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.

Semen Padang v Gresik United, Saturday 17th December 2016, 4pm

January 4, 2017

1-dsc03679

Whilst the football season has been over for a couple of months in Malaysia and most of the nearby countries, the Indonesian Soccer Championship has been dragging its feet. As there’s a direct flight from Kuala Lumpur to Padang in Sumatra, Jen and I popped over for the weekend to take in a top division game between Semen Padang (yes, really) and Gresik United from East Java.

I was looking forward to checking in to our Padang hotel as the booking information made it clear that couples would have to produce a marriage certificate. When you have the added bonus of being able to legitimately make the reservation under the names ‘Mr and Mrs Smith’ I was hoping for some Basil Fawlty style fun before eventually handing over the certificate.

Sadly, we must have looked too respectable for the trip to be for any extra-marital monkey business and we weren’t asked for any documentation other than our passports, which these days both show the same surname.

Padang is a seaside town that doesn’t really  seem to be a tourist destination. Bit like Skinningrove, really, although with fewer burning tyres. It’s more the sort of place that people land at before moving on to somewhere with a bit more going on. I quite liked it though and we had a couple of walks along the river and the coast.

1-dsc03702

I’m not sure that they get too many strangers in Padang. Everywhere we went people called out a welcome to us, even if they were passing on a scooter and would be ten yards into the distance before the greeting could be acknowledged.

We passed a school graduation ceremony and were pleaded with to come in. People were turfed out of their chairs to make way for the two new guests of honour and we were given food and drink whilst posing for photographs with everyone present. After ten minutes we tried to make out escape and had to submit to even more photos as people took their last opportunity to record our presence.

I’ve never had any desire for fame and ten minutes of having to pose for shot after shot with people I didn’t know reinforced my view that it wouldn’t be fun at all. I can see how celebrities get a bad press though as you only need one person to be disappointed and nobody will remember the twenty photos that you did pose for.

1-dsc03711

Before the game we called into some museum in a nearby park where we had a similar welcome, with groups of kids following us around as if we were dishing out handfuls of sweets or tickets for Top of the Pops.

One young lad was waving a small cage that contained two finch-like birds. There was just enough room for them to stand up and they seemed to spend most of their time bouncing off the interior of the cage. It’s unlikely that they would have survived much longer in that cage than goldfish would have done. I tried to get a photo but had to settle for one of the whole family. You can see the cage on the ground though if you look closely enough.

1-dsc03668

Later that day we took a taxi to the Stadion GOR Haji Agus Salim. With half an hour to go to kick-off it was busy outside, although I suspect that most people were selling or buying stuff rather than intending to go to the match.

Jen bought a couple of football shirts with the home team’s name on the front. After all, what girl wouldn’t relish Semen being splattered all over her chest?

1-dsc03669

I asked around as to where to buy tickets in the shade and a women walked with us half way around the ground to meet with a tout. I doubted we needed his services but he only charged a total of sixty pence premium on our two seven quid VIP tickets.

1-p1280460

As it turned out, there are different levels of VIPness. It’s no surprise really and at the match our school graduation celebrity status counted for nothing. I remember having VIP tickets at Barcelona for a Champions League game once and after laying out a couple of hundred euros for the privilege we got to sit near the corner flag and queue for a still-chilled in the middle hot dog at half-time. I doubt Sepp Blatter was in our section.

On this occasion a fence separated us from a more central viewing position and what might have been slightly more comfortable seats.

1-dsc03673

We were positioned behind the dugouts and shaded by the roof above, but as the sun sank lower we could feel it on the backs of our necks. It was the final game of the season and the home side’s players had brought their kids on to the pitch for the pre-game photos. Some were taking selfies with their teammates, perhaps knowing that they would be off for good at the end of the game.

1-dsc03675

A fella was selling cartons of water at the equivalent of thirty pence for three. I offered a note that was enough for six cartons and was given three bags of boiled peanuts as change. There were also duck and quail eggs as well as sugar cane for sale.

1-dsc03690

I didn’t see any away fans but there were three separate groups of home ultras amongst the two thousand or so fans. We had one lot behind the goal to our left that tended to focus on flags and banners. Given the clues in the banners I’m going to call them The Kmers.

