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.

Kelantan v Ratchaburi, Saturday 20th January 2018, 8pm

February 19, 2018

 

The 2018 Malaysian Super League kicks off in a couple of weeks time. As part of Kelantan’s preparations they had signed up to a three team tournament, the Boost Sportsfix Super Cup and as we all know, putting ‘Super’ in a competition’s name makes it extremely prestigious. I wouldn’t usually bother with this sort of nonsense, but the tournament was being held at the newly reopened National Stadium at Bukit Jalil and it was a chance to pop along on an occasion where I doubted demand would be high.

Tickets were being sold online in advance and there were some that were described as VIP and came with food and drink. Whilst they were ten times the price of regular tickets they were still only twenty-five quid and for that price I thought we might as well see how the other half lives. The traffic in KL was reasonably light for a Saturday afternoon and we pulled into the car park outside the ground a good hour and a half before kick-off.

It’s an impressive looking stadium, although I’m not sure how much of that is due to the refurbishment. Perhaps it had always looked good. We did a lap of the outside, weaving our way between pockets of Kelantan fans. It’s a seven hour drive from their Kota Bharu location way up on the east coast, so I suspect that a lot of them will actually have been based in the capital. Mind you, it’s a lot further to Ratchaburi in Thailand and so it wasn’t surprising that we didn’t see any fans outside supporting the opposition.

At the end of our circuit of the perimeter we made our way into the VIP entrance. There was an area where a buffet was being set up which we were told would open at 8pm, kick-off time. That struck me as a little odd, as I’d thought the food was intended to keep you occupied during the times when there wasn’t any football going on. Maybe VIPs don’t want to spend much time watching the game.

With no food available we went for a mooch around and once clear of security we sneaked into the room where the press conferences take place. I don’t often include myself in photos when at the match, but you can’t miss an opportunity to capture yourself announcing a Willo Flood magnitude signing.

Our VIP seats were as disappointing as the catering arrangements. They were close to the half-way line but next to a cordoned off better section. Perhaps for ‘Super’ VIPs. The other seats were bigger and had arm rests.  I wouldn’t be surprised if they received complimentary ear-plugs as well to muffle the hundred decibel stadium announcer.

This game was the final match of a three team tournament involving an Indonesian team. The results of the previous two games meant that Kelantan needed a draw to take the trophy, whilst Ratchaburi had to win by three or four goals depending upon whatever the criteria was for separating teams tied on points and goal difference.

Rain started to fall before kick-off and after the unnecessary rigmarole of the national anthems the couple of thousand Kelantan fans opposite sang their state anthem. Our side of the ground got out of our seats again and the players stood to attention as if it was a formal rendition. We had only just sat down when they piped up once more, or maybe we got the second verse.  Anyway, the Kelantan players  felt obliged to delay their final preparations to stand to attention for a fourth time whilst we added to the wear and tear on our knees by getting up again.

There was a Boro connection in the newly appointed Ratchaburi manager, Christian Zeige. Usually that would be enough to sway my allegience, but the manner of his departure to Liverpool balanced out any positive feelings I might have had from his time at the Riverside. Still, I’m not one to bear a grudge and it was nice to see that his spots have cleared up. Perhaps it’s the sunny climate.

Once underway, it was an entertaining exercise for what was effectively a pre-season friendly. Ratchaburi opened the scoring and then after being pegged back took a three-one lead. That meant Kelantan needed two goals to take the trophy and Ratchaburi maybe just the one. Both sides having to score opened the game up which enabled Kelantan to pull level at three each and put one hand on the trophy.

However, despite Ratchaburi having too much to do to win the competition they didn’t settle for the draw and somehow nicked a winner at the death. The late goal determined that neither team took the cup and in an unexpected turn of events it was left to the representatives of the Indonesian team to make off with the swag.

Middlesbrough v Bolton Wanderers, Tuesday 26th December 2017, 3pm

January 30, 2018

After the morning outing to the Northern League game at Willington it on to the Boro for the Boxing Day game with Bolton. As I approached the Riverside I noticed some new official graffiti on the side of the underpass. It commemorated the late Ali Brownlee by quoting his radio commentary from the final whistle of the UEFA semi final against Steaua Bucharest. I’d missed his excitement at the time as I was at the match and to be honest my mind at that point had already moved on to logistical matters around how to get tickets, flights and time off work for the final.

