take a point in the dying seconds but a tame shot went straight to the keeper and that was that.

A five-nil win for Northern Territory over Kupang the following evening gave the Australian team the trophy, with Kupang taking second place and Benfica Dili finishing third and last.

Football Without Borders v Congolese Community FC, Saturday 2nd April 2016, 3pm

July 6, 2016

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Six months after arriving in Darwin, the local football season was finally about to start and with the pitches freshly mown and the nets up a local charity or two took the opportunity to hold a fund-raising game at the Gray Football Stadium in Palmerston.

The game fell in a busy weekend. We’d been to the baseball the previous night and spent the following day at the Litchfield National Park. Litchfield is definitely worth a visit if you are in the Darwin area. It’s about an hour’s drive and there are three or four decent waterfalls that have walking trails up to and around them.

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One of the waterfalls had a trail that didn’t appear to be as well used as the others and so even on a busy Sunday it was possible to wander around as if we had the park to ourselves.

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We didn’t see much in the way of wildlife. The highlight was probably a six-inch long lizard of some sort. I’m rubbish at lizard identification, maybe it’s a gecko. Who knows? Not me, I’m sorry to say.

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We also saw plenty of spiders and fortunately for identification purposes there were numerous boards dotted around to give me some assistance. The one in the photo is a female Golden Orb spider.

We saw a few females, often with half a dozen much smaller males sharing the same web. Apparently the fellas were just biding their time and waiting for a chance to get one or more of their legs over, after which they were likely to end up as a post-coital snack. I’m sure we’ve all been in relationships like that at one time or another.

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The game at Gray Stadium was quite well attended with probably a hundred or so people turning out to raise awareness and hopefully some funds to be shared between the refugee and asylum seeker charity Football Without Borders and for community facilities for immigrants from Congo.

I only tend to listen to Australian radio if a taxi driver has it on and recently heard a phone-in where just about everyone was complaining that the country ‘was full’ and that immigration should be halted. Talk about pulling up the drawbridge. Back in the real world though, it was heartening to see the people of Darwin doing their bit for immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers.

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Football-wise, the standard was mixed. The Congo select had a decent defender at the back who swept up most of the Football Without Borders attacking moves. Elsewhere, there was a mix of triers and a few blokes who looked like they might have played regularly for teams in the past.

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The catering was good though and I had a chicken curry that went down well. I don’t recall seeing any beer for sale, but it was more of a family-style occasion with bouncy castles and the like for the kids. I was driving anyway, so it didn’t really matter.

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There were a few goals, but I wasn’t counting. If I recall correctly most of them were at the Football Without Borders end. I doubt that the refugees and asylum seekers in their team were too bothered. When your life takes that sort of turn then I imagine you develop a decent sense of perspective.

 

Pint Green Sox v Tracy Village Rebels, Friday 1st April 2016, 7pm

July 3, 2016

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Baseball! In Australia!

I developed a liking for baseball when I lived in Seoul. I can’t claim to be an expert, it was more the relaxing in the cheap seats as the sun went down that I enjoyed. I’d drink some beers, eat some cheese and wait for someone to twat the ball hard enough for it to clear the fence.

It’s doubtful that baseball has much of a following in Australia, it’s a country where rugby league and ‘Aussie Rules’ football tend to dominate, but I thought a game in the local league would be worth a look.

It had been a pretty good week leading up to the game as Jen and I had spent the four-day Easter weekend at Kakadu National Park. It’s probably the highlight of the Northern Territories and features on the itineraries of most Australian tours. We only live a couple of hours away from the park but a combination of working six days a week and the lack of a car meant that it had taken us six months to get around to paying it a visit.

We went for a walk on the first evening along the Angaardabal Billabong trail and were rewarded with the sight of three dingoes crossing the path in front of us. Seeing dingoes in the wild was something that was on my Australian ‘wish list’ and something that we hadn’t managed previously. If only we’d had a few snacks with us to tempt them over.