1-dsc03693

There were a second lot of fans at the other end who had decided to show their support by waving balloons. They might have called themselves Spartacks. Both of the groups kept up their singing just about all of the way through the game.

1-dsc03681

The third set of fans didn’t do any singing. There was a small group of around fifteen of them dressed mainly in black and stood around doing their best to look menacing. Their banners appeared to commemorate something that happened in 1980. I’ve no idea what though.

If I think back to 1980 it’s memories of The Jam, house parties with Woodpecker cider and the Boro thrashing Arsenal 5-0 one sunny evening at the end of the season. I’d like to believe that those Indonesian lads in black were harking back to exactly those same things.

1-dsc03692

Whilst the fans were top quality, the standard on the pitch was poor with many of the players unable to judge the pace or flight of the ball. If a pass was hit in their direction they often looked as if running in quicksand as the play passed them by or the ball bounced off their shin for someone else to then take his turn to mis-control it.

After twenty minutes of nothingness Semen took the lead when the rebound to a missed penalty was scrambled home.

1-dsc03687

The hosts had a few chances to clinch the victory in the second half but had to wait until the final moments for the money shot. The Gresik keeper fumbled the ball on the edge of the box leaving a Padang striker to collect it and walk it into an empty next.

The two nil victory relegated Gresik and brought the Indonesian season to a long-awaited climax.

Leicester City v Middlesbrough, Saturday 26th November 2016, 3pm

January 1, 2017

1-img_0990

The King Power Stadium was another new ground for me.  I’d been to Leicester’s former ground at Filbert Street a few times, although my recollections of that place now seem to have condensed into a couple of spectacular goals from Gazza and Boksic and seeing someone who was stood near to me managing to successfully hit a linesman with a full cup of tea.

1-p1280342

I drove from Teesside with Tom and his mate Andy. After making good progress down the M1 we then spent half an hour driving around town trying to find the ground. Surely a signpost or two wouldn’t go amiss.

We eventually found the crowds and assumed that we were close enough to park up and walk the rest of the way. The streets tended to be either residents parking only or else one hour maximum. The restriction expired at 4pm and so I took the chance that I wouldn’t pick up a parking ticket for a ninety minute stay.

1-img_0993

We were subjected to sniffer dog searches on the way in, although I’m not sure what they were trained to look for. It seems a bit pointless looking for drugs at a football match. Perhaps they were hip-flask sniffer dogs.

When I lived in Korea decent sausages were just about impossible to find and so on trips back to England I’d always freeze some of Blackwell’s finest and smuggle them in. I was always very impressed by the self-control of the drug dogs who would ignore my suitcase full of pork and lamb products to focus on whatever substances they had been trained to find.

1-img_0994

The further delay caused by the searches meant that we were just in time for kick-off and after a few brief hellos to the usual suspects I went straight to my seat, high up in a corner. The former Walkers Stadium was very impressive. I liked that there were no upper and lower tiers, just a single bank of seats of equal height all the way around the pitch.

1-img_0996

Leicester were absolutely hopeless and after an early goal from Negredo put the Boro one-up, it took a mistakenly awarded penalty to bring them level.

It was hard to see how they could have romped away with the league last season and the chants of “Champions of England, you’re having a laugh” were more than reasonable.

Another Negredo goal looked to have deservedly clinched the three points for us until a second penalty deep in injury time gave Ranieri’s team a spawny draw.

1-img_0997

I know what you’re waiting for. A bad result made worse by us returning to the car and finding a parking ticket. Well, on this occasion I got away with it, although if it’s any consolation finding the M1 was no easier than finding the ground had been.

Middlesbrough v Chelsea, Sunday 20th November 2016, 4pm

December 13, 2016

001

In contrast to the previous day on the terraces, my first Boro game of the season was a much more modern-day experience with Tom and I enjoying the hospitality provided in the Middlehaven Suite. The four o’clock kick-off worked nicely for us by giving us time for Sunday lunch at my Mam and Dad’s and then enabling us to be at the Riverside an hour before the start.