That comeback from three goals down, our second in a row in the competition, fully deserved all manner of celebrations. Nobody enthused about all things Boro as much as Ali did and it was nice to be reminded, a couple of years on from his passing, of those European adventures a decade earlier when we really were punching well above our weight.

This was my first Boro game of the season and it was the third different manager for me in as many games. Craig Liddle was in charge for this one, following on from Steve Agnew in our final game of last season and Aitor Karanka for the cup game with Oxford back in February. In between I’d missed the entire managerial reign of Garry Monk.  It’s as if Steve Gibson had been replaced by Jesus Gil.

I wouldn’t revel in anyone losing their job. It’s happened to me enough times for me to know that, whilst it’s an inevitable part of going to work, it’s a miserable experience. However, there wasn’t really any sense of direction under Monk. He bought forty million quids worth of players to suit a system that he promptly abandoned and then he persisted trying to shoe-horn the newcomers into the team when it clearly wasn’t working. When we won, it often seemed as if it was despite Monk’s involvement and instead due to the overall quality of the squad being sufficient to overcome the failure of that week’s seemingly randomly generated selection and formation.

I don’t think the fans ever warmed to him and I suspect most had him down as a bit of a chancer, a Tim Sherwood type. Still, thanks and all the best, Garry.

The match wasn’t a home sellout, unusual for Boxing Day and the overall attendance was further reduced by Bolton only bringing a couple of hundred fans with them. David Wheater was making a return to the club he formerly captained and, given that he sometimes turns up in the Boro support at away games, I was a little surprised by the lack of acknowledgement for him.  Another of the Youth Cup winning team from 2004 was also playing for the visitors but I didn’t realise until I spotted that familiar Taylor strut.

In a further nod to the past, there was a tribute to Leo Percovich, much more recently ‘One of Our Own’. He had just lost his two daughters in a car crash, prompting some light shining in the second half. I’ve no idea how to make my phone do that, but I sang his name and hope he took some comfort from the show of support.

The Boro never really got out of second gear. Similar I suppose to much of Monk’s reign. Downing looked a class above everyone else on the pitch and the overall quality in the side was good enough to secure a comfortable three points against a struggling Bolton side. New boss Tony Pulis was sat next to Gibbo in the director’s box and if he can manage to dodge the bullet until I’m back again at Easter he’ll become my fourth manager in as many games.

Willington v Tow Law Town, Tuesday 26th December 2017, 11am

January 25, 2018

Bank Holiday games in the Northern League generally kick-off at 11am and so that meant I had time to fit one in before the Boro’s Boxing Day fixture against Bolton. I picked Willington as it was handy enough to get to from Sedgefield.

On the way there I passed a couple of signs for a Roman fort. It’s a shame that I don’t plan ahead a bit more as I’d have quite liked to have had a look around and it might have made the blog post mildly interesting for a change. Oh well.

It was five quid to get into Hall Lane for the Division Two game with Tow Law Town. It’s a ground that has been home to Willington for almost all of their hundred-plus years and I think the stand opposite the dugouts dates back to the 1930’s.  As ever, most of the crowd stood around the perimeter fence. It was a decent turnout, as you’d expect on a Boxing Day and I overheard one fella say that at almost two hundred, it was three times the usual attendance.

I don’t know a great deal about Willington other than they were managed for a while by Malcolm Allison. This was after he had left the Boro and long after his hey-day. If Willington had a team bath back in those days then it would be nice to think that the likes of Fiona Richmond would still be joining Big Mal in it for a bottle or two of champagne.

In addition to a former Boro manager, I seem to remember that they had one of our captains for a while. Tony McAndrew had a spell with them in the late-eighties as his playing career drew to a close. I’m pretty sure Trappa captained Chelsea during his spell there too. It’s hard to imagine any modern-day footballer continuing at this level after a successful pro-career, never mind Chelsea captains who probably earn enough in a week to fund Willington for a few years.

The game was lively from the off with a kung-fu style assault going unpunished in the first minute. The ref lost control from then on in and having set an early precedent allowed another couple of potential reds to go unpunished as the tackles flew in.

Willington were kicking down the slope and opened the scoring in the first half when someone tucked away the rebound from a shot that the Tow Law keeper couldn’t palm far enough away from danger. It stayed that way until half-time. I queued for a chippy butty and updated the tea lady on the violent disorder out on the pitch.