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Next morning we followed the same path in the hope of seeing them again but our luck was out. We did see a wallaby sat watching us from the long grass and even though I’m sure it would have been a decent snack for a pack of dingoes, it wasn’t enough to tempt them in.

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The highlight of that morning walk was a big spider. I’m not sure what type so I resisted the urge to poke it. Our five-year old grandson Harry has a liking for spiders at the moment and seems convinced that almost all Australian spiders are Huntsman spiders. I’m not knowledgeable enough to contradict him.

We recently bought Harry a real stuffed tarantula. I’m not sure how easy it is to stuff a tarantula, not very easy at all I suspect, but it looks very impressive. He was very pleased with it, although I think his mother was less impressed. Soph rolled her eyes on seeing it, no doubt anticipating the future panic at school during ‘Show and Tell’.

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Whilst in Kakadu we hiked up Nourlangie Rock. It was hard work, not so much because of the distance or the gradient, but more due to the heat and humidity. There were good views once we got above the trees but the bit I enjoyed the most was just lying down on a flat shaded rock and letting the breeze cool me down in a way that I suspect people have been doing at that very spot for thousands of years.

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Coming down was easier and after almost walking into the web of a spider similar to the one we’d seen a couple of days earlier, we paused for a while to watch a lizard sunning itself.

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On the road to Nourlangie we spotted a bush pig. Not a live one, but a road-kill one. I doubt it had been dead for very long, but it was already starting to swell in the heat. The photo isn’t too good because of some condensation on the lens, but it gives you an idea of the size of the creature. I doubt the car that hit it came out of the collision well.

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Whilst driving back to Darwin at the end of the weekend we stopped at a crocodile jumping place. They take you out onto a river in a boat and then dangle pieces of meat over the side to tempt the crocodiles to jump up and take them. I’m not sure how ethical that sort of thing is conservation-wise, but we enjoyed it and I’d bet that the crocs did too.

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And so to the baseball. It was a pre-season opener at Tracy Village between the previous year’s Grand Finalists Pint Green Sox and Tracy Village Rebels. A sort of Community Shield if you like, for those of you that appreciate an English football comparison, but a Community Shield for pub sides in a local league.

Entry was free. I’ve no idea if this was because it wasn’t a league game, or whether it’s always free. Perhaps it was because both teams were missing most of their first team players as a consequence of holidays, work commitments or something decent being on the telly.

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Most people had brought their own camping chairs and were socialising over a picnic with fellow fans that they may not have seen since the Grand Final. I reckon that there were probably around a hundred and twenty spectators dotted around the field enjoying the catch-up.

We were less well prepared seating-wise, but fortunately there was a small three-row covered seating area where we could watch from behind the plate.

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It must have been the first visit to Australian baseball for the Korean couple sat next to us. They grumbled at the poor standard for a while before clearing off. I sympathised with them, as I’d seen Sunday morning games between friends down by the River Han that were of much higher quality than this effort.

The Aussie bloke in front of us commented that the first pitcher had “an arm like my Nanna” and I doubt he was exaggerating. On the rare occasions when the ball didn’t hit the ground before reaching the batter it was just as likely to bounce off his helmet.

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None of the innings lasted for long, despite all of the bases being occupied on occasions by batters who had been walked. We stuck it out for an hour with the Rebels well in front, but as there wasn’t a scoreboard  I couldn’t tell you by how many. Sorry Eric.

It was a world away from watching Doosan Bears or LG Twins at Jamsil.

Home United v Young Lions, Thursday 17th March 2016, 7.30pm

July 3, 2016

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Jen and I ate pretty well during our time in Singapore. It would have been hard not to do so with Chinatown on our doorstep and Little India and Arab Street a short distance away. We had dinner with unlimited wine in a French place around the corner and tapas at a Spanish restaurant in a busy street at the back of our hotel that we didn’t stumble across until our last night.

There was also a food court nearby and within a few hours of arriving we’d already been told by two different people that there was one particular stall famous for its chicken-rice. As you might have suspected that’s chicken accompanied by rice. In this case, both boiled. The taxi-driver that took us into town from the airport claimed that he ate there every day.