1-img_0984

I’ve not much experience of hospitality suites. A reluctance to get involved in work-related entertaining as either a host or a guest has meant that I’ve almost always watched games as a regular spectator. I’ve been in lounges at Old Trafford a couple of times over the years and I’ve a vague recollection of being in a posher area than you’d have expected at a game at Peterhead, but that’s about it. Mind you, posh in Peterhead just means fewer smackheads than normal and maybe slightly less seagull shit.

I almost forgot about the 100 Club. My first two Boro games, forty-two seasons ago, were in the posh part of Ayresome Park. Alan Next-Door had a couple of season tickets in there and on the occasions when his son had other plans he very kindly took me with him.

It wasn’t hospitality in the way that it would be seen now. In fact, along with the rest of Ayresome Park, I suspect that they didn’t even serve alcohol. What I do remember was coming out of the cold at half-time to be greeted with tables covered with cups of tea and plates of pork pies that had been cut into quarters. I think a second cup of tea was served at full-time to accompany Final Score on the telly.

It was all a lot posher in the Middlehaven with a much more extensive buffet and plenty of drinking choices. Tom and I were shown to a table and watched the end of the Newcastle game on the telly whilst we had the first of a few pints of Amstel.

1-img_0986

They have matchday hosts in these lounges and today’s turned out to be John Hendrie and Gary Pallister. I’ve never met John Hendrie but I’ve known Pally since we were kids. We grew up in the same street and played together in the same primary, secondary school and sixth-form football teams.

frederick-nattrass-1976

I overheard a few of the conversations that Pally was having with some of the other people in the lounge. Invariably they tended to focus on what it was like to play against Romario in the Nou Camp or the perils of sharing a dressing room with Roy Keane.

I’ve not much interest in those sort of things and so when we had time for a chat it soon gravitated towards the health of our respective elderly parents and the bungalow versus stair-lift dilemma. Not, I imagine, a conversation that many match-day hosts would get to have.

1-img_0987

As for the game itself, we watched it from padded seats in the North West Corner. It was odd sitting down for a Boro game these days, although we were able to join in with a couple of the North Stand chants. We got beat, as you’d expect, but it was a decent performance that didn’t spoil what was an excellent day. I’m sure I’ll be back in a lounge before long.

Scunthorpe United v Oldham Athletic, Saturday 19th November 2016, 3pm

December 10, 2016

1-img_0981

Jen and I don’t get to see many gigs these days. It’s one of the drawbacks of living in the middle of nowhere in countries that don’t have much of a music scene. It means that whenever we are in the UK we try to take advantage of the opportunities available.

This trip to Lincolnshire was to catch up with Billy Bragg at Lincoln Engine Works. As Lincoln City were playing away I’d originally intended to combine the gig with a visit to the even lower non-league side Lincoln United. However, when I read that Scunthorpe were leaving their Glanford Park ground at the end of this season, I changed my plans and we went there instead.

At the risk of showing my age, it doesn’t seem that long ago since Scunthorpe moved into Glanford Park and in my mind I still see it as a ‘new’ ground. It’s not though really as they’ve been there for twenty-eight years. Twenty-eight years in which I didn’t get around to attending a game, although in my defence we haven’t played there that often. Still, it’s never too late, as they say, until it really is too late I suppose. In this case it wasn’t and so I went along.

1-img_0969-001

The ground is next to a business park and so Jen cleared off to do some shopping and coffee drinking and I collected my pre-booked ticket for the Doncaster Road Stand. It’s the standing section behind one of the goals and with Scunthorpe being outside of the top two divisions they get to keep it that way.

It was great being on a crowded terrace. I’d arrived early enough to bag myself a barrier to lean on and I was in a perfectly placed position, close to the goal but high enough up to get a decent view when the play was at the other end.

The atmosphere took me back to my Holgate days. It wasn’t just the standing, after all the South Stand at the Riverside is fully standing these days and I can’t remember the last time I sat at a Boro away game. It was more being part of a mass, constantly edging one way or another for a better view.

