Posts Tagged ‘Bangabandhu Stadium’

Maldives v India, Saturday 15th September 2018, 7pm

November 29, 2018

Whilst I suppose most ground hoppers concentrate on completing a league, or on ticking off grounds where they have seen their own team play, I’ve lately had more of an interest in ‘collecting’ countries where I’ve seen a football match.

Initially it was quite easy working my way through the territories near to Malaysia, but after a while it takes a bit more of an effort. Bangladesh wasn’t somewhere that I’d initially thought I’d go to, what with all the fuss over shootings, bombs, the security fears around cricket tours and the like. But, it seems to have calmed down a bit lately and so when I saw that the final of the SAFF Cup was scheduled for a free weekend I booked flights to Dhaka.

My first impression was the chaos. I’ve been to India a couple of times and have also braved the traffic in Manila but nothing came close to the congestion on the roads in and around the Bangladeshi capital. Lorries, buses, cars, tuk-tuks and finally bicycle rickshaws vied for position in what were often five or six informal lines of traffic on roads marked with two or three lanes. It made it the maddest place I’ve been for getting from A to B.

I took a ride by rickshaw and even something of that size struggles for space on the roads. The ‘driver’ was able to nip through a few of the backstreets, which helped a bit and it had the added bonus of letting me see sellers with baskets that were full of chickens that were stood upright and presumably tied in at their feet.

It seems that not many westerners pop over the Dhaka for a weekend break and we were objects of curiosity, more so than most places I’ve been and we posed for numerous photos with people. I called into the former house of the assassinated president who had led the country to independence and I ended up in conversation with one fella who was desperate for my opinion on why Simon Jones and Marcus Trescothick had faded from the Test scene so soon after the 2005 Ashes win.

We also had a wander around the grounds of an old fort, which turned out to be a rare oasis of calm in what was otherwise mainly bedlam.

Our hotel was carefully chosen to be within walking distance of the Bangabandhu stadium as there was no way I was going to risk travelling all the way to Dhaka and then missing the game due to traffic. As we set off for the match it was as busy on foot as it was by rickshaw or taxi and we had to fight our way through a crowded market.

We didn’t have tickets in advance as the hotel had wanted 100x face value. Yes, five thousand Bangladeshi takas for a fifty taka ticket. That’s fifty quid for a fifty pence ticket! I politely declined and we took our chances, ending up paying a twenty taka premium to a kid outside the ground for two tickets in the Category 1 south stand.

Whilst buying the tickets we acquired a new friend, Bob. He told us that he lived nearby and that he was unmarried due to being orphaned as a child. There are some people who might view the absence of in-laws as a bit of a positive in a spouse, but he didn’t see it that way. Bob was supporting the Maldives on the basis they were playing local rivals India, although a lot of others around us were supporting India on the basis that India didn’t really get on with Pakistan. There was a real animosity towards Pakistan, I suppose stemming from the past skirmishes both before and after independence.

One fella had a bit of a pop at me for being English, on the basis of our colonial past. He was keen to point out that they were doing fine without us and that they wouldn’t like us back. I reassured him that we’ve enough on our plate sorting out our own infrastructure without getting involved in other countries. He seemed happy enough with that and wound his neck in for the rest of the game.

The 36,000 capacity stadium was a bit run down with some posh bits incorporated into a couple of the stands for VIPs. There was a large picture of the father of the nation away to our right in the ground named after him. The usual running track and advertising boards affected our view a little, but on the plus side we had a roof in our section that included overhead fans.

I think the SAFF Championship is a qualifier for another competition later in the year and its lack of prestige was highlighted by India sending their U23 team. That said, it gave the grown ups from the Maldives a decent opportunity to pick up a trophy and that’s exactly what they did.

A goal on the break in each half clinched it for the Maldives. We left just before the end and missed the injury time India consolation. The early dart failed to mitigate the impact of any of the traffic or crowds. I imagine that it remains equally chaotic every minute of the day and night.