Archive for the ‘Elbow in the chops’ Category

Al-Shabab v Al-Ittihad, Monday 9th January 2023, 9.15pm

January 24, 2023

Ten days after my first visit to the Prince Faisal bin Fahd Stadium to watch Al-Hilal, I was back to see the other tenants, Al-Shabab, in another top-tier Saudi Pro-League fixture. This time I’d bought a ticket online in advance, but at a cost of two hundred riyals, which is around forty-four quid and almost seven times the price that Al-Hilal charge. I’ve no idea why there’s such a difference but I dare say I’ll find out before long.

There were a lot of people milling around outside, perhaps equally baffled by the pricing. My ticket was in the open area opposite where I’d been sat the previous week. The segregation policy wasn’t enforced as there were a few women and kids in my section. The opposition, Al-Ittihad, had brought a decent away following and had a section at the other end of the ground. The ground was still only a quarter or so full though, with just under six and a half thousand fans in the twenty-odd thousand capacity stadium.

There was a bit of a scuffle near me in the first half, with a couple of blokes giving each other a slap. That’s actual slaps with a flat palm to the face. It turns out that there were a few away fans in our section and they were making their allegiance obvious. I don’t know why they didn’t just sit in the empty areas near to their allocated section, rather than plonking themselves in the middle of the seats occupied by the more vocal Al-Shabab supporters. The stewards did their best but were ignored and it took the arrival of a copper to restore order and lead the slappers to an exit.

I got chatting to Ahmed, who was a supporter of Al-Hilal and Arsenal, but like me was just keen to watch a game. He seemed surprised that I only followed the Boro and that I didn’t have a Premier League side as well. I was tempted to mention that I’d been looking out for Bournemouth’s results this season in the hope that Tav was doing well in his post-Boro career, but thought that would just make me look even odder.

Al-Shabab took the lead from a penalty on twenty minutes, but Al-Ittihad equalized soon after with a scrambled effort that they seemed to be doing their best to miss. The score stayed that way and with both the teams fighting it out with Al-Hilal in the top four, Ahmed was happy to see them both drop points.

Muay Thai Boxing, Sunday 13th January 2019, 6.30pm

April 29, 2019

Whilst I’ve been to kick boxing in Bangkok before, I’d not had the opportunity to see an event at the Rajadamnern Stadium as they don’t do Saturday nights. However, they do do Sundays and so a public holiday on the Monday meant that we had a rare chance to pop over to Bangkok for a longer than normal weekend and tick it off my list.

Jen and I landing late on the Friday night at the main airport, not the Don Muang one, and so I booked a hotel not too far away. Big mistake. The roof-top bar shown on the website turned out to be aspirational and as such so did my chances of a convenient drink.

The location was handy for a park though and on the morning of the boxing we had a wander around. Highlights were a few water monitors making their way around the rivers.

Later that day we took a taxi in the general direction of the boxing stadium but got out slightly early for a look around a temple. I can’t remember its name, same as with the airport, park and hotel, but it was just as you’d expect a temple to be and as with most of them not really worth the bother of having to remove your shoes.

It was a further half an hour or so’s walk to the stadium and despite there being more than an hour to go to the first bout there were plenty of people milling around. It was too early to buy tickets though and so we called into a café around the corner for some chicken that looked dangerously under-cooked.

Tickets started at 1,000 baht, which is about twenty-five quid and entitled you to watch from the back of the arena and from behind a mesh fence. Next option was the one that we took, lower down and with no mesh for 1,500 baht. If we’d splashed out an extra 300 we could have had a plastic chair, but I thought that section might be busier. I can’t remember what ringside cost, probably 2,000, but we’ve done that before and it’s a bit low down. I prefer to be above the ring rather than looking up through the ropes.

As with the bouts that we’ve seen elsewhere you get snake charmer music played before the start of each fight. There was a four piece band over to our right that reminded me of the one on those early French and Saunders shows.