Tow Law could have gone top with a win but that looked increasingly unlikely as Willington went two up a few minutes after the break. The visitors had their chances, hitting the post and then having a penalty saved but despite the pressure Willington added another at the death for a slightly flattering three-nil win.

 

Shildon v Billingham Synthonia, Saturday 23rd December 2017, 3pm

January 22, 2018

Jen and I were in the UK for Christmas and with the Boro away at Sheff Wed I thought I’d take in a Northern League game. We were staying at Sedgefield and so it was only a twenty-five minute drive to Shildon for their Division One clash with Billingham Synthonia.

As I often do, I assumed that I’d be visiting a one-horse town and that it would be impossible to miss the football ground. I was wrong again and somehow managed to drive the full length of Shildon twice before admitting defeat and checking the location on my phone.

It was six pounds to get in and then another couple of quid for a programme. A bucket collection on the other side of the turnstile hoovered up the remaining change from my tenner.

I’m told that the Dean Court Ground dates back to 1903 and that the big five hundred seater stand was built in 1923. The stand might not see its centenary though as on my visit all you could do was loiter in front of it. The seated area had been taped off, presumably as some sort of safety measure.

On the opposite side of the ground was a much newer stand that had only been open for a few weeks. It holds two hundred and has replaced a longer covered terracing section. I’m not sure that’s progress at all. The crowd of 190 could have all fitted in the new stand, but most chose to stand at various points around the perimeter.

I positioned myself behind the home dugout for a while and listened to the softly spoken Shildon manager advising his players on his requirements for flatness and narrowness. I wasn’t really paying enough attention to remember whether they were too flat and too narrow or not flat and narrow enough. Possibly it varied according to the state of play. Regardless, I liked the calm way he got his point across to his players one at a time.

I had hoped that one of the players would be former Boro Youth Cup winner Anthony Peacock. Remember him, the little midfielder? After spells at Darlo and Spennymoor, he turns out for Shildon these days. Unfortunately he had been out injured for a while.

Despite Shildon being up at the top end of the table and Synthonia rock bottom, current form for the two teams was very similar. Whilst the home side had the better chances throughout and pressed hard towards the end, the result went true to current form and the game finished goalless.

Horse Racing at Bangkok, Saturday 16th December 2017

January 18, 2018

We’ve been to Bangkok for the weekend a few times but as the horse racing usually takes place on a Sunday afternoon we’ve not had the opportunity to attend. I’d noticed a rare Saturday fixture at the Royal Bangkok Sports Club though and so we thought we’d pop along.

Our hotel was right next to the track. It was also handy for Lumphini Park and we spent the morning wandering around watching water monitors fight each other over a carp that one of them must have caught in the lake. We also saw one monitor digging up and scoffing some eggs, probably buried by a turtle.

The highlight of the wandering about though came outside of the park when we stumbled upon a cock fight at the end of a quiet alley. I got the impression that we weren’t particularly welcome and so we didn’t hang about but Jen managed to snap a couple of photos before we left them to it.

As with the recent trip to Ipoh, we got lucky with our hotel room overlooking the race track. So much so that we pulled a couple of chairs up to the window and watched the opening two races of the ten race card from there.

Good as the hotel room was, it didn’t have a tote counter and our view didn’t extend as far around the track as the starting stalls. It took us twenty minutes or so to walk to the track entrance. We were directed away from the posh bit, possibly due to membership requirements but more likely for scruffiness.

The 100 Baht section had no such qualms about letting us in and the stand overlooked the parade ring at one side and the winning post at the other. There was a 50 Baht gate a little further along which got you into a grandstand beyond the finishing line. Both areas seemed quite busy.

Our stand had a roof but wasn’t enclosed and so we didn’t benefit from air-conditioning. It was breezy though and with steady supply of chilled cans of Singha for just over a quid a pop I managed to avoid over-heating.

There were no seats in the stand either, just concrete terracing. That was ok too and we took up a position on the back row. Every now and then we’d have a tray of street-type food from one of the stalls that were lining the concourse area.

One of the odd things about the racing was that the horses would head around to the starting stalls a good twenty minutes before the scheduled start time of their race. They would then be loaded up and left to stand for at least a quarter of an hour. I couldn’t really see why they would do this as it seemed a long time to be cooped up.