The songs were in-keeping with the old-school afternoon too with Scunthorpe having a wide variety of chants that I hadn’t heard in years and including the classic “If I had the wings of a sparrow, if I had the arse of a crow…”.

1-img_0970

My interest in the game was enhanced by some Boro links. Scunthorpe had a couple of our ex-players on their bench in midfielder Richie Smallwood and Strachan-era wonderkid Luke Williams, whilst current Boro player Connor Ripley who is spending the season on loan at Oldham was between the sticks for the visitors.

The pre-game buzz all seemed to be about Williams, who had been out for a while with an injury and as seems the way had probably enhanced his reputation with every week that he hadn’t played. The consensus among the people around me was that Scunthorpe had missed his movement and that they were a much better team with him in it.

Play was end to end in the first half with the home keeper keeping top of the league Scunthorpe in the game. Connor Ripley had a bit less to do at the far end but he commanded his defence well and looked like a proper keeper. I sometimes think that’s half the battle.

1-img_0971

At half time I made my way down to get a drink and was gleefully informed by a small boy in the queue that Hull were a goal down at Sunderland. As I thought it unlikely that he would kick my head in I quietly let slip that I was actually a Boro fan and I’d be a lot happier if Hull were to pull their socks up in the second half.

1-img_0975

I was quite surprised at how small the crowd was in what is Scunthorpe’s last season at the ground and with them looking good for promotion to the Championship. Mind you, Oldham hadn’t made much of a contribution to the attendance with only a couple of hundred fans having made the relatively short journey.

The Donny Road stand was fairly well-populated, but there was plenty of space in the rest of the ground and with the 9,000 capacity stadium less than half-full it makes you wonder what’s the point of building somewhere new.

1-img_0977

Connor Ripley had a lot more to do after the break and acquitted himself well. Luke Williams made an appearance mid-way through the second-half and always looked comfortable. If Scunthorpe do manage to clinch promotion I’m confident he could look at home in the Championship.

1-img_0982

By the time Richie Smallwood made an appearance with a couple of minutes to go, Scunthorpe were a goal up. A shot from outside the box had left Ripley unsighted and sneaked in off the post. That was enough for the home win in what I suspect will be both my first and last visit to Glanford Park.

Family Days v Family Days, Sunday 13th November 2016, 9am

December 3, 2016

1-p1280337

Jen and I haven’t really done any hiking since we were in England last May. The climate in Malaysia, whilst better than our last location of Darwin, Australia, is just that little bit too hot and humid to make going for a walk a tempting prospect.

That all changed when I read about the Cameron Highlands. The region is about four hours drive north of where we live and as it is a minimum of 1,500 metres above sea-level, the temperature tends to hover around sixteen degrees. That’s perfect really and so we went for the weekend.

The last hour or so of the drive took us up winding narrow roads that were flanked by stray dogs. I doubt many make it to old-age. Every now and then there would be an attraction such as a waterfall or a tea-room that would be marked by cars parked along both sides of the road for a hundred yards each way and supplemented by a few tour-buses.

We stayed in Tanah Rata. The mix of day trippers and slightly longer-term visitors, the cafes and attraction booking offices reminded me a little of some of the towns in the Lake District.

1-p1280291

I was tired from the concentration needed to avoid running over the dogs or driving off a cliff edge and so we didn’t do much on the Saturday night. We were up early on the Sunday though and went for a walk up to a waterfall and then into the forest. It’s the rainy season in Malaysia at the moment and a combination of a wet path and fallen leaves made it quite slippy underfoot. Sufficiently so that I ended up flat on my back at one point. Fortunately there weren’t any other people around to witness my senior moment.

1-p1280316

There wasn’t much in the way of wildlife either. A few lizards, one of those flightless birds, a chipmunk up a tree and a large red caterpillar. The highlight was probably a butterfly that when it spread its wings looked uncannily like a snake’s head.

1-p1280297

To get back into Tanah Rata we had to pass a football pitch and as we approached I heard a whistle and some shouting. Once in sight it was clear that there was a game going on. It looked pretty low-level but I counted the players and it was 11 a side.  There was also a ref and two linesman and so by my ground hopping rules it counted as a proper match.