The fighters performed a dance to the snake charmer music, weaving their way around the ring. Part of the pre-match arsing about involved them standing in a large metal dish and having water poured over them. I could see the benefit of the dish in keeping the canvas dry but I’d have thought a few drops of water would have satisfied whatever ritual was being carried out.

The first fight appeared to result in a disqualification for the boxer in the blue corner after he wrestled his opponent to the floor and in a move straight out of Freddy Natt playground drop-kicked him in the head. Fair enough. The other fella made the most of the foul, rolling about for a couple of minutes in the forlorn hope that a dinner nanny might turn up.

One of the plus points of our section was a fella scurrying around taking drinks orders. It meant that I never went short of 150 baht Singha beers and didn’t need to leave my patch of concrete to get them.

The interesting thing about the second fight was that both boxers ceased hostilities with about thirty seconds remaining of the final round and just danced around as if they’d suddenly spotted a pair of handbags on the floor. Perhaps the result wasn’t in doubt. It was a bit like in basketball where they don’t bother playing out the time properly at the end if one team is out of sight, choosing instead to just bounce the ball until the hooter goes.

Despite the boxing shorts being the usual length, the fashion among the participants was for wearing them rolled high at the waist and then pulled up high on the thigh like Souness in his pomp. A few of the kicks to the shins that we witnessed were uncannily reminiscent of the King of Ayresome Park too.

None of the boxers were particularly heavy but the final contest was notable for taking place at 96lbs. That’s six stone, twelve pounds if I’ve retained my fourteen times table knowledge. For the size of them it might well have been a couple of eight year olds in there. Sadly the place was just about empty by that point, possibly due to everyone else being uneasy about paying to watch small children boot the shit out of each other. On the basis that it’s nothing I haven’t seen the grandkids get up to and with a Singha to finish, we stuck it out until the final bell.

Kerala Blasters v Delhi Dynamos, Saturday 27th January 2018, 8pm

March 5, 2018

I’ve seen a couple of Indian Super League games on the telly and I’d kept an eye on one of the teams, Bengaluru, because they have an ex-Boro player, John Johnson, turning out for them. My interest cranked up a notch this season when another ex-Riversider, Andre Bikey, found himself a club in Jamshedpur. As India is reasonably close to Malaysia and well-served by the budget airlines I added it to my list of places to take in a game.

In a perfect world the match would have featured Johnson v Bikey, but I was limited to Saturday games involving teams with convenient flights. When I checked the fixture list none of the games involving either of the ex-Boro lads were do-able. The best option was to head for Kochi, home of the Kerala Blasters.

We stayed in quite a touristy area, just around the corner from Jew Town. It was a pleasant enough place for a wander around and we popped into a museum showing the history of the area and then stopped to watch some fellas trying to catch fish with hand nets. Whilst they failed miserably, the watching birds were pretty good at taking a steady supply of the little silver fish.

The local shop keepers were keen to entice us in but there’s a limit to how many key rings, fridge magnets or sacks of brightly coloured spice that I’d want. None actually. The streets were busy with coach-loads of tourists, schoolkids on some sort of trip, a rat or two and the odd goat just moseying along.

I did pop into a barber’s shop, much to the wide-eyed surprise of a small kid waiting in there. I don’t think he’d ever seen an old white bloke having a trim. It wasn’t bad for a quid, or at least it wasn’t until the barber started violently knuckling my skull under the pretence of a ‘head-massage’.

The fellas in our hotel had been extra helpful and had made things much easier for us by ordering our tickets for the game in advance. We took a taxi to the Jawaharlal Nehru stadium and among the bedlam were able to be dropped about ten minutes walk from the ground.

We were politely accosted by people wanting to sell us tickets, exchange money or just inquire where we were from. Pretty much standard for most Asian football games we attend really. Getting to the ground meant a trek over some wasteland and then passing through security scanners.

Our seats were in the ‘Owners Box’ section. This is as posh as it gets, or at least as pricey as it gets at 5,000 rupees a pop. That’s sixty quid or so and, as you might expect, about fifty times the price of the cheapest ticket.

