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

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.

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