With that sort of hard sell we had to give it a go. I can’t remember what time the stall opened, but fifteen minutes beforehand there was already a queue and apparently it sells out within a couple of hours. I think I’d be tempted to boil more chicken and rice if I were them, although knocking off two hours after getting to work does sound like an ideal shift.

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Anyway, it was cheap, it was chicken and it was rice. No more than that. I suspect these things take on a life of their own and become self-perpetuating. They even had a photo of Gordon Ramsay eating there. I was tempted to draw a little bubble coming out of his mouth saying “Fucking fuss over fuck all” but I understand they have strict sentences for that sort of thing in Singapore. I didn’t see our taxi-driver having his lunch either.

Whilst the chicken-rice was a bit ‘meh’ I was much more impressed with the eggs that we had for breakfast. There was a café nearby that served uncooked eggs in a jug of just-boiled water. You sat around drinking your coffee for fifteen minutes whilst the eggs cooked in front of you and then you cracked them open and dipped your toast into the yolks.

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Genius. Just enough arseing around to make it perfect for idling time away on your holidays. The café was opposite a temple that claimed to have one of Buddah’s teeth in a box. A Swan Vesta box I hope. It was very popular with the tourists and probably the tooth fairies as well.

As we waited for our eggs to cook we watched busloads of people photographing themselves outside a recently erected temple before going inside to gaze in awe at a box that may or may not have contained dental waste from someone who may or may not have existed.

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I told my Mam about the eggs and she said “You mean coddled?” I’d no idea if I meant coddled or not, but it turned out that I did. Apparently it’s nothing special and everyone did it in the olden days when they weren’t busy having a bath in a bucket in front of a coal fire or treating rickets by wrapping cabbage leaves around their knees.

That’s enough culinary stuff, time for football and the S-League game between Home United and Young Lions.

I took the MRT up to Bishan and then walked for five minutes across to the Bishan Stadium. There were a few fans hanging around outside, draining the last of their bottles of water before they were confiscated at the entrances. What’s the point? It turned out that they didn’t actually sell drinks inside, so it couldn’t be to protect their sales. In a climate where I’m likely to lose a couple of pints of sweat over the course of ninety minutes it would be nice to be able to replace some of it.

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I bought my five dollar ticket and found myself a seat in the two tier main and only stand. There was a running track between the stand and the grass pitch and I had a small group of ‘ultras’ with a drum to my right and near to the half-way line.

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There was a decent crowd when everyone eventually arrived with plenty of families and a few groups of young women, many of them wearing headscarves.

Home United were in red, with Young Lions, who are actually the Singapore U21 national team, in blue. It’s an interesting concept, letting a national development group play in the league. If it happened in England I imagine it would mean more game time for the young players and I’m sure their increased familiarity with each other would improve results in their age-group international games. It might even improve the prospects for the senior national team. I’m not sure what clubs and fans would think about it though. I’m not even sure what I think about it.

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Young Lions should have been in front after thirty seconds but the straightforward chance was lifted over the bar. The miss didn’t prove too costly as ten minutes later the Home Utd keeper came out of his box in an attempt to head the ball away only to collide with one of his defenders and allow a visiting striker to turn the ball into an empty net from twenty-five yards.

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The home side soon hit back when a fella with a top knot finished a cross from the left to equalise and then they took the lead with a left-footed free-kick curled in from the right that eluded everyone including the Young Lions keeper.

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At half time we were all allowed out to use the drinks machine at the nearby leisure centre, on the strict condition that we drank it all before coming back inside. Nobody checked any tickets so unless the stewards have a fantastic memory for faces it’s easy enough to watch second half soccer in Singapore for free.

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Home United increased their lead soon after the break with a strong header back across the keeper and then added a fourth close to the end after a bout of head-tennis in the box.

The grown-ups deserved their victory and the defeat kept Young Lions at the foot of the table and left me none the wiser as to whether playing age-group national teams in a domestic league was beneficial to anyone at all.


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