Welcome, Thunder Dragons!

August 26, 2015

I’m not particularly interested in sports. I maintain a passing interest in the fortunes of the mighty Fulham Football Club and in the England football team. I’ll watch the Ashes, and maybe the Wimbledon final. But otherwise, I find professional sport pointless and boring. In my final year at school, I managed to wrangle playing pool as my option for PE – that was a very good year.

The last time I watched an international football match in the flesh was in Nairobi in about 1987: it was Kenya vs someone like Egypt in the African Cup of Nations. I was travelling around East Africa with a girlfriend, and we thought it would be fun to watch. It was not. Just after half time, all the lights in the stadium went out, and the entire 40,000-strong crowd decided it would be a good idea to start running, en masse, round and round the stadium, in silence. When we managed to make our way out, the fans were rioting, turning over cars and setting them on fire and looting shops. It was a torrid night, to say the least. I don’t know who won, and, quite frankly, I don’t give a damn.

Recently, Cambodia have been doing quite well at football, making it into the second round of the World Cup qualifiers, for the first time ever. So far, they’ve lost to Singapore, 0-4, and Afghanistan. But big crowds have been turning out to watch them, in a triumph of hope over experience for a team rated 180th in the world. So when it was announced that they would play a friendly against Bhutan, I thought I should go and have a look.

Bhutan (population 750,000) are generally rated as the worst team in the world, swapping 209th place occasionally with Montserrat (population 4,500). However, they’ve been on a bit of a streak recently, going up to 164th, after beating Sri Lanka. Since then, they’ve lost 0-6 to China and 0-7 to Hong Kong. So I thought this would be a great opportunity to watch two of the world’s worst teams play each other.

As football matches go, it was pretty tiresome, as was probably to be expected. But the crowds were great: happy, non-violent and sober, unlike back in the UK, and completely lacking the terrible miasma of pies and stale beer that is so prevalent at matches in England. Whole families were there, cheering Cambodia lustily: there was no chanting or swearing, no racist or homophobic insults; just a lot of people cheerfully supporting their national team.

I didn’t see any Bhutan fans in the crowd, probably because there are no Bhutanese living in Cambodia, as far as I know. I was one of the very few non-barang in the stadium, so was interviewed live on national TV, and was able to pontificate on Bhutan’s lack of penetration and how Cambodia should work the channels better, thanks to my sterling work with Angkor Beer.

The Vann Molyvann-designed Olympic Stadium is an impressive sight, although it is supposed to hold 50,000 people, whereas I can’t imagine more than about 15,000 squeezing in. The walkways behind the stands were full of women barbecuing pork and ears of corn, and people selling a large number of heavy wool Cambodia scarves (motto: “You’ll never walk alone”).

Cambodia won, 2-0, and everybody was happy (except me, because I secretly wanted Bhutan to win). Cambodia play Syria next, in early September, and I might well go along to that as well.

Except that I probably won’t, because it’s still pretty boring.

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2 Responses to “Welcome, Thunder Dragons!”

  1. philipcoggan said

    Cambodia play SYRIA????? How? Better still, where?

  2. Tuesday, September 8th, 1830hrs, Olympic Stadium, Phnom Penh. Tickets still available…

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