1-p1280331

I took a few photos then wandered into the main and only stand. There were about fifty people watching, which isn’t a bad turnout at all. Next to the stand were a group of women in a tent. Most of them were preparing food but a couple were sorting out medals ready for a post-game presentation.

The standard of play was such that even at my age and not having kicked a ball for six years I reckon I could have shone. My Dad, at 83, would have made less of a shambles of things than both keepers were managing to do.

1-p1280336

Five minutes after we got there, the full-time whistle blew and in that time we’d seen three goals. I didn’t ask the score but I suspect that both sides were probably into double figures by some distance.

I did have a chat with a couple of players at the end. Apparently both sides were drawn from company employees on a team building exercise. They all worked for Family Days, a company from Ipoh, some eighty kilometres away.

1-p1280340

We chatted about Ipoh’s team Perak and, after I mentioned that I’d seen them in their Malaysian Cup game against Selangor, their excellent travelling support. At that point it was time for the medal presentation and so we left them to their team-building.

PBDKT T-Team v Pahang, Saturday 22nd October 2016, 9pm

November 16, 2016

1-dsc03497

It was the final round of the Super League season and up until a couple of days beforehand the fixture between T-Team and Pahang had been one of those that would play a part in deciding the relegation places. However, in the run up to the game, the Malaysian FA belatedly awarded Pahang three points for something that had happened earlier in the season and that left both sides safe from the drop.

Jen and I arrived in Terengganu early on the Saturday morning, courtesy of fifty minute and twenty quid Air Asia flights from KL. We were greeted at our hotel by the sight of the Pahang team playing keepy-uppy at the entrance.

Terengganu itself didn’t seem like much of a tourist destination. There looked to be a few options for stuff to do in the surrounding areas but there wasn’t a lot going on in the town itself.

1-dsc03500

We were staying next to Chinatown. As an attraction it had some scathing Tripadvisor reviews, probably because it wasn’t limited just to restaurants. If that’s what people were expecting then I dare say the shops selling angle grinders were somewhat of a disappointment.

The butcher’s was of greater interest however, with a fine selection of pig tails on display.

1-dsc03501

We managed to resist the urge to stock up on power tools or porcine parts whilst in Chinatown and settled instead for a pre-match dinner. We sat outside the restaurant until our meal was interrupted by ten minutes of loud-speaker announcements in Malaysian which we were soon to find out were warning of the impending industrial-strength chemical bug spraying.

1-dsc03504

Despite having all day to get to the ground we arrived at the Stadium Sultan Ismail Nasiruddin Shah with just a few minutes to go to kick-off. We splashed out on twenty ringgit tickets for the main stand and went in just as the national anthem was being played. As usual, it was quickly followed by the state anthem.

Less usually, the teams then remained in their lined-up positions whilst the away fans sang what I assume was their own state anthem. Or maybe, after reflecting on their team’s performance over the season, it was something along the lines of “You’re shit and you know you are”.

1-dsc03508

The stadium was a bit on the shabby side and whilst it didn’t have a running track there was enough space between the stands and the pitch to fit one in.

Our grandstand seats had the advantage of a roof, but the disadvantage of having a raised and fenced VIP section that obscured our view of a lot of the nearside touchline.  We were sat behind the Pahang wags, one of whom I presume was with the Pahang captain as she was wearing a shirt with his surname on the back. Although to be fair, it may very well have been her own name too.

Mind you, it would have been so much better if she’d actually been wearing a shirt with the name of her favourite player rather than that of her partner.

1-dsc03510

Not much happened in the opening half hour or so, with the highlight being a cat wandering in from outside and then running along the front of our stand in a panic whilst trying to escape.

1-dsc03514

Soon after the cat had departed the visitors took the lead with a curling shot from the right into the left corner of the net. Pahang desperately held onto their lead until close to full-time and at which point one of the T-Team players skinned their full back and whacked an equaliser into the roof of the net.

Whilst the result of this game was of no consequence, similar late goals elsewhere resulted in the season coming to an end with the other Terengganu team and the Police slipping into the second-tier Premier division. It all starts afresh in February.