There were pre-match popadoms available in the lounge and a variety of sugary drinks. Kerala is pretty much a dry state. You can get alcohol from some official outlets but can’t legally buy it in bars, restaurants or hotels. Nor football stadiums.

We made our way out to the seating area which was full of settees. Cool. I’ve never watched a live game from a settee before. I still haven’t actually as the comfy seating was reserved for the actual Owners and their guests. Us ticket buying plebs had regular seats around the edges of the box. The best-known owner of the Blasters is none other than Sachin Tendulkar who I think could probably also be considered to be the best known Indian, full-stop. Maybe ever.

The Little Master made his entrance just before kick-off and was treated to a few choruses of his name from the fans below us. I’ve seen Shearer subjected to the same adulation at the boxing up in Newcastle and I imagine it must get pretty tiresome, particularly when you are just nipping out for a pint of milk.

Kerala had recently re-appointed David James as their manager. He’d had a stint as a player-manager with them before, but as he’s knocking on fifty he understandably didn’t bother bringing his gloves with him this time. I can’t help but remember his appearance in that game at Man City back in 2005. The one where the Big Aussie saved Robbie Fowler’s penalty to clinch a second successive season in Europe for the Boro.

The penalty was partly caused by the distracting presence of David James in our box after Stuart Pearce had taken the brave, if somewhat unorthodox, decision to bring a new keeper on, take an outfield player off and stick James up front. It so nearly paid off for them but I suspect didn’t do much for Pearce’s managerial credentials.

The visitors took the lead in the first half through a penalty and very nearly got a second after a Wes Brown mistake. Yes, that Wes Brown. Fresh from his part in Sunderland’s decline he now gets his feet tangled up in the India Super League. I can only assume he’s short of cash, although wouldn’t it be great if he was doing it for the love of the game or to experience new cultures? Who knows.

At half-time there was a buffet with a few different curries. Very nice. There was decent air conditioning too which gets extra marks from me. There must have been a secret lounge for the Owners though as I didn’t see Sachin in the queue for a korma.

The settees were still empty as the second half kicked off and so the Owners all missed the Blasters banging in an equaliser straight after the restart. The tempo picked up after that in what was quite a niggly game. A coach from each side was sent to the stands, with David James’ sidekick heading up our way and settling into one of the sofas. Doesn’t seem like much of a punishment to me.

As the half went on the ref evened up the penalty count and Kerala were able to take the lead. Dehli applied a lot of pressure but couldn’t force an equaliser, whilst the frustration resulted in one of the visiting players receiving a red card for dishing out an elbow to the chops. The sending off seemed to cause the stadium announcer to call the result which was celebrated for a couple of minutes before the mistake was realised and everyone settled down again for the final few seconds.

We didn’t stay for any post-match nosh and were soon in a tuk-tuk heading back to Jew Town. I think there is definitely potential for the India Super League to grow in popularity. The fan base seems to be there and if the success of the IPL is any sort of indication it could do very well indeed.

High1 v Anyang Halla, Sunday 20th February 2011, 12.30pm

March 7, 2011

After watching the same two teams play each other in Anyang the previous day, we thought we might as well watch the return fixture in Goyang. This was the final game of the regular season and whilst Anyang Halla had the play-offs to look forward to, this would be it for another seven months for the High1 players.

Goyang is a city to the north of Seoul and it involved a fair trip along Line 3 to Wondang subway station. I had my doubts as to whether a taxi driver would be aware that Goyang had an ice hockey team as most of them seem not to know of the existence of football clubs. Fortunately we struck lucky and the driver that eventually stopped for us knew of the ice rink. As it happened we could probably have walked it if we had known where we were. If you come out of the subway and then start walking in the busier looking direction, you can turn left after two or three hundred yards and in less than ten minutes you’ll be there.

There is a football pitch next to the rink. I think that Goyang’s third division team will probably play on it. There was actually a game going on whilst we were there, between teams wearing Barcelona and Liverpool kits. They had famous players names on the back of the shirts, although I must have missed the news of Lampard’s move to Anfield.