For a change, we limited our betting to the live racing and that gave us plenty of time to ponder our selections. It was time that we didn’t really need as we followed our usual selection process of backing the horse with the best name. The system, once again, was spectacularly unsuccessful. There was a horse called Brian in one race and our early two quid bet briefly had him favourite on the tote. Once the more knowledgeable punters had placed their wagers he drifted to around 800/1.

I’m pleased to report that despite the lack of confidence from the market Brian managed to outperform expectations by finishing second to last. Hopefully that might delay his day out at the glue factory. After a day with no returns whatsoever we retired to the nearby St Regis where we were the only customers in a sealed off whisky and cigar bar. I was even able to turn their plinkety-plonk music off when no-one was looking. Perfect ending really.

 

Horse Racing at Ipoh, Saturday 7th October 2017

January 10, 2018

I’d never really considered how well off we are for race courses in the UK. I can’t be bothered to check but there has to be around fifty or so. Most other places that I’ve lived are much less well served. For example, South Africa about half a dozen, Korea has three and Malaysia just the three as well. Jen and I had already been to the tracks at Selangor and Penang and so this trip to Ipoh ticked off the final Malaysian track.

We live south of Kuala Lumpur and the three-hour drive north takes you around the edges of the city and then on to Ipoh. I’d booked a hotel that overlooked the racecourse and we got lucky with the view from our room.

After finding not much in the way of facilities during our visit to Penang racecourse I had emailed ahead this time asking if there was a lounge or restaurant that we could book. I received a very nice reply from a Mr. Soo who generously offered us complimentary places in their Members Lounge.

The Members Lounge had its own entrance and once we’d taken the lift to an upper floor we had a table in an air-conditioned glass-fronted area of the stand. There were plenty of tote counters and we were able to watch racing from Australia, Macau and, I think, Seoul on the screens.

As ever, so many betting opportunities is not necessarily a good thing. Our race card covered all of the televised meetings and so we had a bet in every race. It makes for a hectic afternoon and I think it would probably have been better if I’d made some or all of the bets in advance.

If there was a downside to the lounge it was that it didn’t sell beer and so I had to keep nipping down the concourse for my cans. I can live with that though. We did get afternoon tea provided, with a bit of cake and a sandwich and I think if we had arrived earlier than we did we might have got some lunch.

I ventured outside a couple of times onto the terrace but most people stayed inside the lounge and a lot didn’t even look out of the window at the live races.

Despite betting on around twenty races altogether our tactic of making selections based upon the names of the horses failed to pay off on all but one occasion. It was a pleasant afternoon though in comfortable surroundings. Cheers, Mr. Soo.

Malaysia F1 Grand Prix, Sunday 1st October 2017, 3pm

December 1, 2017

I’ve a mild interest in F1. Mild in comparison to, say, football, cricket or rugby. I know the main drivers and I could probably tell you which of them was leading the championship at any given time. I also quite like the ebb and flow of the driver’s championship over the course of a season.

My mild interest means that I’ll watch it on the telly if I’m in the house, or at least I’ll watch the pit lane interviews in the ten minutes or so before the start and then the first three or four laps. After that it will usually stay on, but I’ll be researching scantly-clad ladies on my ipad or reading the paper rather than watching the tv screen. Every now and then the commentator will raise his voice and I’ll glance up to see what he’s got excited about. It’s a stark contrast to, say, cycling where despite a similar level of ignorance as to the identity of the majority of the participants or the nuances of the sport, I can happily watch an entire stage just to see the countryside and confirm to myself that I’d be content to live in any of the villages along the route.

I went to Silverstone with my son in 2009. We had a great weekend, camping, drinking and eating roast pig, but I felt attending the race itself was a bit dull. We had starting grid tickets that if I remember rightly cost more than two hundred and fifty quid a pop. However,  without the benefit of the tv coverage I had very little idea what was going on once the cars spread out and the front-runners caught up to the back markers. What’s more, the cars made such a racket that if you wanted to communicate with your companions then you were limited to hand gestures. I only know a couple of hand gestures and I tend to reserve them for when I spot someone like Boris Johnson. I concluded that, just like American football with its frequent breaks for studio analysis that you don’t get to see at the stadium, F1 is a sport that is better watched on the telly rather than live.