Brunei DS v East Timor, Saturday 15th October 2016, 3.30pm

November 14, 2016

1-dsc03401

One of the advantages of living less than an hour from Kuala Lumpur airport is that it’s easy to get to many of the nearby countries. My preference would be to spend a few weeks at a time travelling around the area but as I’ve got to go to work during the week it means that we’ll be doing the grand tour a couple of days at a time.

The destination this weekend was Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia and the venue for the Suzuki Cup qualifier between Brunei DS and East Timor. We took a two-hour flight that arrived around breakfast time on the Saturday and which gave us plenty of time to see some of the sights before the football.

First up was the Killing Fields. I was initially a little unsure of the wisdom of this, after all if the killing is over, wouldn’t it just be, well, fields? It wasn’t though, it was an interesting museum, mainly outdoors, as fields tend to be, with a couple of rooms full of photos.

There was a tower in the middle of the site, where the skulls of some of the 12,000 or so victims were kept. They had been sorted by age, gender and method of killing. Not many had received a bullet, with most of them being bludgeoned by a stick or an iron bar.

1-dsc03373

We walked around the site on the raised walkways that enabled us to keep out of the mud. They also served the purpose of keeping us from walking over the areas of the excavated graves. That was just as well as the recent heavy rain had caused some of the items that hadn’t been exhumed to rise to the surface. We saw numerous rags that had once been clothes and the underside of a set of upper teeth. Apparently the ‘fresh’ remains are gathered for storage at the end of each rainy season.

1-dsc03377

Next was the S-21 prison that housed a lot of the prisoners of the Khymer Rouge before they made their way to the Killing Fields. It was another sobering experience, with the only real change from the seventies being the addition of photographs of the inmates.

There were a couple of ex-prisoners selling their books by the exit. The first one seemed to have learned his lesson and so we bought a copy. For most of the survivors it invariably seemed to be a stroke of luck that saved them from becoming one more skull surfacing on a rainy day.

1-dsc03386

I’ll just briefly mention the food, which was generally quite similar to the sort of thing that you might expect to eat in most areas of South East Asia. Quite similar that is, apart from the deep-fried spiders. Jen spotted a pile of them as we wandered through the central market. I’ve no idea what the collective term for spiders is, but pile seems as good as anything.

1-dsc03458

They were a type of tarantua and just thirty pence each. How could you pass up that kind of opportunity? We couldn’t and so we shared one. The legs had a crunchy texture and were chewier than I’d expected. They would probably have benefitted from having all of the hair removed and being served with a tub of garlic sauce.

1-dsc03464

As this isn’t a food blog I’ll move on to the match at the National Olympic Stadium. It was built in the sixties and as Cambodia has yet to host the Olympics, the name has remained a bit of wishful thinking.  We’d seen a 1970’s photo of the ground in the Killing Fields museum that suggested that there were greater priorities during the civil war years than keeping the stadium in good repair.

1-dsc03384

There were two games scheduled for the Saturday of our visit. Brunei DS against East Timor at 3.30pm followed by Cambodia taking on Laos three hours later. Our plan was just to see the first of the double-header, hopefully with a sparse crowd, before heading out into the evening.

1-dsc03388

We wandered around the stadium for ten minutes or so before finding the ticket office. I couldn’t work out how to get tickets for the covered grandstand and so we ended up with two for general admission at a quid a go.

1-dsc03391

There wasn’t really any shade to be had, but we found a spot close to a wall that looked like it might be ok once the sun dipped a little further down. As the game kicked off there were probably about five or six thousand people in the ground, but by the time it finished I’d say the 63,000 capacity stadium was at least two-thirds full. We watched the second game on the telly later on and by that time the stadium had sold out.

1-dsc03438

We were probably the only people who had turned up specifically to watch the first game, but I think most of the locals realised that it would be a lot easier to find a spot to sit on the terracing if they arrived well before the Cambodia game.

1-dsc03429

There were food and drink sellers down by the fencing at the bottom of the bowl. I had a lukewarm bottle of green tea that might have been better had the bloke who turned up with an enormous block of ice for the cooler arrived that bit sooner.