Goyang seemed to have a much more low-key set up than their opponents. There was a smaller crowd than the previous days game at Anyang and it was free to get in. It seemed much colder inside than the previous day too. They really should run the ice hockey season through the summer rather than winter as there are days in July when I’d happily pay a fortune to sit in a building with a sub-zero temperature. They wouldn’t even need to be any ice hockey for me to watch either, I’d be content just sat in the cold watching that ice-flattening tractor drive around.

High1 are in black, Anyang Halla in white.

The game was a bit more violent than the one the previous day, although a lot of the penalties looked to be for technical offences that I was unaware of.  I should really have a bit better knowledge of the rules than I do as I watched quite a few games of ice hockey when I was a kid. My local team Billingham Bombers were reasonably successful and I had a friend who played for the junior team, the Bullets. He still plays now actually, not for the junior Billingham team, that would be a bit unfair, but for an over-forties team in Canada. I think he had a couple of teeth knocked out only a month or so ago.

Without the zoom.

The game went to form again with Anyang winning five-three to give themselves a lift for the play-offs whilst High1 finished off their season with a post-match photo session where a succession of fans made their way down on to the ice to be snapped with the players. I doubt I’ll make any of the play-off games, but I’ll probably be back when the football season finishes.

K1 Kickboxing, Saturday 2nd October 2010, 3pm

October 7, 2010

Jen spotted this one on a poster somewhere and so we thought we’d go along and see it. The tickets ranged from twenty two thousand won for seats towards the back to over a million won for the VIP ones at ringside. I decided to go for the cheap seats as five hundred quid for sitting at the front seemed a bit excessive.

The venue for the event was the Olympic Park Gymnasium in Seoul. I googled it to find out if it was the place where Lennox Lewis won his Olympic Gold in 1988 and where Roy Jones was robbed of his, but it wasn’t. It was however, as you may have guessed, the place where the gymnastics was held.

I hadn't been here before. It's worth a wander around.

We got in at about half past two and took our seats in the outer tier. I reckon the place was probably about a third full, although I’m not sure how many people the place held, perhaps about five or six thousand I suspect. The posters hadn’t mentioned kickboxing, just K1 and I wasnt really sure what to expect. I wondered if it might be that MMA stuff that seems more like a scrap in a pub car park, but it turned out to be kickboxing, with more emphasis on the boxing than the kicking. There was an initial bout that didnt really seem part of the main event. It was between a couple of Korean blokes and one of them laid the other out within a few seconds. We then had a half hour wait before the event proper started.

There were three big screens to the side of the ring and we couldn’t really see them properly from where we were sat so we moved further round and then down into the next section closer to the ring. Most people in the outer section were doing the same and as there was plenty of room nobody seemed bothered.

All of the fighters were introduced one by one at the start, lining up alongside some quite impressive flames. They were all heavyweights and each of the fights was to consist of 3 x 3 minute rounds.

I wouldn't argue with any of them.

Before each fighter did his ringwalk there would be a video reel with footage of his background and of his previous fights shown on the big screens. It was a very handy thing to do, particularly as I had no idea about any of the boxers and it provided a bit of interest between bouts.

Just in case anyone forgot their glasses.

The fights were worth watching as the short format meant that they had to get about each other from the start, a bit like boxing’s ’Prizefighter’ events I suppose. We saw a few knockouts and stoppages, whilst other bouts went the full three rounds. At the ends of rounds 1 and 2, the scores were shown on the big screens, so the boxers and the crowd knew exactly what was required in the remainder of the fight. A couple of the contests ended in draws and I was surprised to see that the solution was to fight an extra round to determine the winner.

One other notable difference to boxing was that they didnt allow fighters to box whilst they had blood on their faces. The clock was stopped and they were cleaned up before continuing. I don’t know what would have happened if the doctor or second had been unable to stop the bleeding.

The crowd was fairly quiet. With a few odd exceptions I think most people had come to see the event as a whole rather than to support a particular fighter. There didnt seem to be much difference in quality between the early fights and those at the end of the afternoon, so everyone bar the typical Korean latecomers watched all of the bouts rather than staying in the bar until the main event, as happens so often at the boxing in the UK these days.

