Archive for March, 2017

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.