Jen and I were in Malaysia last year at the time of the Grand Prix and I didn’t bother going, despite us living no more than twenty odd miles from the Sepang circuit. I’d learned my lesson from 2009, you see.

So, what changed? Well, we were supposed to have been three hours away at a football game, but a few days beforehand someone brought it forward forty-eight hours. Bastards. And we think Sky are bad. Matches over here seemed to just disappear or be brought forward at a whim.

It was also billed as the final Malaysian Grand Prix. Final I imagine until such time as a local promoter gambles that he can make the event pay. It’s fine not bothering with something when you know you can probably go next year. However, if it may be your last chance, that’s slightly different I suppose.

I think my ‘collectors’ mentality played a part too. What happens if in a few years time I start ‘collecting’ F1 Circuits? I’d no doubt regret not having bothered with Sepang whilst it was available and far easier to attend than most.

So, on the Friday afternoon I checked for tickets. There were plenty available and so I selected two in the C2 Covered Hillside Stand for fifteen quid each. That covered the Saturday and Sunday with admission to the Friday session being free to everyone. Silverstone could learn something from those prices, hog roast or not. I didn’t realise at the time that it was a grassy bank with a roof covering just the back ten yards or so, but as it described itself as having panoramic views of seventy percent of the circuit I doubt I’d have paid the higher prices for the stands that came with actual seats.

My other concern had been the traffic and with that in mind, we rocked up at noon, three hours before the main event. We’d approached from the quiet side of the circuit but still ended up having to enter in the same gate as the people coming from KL. With a mile or two to go to the entrance it was so quiet that I wondered if the same fella who moves my football matches  had stuck his neb into this event as well.

It got a little busier once we were inside and it took a while to find a car park with spaces where it wasn’t necessary to pre-book. As luck would have it the first available area was no more than a hundred yards walk from our entrance gate. There was minimal security and my careful hiding of prohibited food and drink turned out to be unnecessary.

We’d taken cushions and found a spot on the grass in the shade at the top of the hill. Whilst parking would have been difficult if someone had turned up later, there was always plenty of room for sitting under cover. That was just as well really as we got a torrential downpour a couple of hours before the race and just as a supporting event involving, I think, Porsches racing other Porsches took place. One fella in that race was so far off the pace that I half wondered if he’d turned up for one of those track days and they’d indulgently let him join in.

The main race was preceded by a procession of the drivers in old cars. That was more interesting than the Porsches. Possibly more interesting than the main race too. Certainly more varied.

So, how does Sepang compare to Silverstone? For a start, there wasn’t a hog roast, just a hundred yard long queue for burgers. The viewing experience was better though in that we had a big screen ahead of us that regularly updated the positions and we could see a lot more of the track than was possible my starting grid position at Silverstone.

The main difference was the noise. We had brought ear plugs. In fact, in a rare moment of sensibleness I’d actually turned the car around to get them after forgetting them. However, with the exception of a cameraman up in a gantry who had great big jobbies on, we must have been the only people wearing them. F1 cars are evidently part milk float these days as it was perfectly possible to have a conversation during the race. I kept the ear plugs in though as I quite like shutting a lot of the world out. I might start wearing them for meetings at work.

It wasn’t much of a race, more of a procession really. As I said though, I don’t mind that. I take the view that it’s a season long event and this was just a small part of it. A bit like when a spinner ties an end up for a while in cricket.

For no good reason I’d backed Ricciardo each way  and so my interest was in gauging the distance, as he passed us, that he was behind second-placed Hamilton each lap. Initially there were about four or five seconds between me being in the money, which increased to about eight or nine seconds after his pit stop. Although I am aware that my “one Mississippi, two Mississippi” counting probably doesn’t meet F1 timekeeping standards.

Ricciardo spent most of the race in third place and finished up that way, behind Hamilton and easy winner Max Verstappen. Apparently Verstappen celebrated his twentieth birthday the previous day. I wonder how much his regular car insurance costs and if there is even an option to select racing driver as occupation?

We stayed until the end and left as Vettel did his getting back to the pits lap sat on someone elses car stunt. Leaving was a doddle and within ten minutes we were outside of the circuit and less than an hour after the chequered flag we were back in the house. That’s a whole lot less fuss than Silverstone.