The lads in front of us seemed to pick fighters at random and then support them as if they were family. They rarely managed to pick a winner though, perhaps they had a liking for the underdog.

By 7pm we had seen all twelve bouts and we headed off to Gangnam for something to eat and drink. The early finish being a bit of a bonus to what had been an enjoyable afternoon.

Jeonbuk Motors v Busan l’Park, Saturday 31st July 2010, 7pm

August 5, 2010

This was meant to be one of those days where I managed to see two matches, but it turned out to be just one of those days.

I’d watched Jeonbuk’s last two league games, away at Daejeon and Gangwon, and whilst I’m enjoying following their season I really want to get around as many different places as possible. I’d already been to their home town of Jeonju, so I hadn’t really considered going to see them for a third week running. Not until I saw that the K3 team Jeonju EM were at home to Seoul Martyrs in the afternoon.. That meant that I could go along to Jeonju for the third division game, see a new ground and then treat a trip to the World Cup Stadium for the Jeonbuk Motors fixture in the evening as a bit of a bonus. Does that need for justification sound a bit geeky? It does to me too, but it’s the way my mind works these days.

After the success of the bus trip to Gangwon last week, I opted to travel by road again and made my way down to the Express Bus Terminal at about ten o’clock. It was a bit of an arse on to be honest, involving queueing for a ticket in a hot building only to be told that the Jeonju buses went from a different terminal, which was described to me as `outside’. Well I went outside and I couldn’t see it. It turns out that the buses for Jeonju depart from the Central City terminal which is cunningly concealed inside a shopping arcade across the road.

There was a ticket window helpfully marked `Jeonju’, but somewhat less helpfully it was shut. I then joined a queue for an automated ticket machine, only to get to the front  and discover that it was solely for collecting pre-booked tickets. After asking for a bit of help at the information desk I managed to buy a ticket to Jeonju for 17,000 won. Whilst the buses seemed to depart every five or ten minutes, it must have been a popular destination as the first seat I could get was in thirty five minutes time on the 11.05am bus. This was scheduled to get me into Jeonju for 1.55pm, just over an hour befor kick off in the first game.

This is where you buy your bus ticket.

The bus was described as luxury and I was pretty impressed. It had a two and one seating configuration and I got a single, wide, reclining seat with plenty of leg room. What wasn’t quite so impressive was the time it took to get to Jeonju. At 1.40pm we pulled off the motorway, not because we had arrived, but because we were making a stop at the services.

One of these was my bus.

We finally arrived at Jeonju just after half past three, over an hour and a half late and with no prospect of me getting to the Jeonju EM game until into the second half. I decided to give it a miss. Looking on the bright side it would give me an opportunity to justify to myself a further visit to Jeonju.

I managed to get a couple of English maps of the area from a very surly girl in the tourist information office who clearly resented having to give them away and then went to check into a hotel near to the bus station. If I tell you that I had a choice of paying 15,000 won for a room for an hour or 35,000 won for the night, that should give you an idea of the sort of hotel it was.

My hotel.

The manager showed me to the room and as I’ve learnt to do here I removed my shoes before entering. There were a pair of flip flops at the door and I put them on. He quickly told me to take them off again, so I did and just walked around in my bare feet. It was only as he left and put the flip flops on himself that I realised that I’d stepped into the footwear that he had removed himself as we’d gone into the room.

The room was clean, although eccentrically decorated and complete with a big flatscreen tv, air conditioning, a fan, fridge and what looked like two judo suits hanging by the window. Ideal for those couples with a wrestling fetish, I imagine. It also had a condom machine on the wall, perhaps for guests who are too shy to buy their condoms in public. For those of you who believe in attention to detail, it was a thousand won for a pack of two, one ribbed, one plain.

I suppose the wallpaper is ok if you are only staying for an hour.