1-dsc03395

There were also people, mainly women, wandering around the terrace selling food from trays balanced on top of their heads. One had what looked like a selection of fruit salad, another had assorted crisps and snacks. An older woman had a washing up bowl of monkey nuts, whilst the star attractions were a large tray of duck eggs and a foot tall pile of deep-fried something. Probably not tarantulas.

1-dsc03408

The game itself wasn’t really up to much. But with so much going on in the crowd that didn’t really matter. We’d seen Brunei the week before in a warm up game against Malaysia U22s. As the Malaysian kids looked the better side in a deserved victory it didn’t really bode well for the standard of this game.

1-dsc03433

East Timor took the lead early on in the first half, but Brunei fought back and went into the break two-one up. East Timor thought that they had equalised in the second half, but the effort was disallowed for a clattering of the keeper that Nat Lofthouse would have been proud of.

On the final whistle we fought against the flow of incomers to leave the crowd at least two spectators short of the reported capacity and then kept an eye the Cambodia v Laos game whilst in a bar having dinner.

The television sound was turned down, but with the open window and the short distance to the stadium we were able to hear the encouragement of the crowd whenever Cambodia pushed forward.

Malaysia U22 v Brunei DS, Saturday 8th October 2016, 5.15pm

November 13, 2016

1-p1280289

Seremban is just up the road from where we live and so when I read that the Malaysian U22 team had a fixture there we thought we’d go along.

The Tuanku Abdul Rahman stadium in the Paroi area of town is the home ground of second-tier team Negeri Sembilan. It was quite busy outside with people making use of the cafes and with a few stalls selling mainly football shirts.

As tends to be our habit at these games we picked up a shirt for our grandson. It was a yellow and red Selengor kit that was more Melchester Rovers than Watford. As the season only had one more week to go the seller knocked a few ringgits off what was already a bargain price.

1-p1280246

We couldn’t see a ticket office and so approached the nearest entrance to ask for directions. It turned out that we didn’t need tickets as admission was free. Very nice.

Jen had her bag searched, although I’m not sure what they were looking for. I had a bottle of coke sticking out of a side pocket of my shorts which was ignored. Perhaps they were just curious to see what she was carrying around.

1-p1280247

Our entrance led us into the lower part of a two-tier uncovered stand. It worked out quite well though as we were able to sit on the last row of terracing and take advantage of the shade created by the overhang.

As tends to be the way over here, our section was part of a bowl-type arrangement, with a running track between us and the pitch. There was a small covered stand opposite that had shade and seats. Maybe we should have walked a bit further around.

Malaysia were in yellow and black stripes with Brunei in white with a nifty single three-coloured stripe. It wasn’t clear whether this was a real U22 game or whether it was actually the full Brunei team warming up for the upcoming Suzuki  Cup qualifiers by taking on a team of youngsters.

1-p1280251

There were lots of vendors selling to the sparse crowd with sunflower seeds being a popular option.  Most of the spectators were in family groups and with everyone trying to squeeze into the back couple of rows that were providing the shade, the sellers pretty much had a captive market to aim at.

1-p1280253

The standard on the pitch was poor in both technical ability and in decision-making. Malaysia took the lead after ten minutes and whilst there were sufficient defensive mistakes for there to have been any number of further goals, poor finishing meant that there was just the one in the first half.

1-p1280248

At half time we came out of the ground and wandered around to the covered stand on the other side of the ground. It was also free to get in and we took a seat to the left of the fence of VIP section in the middle.

1-p1280268

As the half drew on, the sun dropped behind our stand. The fading light allowed the fans opposite to gradually abandon their seats beneath the overhang and spread out a little more.

1-p1280271

Towards the end the crowd was announced as being 315. I’m not sure how they worked it out and as we’d gone in twice I wondered if we’d been counted on both occasions. Maybe somebody just looked around the ground and did a head-count. Or perhaps the announcer just made it up. My money is on that last option.

1-p1280273

There were no more goals and the Malaysian youngsters hung on for their one-nil win.