It was a better day than I’d anticipated. I still think it’s a sport that is best watched on the telly as you see much more that way, in contrast to say, football, where you can’t see the play unfolding properly on the box.

Nevertheless, I doubled my collection of F1 circuits.

Horseracing at Penang, Saturday 23rd September 2017

November 15, 2017

My memory is getting worse these days and to be honest I can’t remember a great deal about this day out. It’s not that I drank excessively, although I will have had a few Tigers, it’s more that it has taken me a few weeks to write about it and I’ve been to another race meeting in the meantime.

Still, I suppose whatever I can’t remember I can just make up. Right, the facts. It was in Penang, which is less than an hour’s flight from KL. We stayed in Georgetown, which is a very picturesque town with a lot of its historical areas preserved. Our hotel was in the Little India area and we had curry for just about every meal.

So far so good. We took a Grab car (just like Uber) to the racecourse and, I think, paid six ringgits for admission with a further twenty ringgits for access to the air-conditioned lounge.

After that, well, not much comes to mind. We had seats in the lounge, but no table and in addition to betting on the live action we also backed horses in races on the telly from Seoul and Macau. Probably. It‘s hard work betting every ten minutes or so at multiple tracks and for a while it felt more like employment than enjoyment.

The only place to buy beer was a counter out in the main concourse so every few minutes I’d pop out and brave the lack of air-conditioning to get another. There was limited food available but I got bags of peanuts and cashews from a bloke walking around with a tray.

The betting was marginally successful. We’d been behind until the final race but the desperate measure of bumping up the stake and getting a decent priced winner meant that we finished ahead on the day, including admission, beer, air-conditioning and nuts. I’d have needed a much bigger stake if I were to include the flights and hotel in the calculation.

Lamigo Monkeys v Elephant Brothers, Saturday 9th September 2017, 5.05pm

November 8, 2017

I’ve not been to the baseball for a while, or at least to a proper game. Jen and I went to a game in Darwin a couple of years ago that turned out to be little more than a knockabout and an excuse for a picnic. I’m not even sure that they kept score. As it’s more than four years since we left Korea, it must be that long since we’ve seen a baseball game. Never mind, a brief visit to Taiwan gave us the chance to put things right.

The baseball was actually a fallback option as the trip had been primarily to see a football game. However the Taiwan Premier League appears to be less organised than the lower divisions of the Stockton Sunday League and the game that we’d planned to see had been shunted, with minimal publicity, a couple of hundred miles to the other end of the island.

Whatever, an evening at the baseball makes a fine alternative and so we took a taxi to the Taoyuan International Baseball Stadium. The area around the stadium was as busy as the roads on the way there had been and fans milled around the perimeter, making their way to the various gates.

We did an entire lap before finding the ticket office and after weighing up whether the home or away sections would be emptier we opted for outfield seats on the Monkey side of the bleachers. I can’t remember how much it cost to get in and the ticket doesn’t really make it clear. It might have been 350 Taiwanese dollars, which is about nine quid. Alternatively, that 350 figure might have been a block number or something. Sorry.

We got inside early in the first innings and found seats in an emptyish area towards the back. The section gradually filled up as the game went on with a mixture of families, couples and small groups of friends. I hadn’t been sure of the rules about bringing drink in and so hadn’t brought any beer with me. My gamble paid off though as I was able to buy reasonably cold cans of something that turned out to be made by OB, a Korean brewer. Or at least under licence from them. It seemed quite appropriate for the baseball and took me back a few years to the evenings spent at Jamsil.

Elephant Brothers had a few hundred fans to our left making a decent racket and overall the seventeen thousand attendance was pretty impressive. I’d forgotten most of the nuances of the sport and a fair proportion of the rules but it didn’t really matter. I’m happy just to sit with a beer as the sun goes down and wait for someone to twat the ball over the fence.

The visitors took the lead in the second innings and after being pegged back regained the advantage in the seventh. Lamingo Monkeys levelled in the eighth at 3-3 and then nicked a winner. I think they are having the better season of the two teams but I could be wrong. Fifty percent chance that I am.

As the game drew to a close we were turfed out of our seats by stewards who I think were setting up for a post-game concert and firework show. We watched the final balls from the posh seats down the side before nipping out and having the good fortune to quickly find a cab. All in all, it was very similar to going to the baseball in Korea and that’s a good thing.