It was about time to get something to eat before the match and as Jeonju is famous for its bibimbap, thats what I got. Its basically a bowl of boiled rice that you mix up with a few other vegetables, mushrooms, beansprouts, that sort of thing, a bit of red pepper paste and a fried egg. A few side dishes came with it, kimchi, green beans in garlic, noisettes of spam and some gherkins. Not bad for six thousand won.

Full up, I stopped at a 7-Eleven, picked up a couple of cans of Asahi and got into a taxi. The driver didnt understand `World Cup Stadium’, so I showed him a photo of it on the map that I’d earlier managed to prise from the grip of the surly tourist information girl. `Ah’ he said, `World-uh Cup Stadium’. I obviously need to work on my pronounciation.

Note the greeter, below a slightly oversized banner of Lee Dong Gook.

It was fairly quiet outside the ground as I drank my cans, although there was over an hour to go to kick-off and I got a ticket for the East Stand, opposite the tunnel, for 10,000 won. I could have sat behind the goal like last time I was here for less, but I fancied a change. It was as well I had eaten, as apart from crisps and pot noodles, just about the only thing you could get were squid.

Six sick squid for six quid. Or something like that.

They are dried and you have to warm them up yourself on a little camping stove.

Someone warming his squid.

I got a couple of beers and went into the stand to watch the highlights of previous matches on the big screens before the teams were announced. Lee Dong Gook was starting but the Croatian lad who had come on as a sub last week and made such an impact was back on the bench.

Jeonbuk, wearing green shirts and black shorts to Busan’s white shirts and red shorts, took the lead after five minutes, with their centre half, Sim Woo Yeon, scoring from a header after a free kick into the box. Jeonbuk were playing with just Lee Dong Gook up front of a midfield five, but he seemed to have a bit more support than he had received the previous week at Gangwon.

Gooaaal, 1-0 Jeonbuk.

Eighteen minutes into the game and that was it for the Lion King. Wengeresquely, I didn’t see the challenge, but the linesman flagged and advised the ref that Lee Dong Gook had elbowed a Busan defender in the chops. He disputed the red card, as you would, but was soon back in the dressing room. Brilliant, I travel for four and a half hours to get here and he lasts less than twenty minutes. The Busan defender was temporarily removed to have his head re-assembled on one of those little golf cart stretcher things.

Don't mess with the Lion King.

Seeing someone driving on the pitch reminded me of a Sunday League game I played in that also featured a sending off. Back then, the lad  had also struggled to accept the decision and rather than simply getting changed, he returned in fury in his car, driving across the pitch and aiming for the bloke he had tangled with, the ref and anyone else that caught his eye. I was safely down the other end in goal, and as I was as likely to catch his eye as I was any well placed shots, I could watch with a certain detached amusement. Disappointingly, Lee Dong Gook took his sending off with slightly better grace so we were spared the wheel spins and the tyre marks.

Jeonbuk reorganised into a sort of strikerless 4-1-4-0 formation that just invited the pressure from Busan and a few minutes before the break they equalised. After a quick half time beer, I was feeling a bit peckish so I waivered and got a squid, with another couple of beers for the second half. I missed the restart as I gave the mollusc a quick blast on the camping stove. It was a fine balance between warming it up and setting it on fire, a balance that I wasn’t entirely successful with.

Just a little bit on fire.

I’m not sure if heating it was intended to soften it a bit, but it didn’t and it was like eating shoes. I discovered that the best technique was to leave a piece in my mouth for a while to soften it before chewing. It did take my most of the second half to work my way through it though.

The game looked to be heading towards a draw until in injury time Jeonbuk sub Kang Seung Jo nipped in with a goal. The Jeonbuk fans must be starting to expect injury time winners these days. After the final whistle I struggled to get a taxi so hung around for a bit outside the ground and had a couple more beers at a food stall whilst chatting to some Jeonbuk fans.

No squid.

They were understandably pleased with the victory that took them up to second place in the table, two points behind new leaders Seoul who had beaten that morning’s front runner Jeju United. Next week Seoul visit Jeonbuk in a game that could see Jeonbuk move into the top spot. I expect Lee Dong Gook will be suspended for impersonating Dean Ashton and if I go I’ll be taking the train.