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My Short lived Thai Soccer Career

I was going through some old stuff and found this article I wrote when I was working in Thailand with Right to Play in 2006.

Soccer in the Jungle with Right to Play

The photo is from the camp, not the game in the following story:

I sometimes wonder how I get myself into such strange situations. However, they do make for good stories. I think this one is near the top of the list.

A few days ago a friend of mine from Canada was in town. We decided to go and see if we could play football with some of the locals. We ended up playing on a field about half the side of a regular field without about 30 people. Needless to say it was a little crowded. A guy who was watching from his truck hammered on his horn and waved us over. Through the help of a translator he asked us if we were interested in playing for his team on the weekend. We weren’t sure if we were 100% clear though as to what exactly he was asking. At first it sounded like an over 35 league. I’m suffering from no disillusionment about the state of my growing forehead. But, the hair on my head must be going on vacation at a much faster rate than I previously thought if I’m getting asked to play in a 35 and older league. My friend told them he wasn’t going to be around on the weekend, so he was off the hook. I said,

“I’m 29”

“no problem, Sunday at 1”

“but isn’t it for 35 and older”

“no problem, Sunday at 1”

“Okay, I’ll try and make it, but don’t count on me”

“okay, see you Sunday at 1”

“I’ll try, but don’t count on me”

“See you Sunday at 1”

“Okay, bye”

“Bye”

On Sunday, I ended up going fishing with Winai, our driver. It was a great day, but I never made it back in time for the soccer at 1.

On Monday, I was on my way to lunch. I was on the back of our translator’s scooter as we were cruising down the road. She said,

“was someone yelling at me”

“I didn’t hear anything”

I turned around and saw a guy waving frantically at us. We pulled over and he chased us down. As he got a bit closer, I realized it was the translator for the soccer recruiter.

“Sorry I didn’t show up yesterday”

“No problem, I didn’t play either. You play today, 1 o’clock”

I looked at my watch. We were on our way to eat and it was 1245. I looked at him and said,

“hmmm, don’t think I’ll be able to make that one”

“okay, 1 o’clock”

“nope, sorry”

“okay, see you later”

“later”

Naed and I continued on and ended up at a restaurant for lunch. We ordered our food and started eating when the translator pulls up on a scooter with 2 other guys. Seeing up to 4 people on a scooter is not uncommon here. He runs over to our table and asks for my phone number. He then asks again if I was going to play at one. I said no thanks, but maybe some other time. I found out his name is Georgie, we exchange cell phone numbers and he takes off.

At 115 in the middle lunch, my cell phone rings. It’s Georgie. He asks to speak with my translator. He continues to tell her to drop me off at the football field. Georgie is definitely not short of persistence. I figured they must be short players, so I thought I would go and take a look. By this time it was 130. They were supposed to start at 1. I went home and grabbed my runners, put on some shorts and went to the field. When I arrived, I was a little surprised to say the least.

It wasn’t your regular pick up game, it was a full production. There was a ref, 2 linesmen, an announcer and about 200-250 fans. When I pulled up they were introducing the starting lineups. Each player would hear their name, step forward and take a bow. The team that was presumably in dire straights for players had about 25. I started turning around to leave when Georgie spots me and waves me over. He talks to the coach and they go through the process of signing me up. They take my ID and get me registered. This all takes about 10 minutes. The whole time the game was going on.

I didn’t think the coach was too keen on getting me in, nor would I be if I was in his shoes. They had 25 guys, he doesn’t know me, I’m wearing runners and they have full uniforms (Valencia uniforms at that). I try to explain that I don’t have to play or even want to play and will only play if they need someone, which they clearly didn’t. Anyways, Georgie was persistent as always with the coach asking him about 4 times to put me in. At least I assume he did as this was all in Thai. But the fact that they kept pointing at me when they were talking was a good indication.

At this point, I wasn’t really interested in playing. It was quite a high level, I had not played in ages, or warmed up, I was at the end of a 2 week sickness, and it was probably plus 35. I was quit happy observing from the sidelines. However, at half time Georgie’s persistence pays off. The coach goes to one of the players and says something. The next thing I know, he is taking his jersey off and handing it to me. Remember he just played 45 minutes in plus 35 degree weather. Yep, fantastic. I put the shirt on over my t-shirt. Georgie gives me his shoes and I’m in.

They ask my name again, and where I’m from for the announcer. The substitution goes up over the load speaker to some cheers from the crowd. I am the only foreigner around. I go in as a right full back right in front of the hecklers. They kept yelling anything that knew at me in English, which usually meant “okay, where you from”. Any time I touched the ball they were cheering emphatically. I was like the farang (foreigner) side show.

The first ten minutes were great. It was great to play competitive football again. Unfortunately, the sun and my lack of fitness took its toll on me. I was ready to throw the towel in after 15 minutes. But I figured if I ever wanted to play with them again I had to tough it out and prove my worth. I was playing well and only really screwed up once, but it didn’t amount to anything. I was involved in a couple hard tackles. I got levelled once leaving my defensive partner asking me (with hand signals) if I wanted a sub to which I declined. However, after I came shockingly close to being sick on the field a number of times I rethought his offer. This was about 25-30 minutes in so I decided enough was enough. I tried to take my partner up on his offer and tell him that I wanted a sub. He waved his hand at me as if to say no. So, apparently, I wasn’t allowed to leave. I was stuck to finish the game. This was not a good predicament. My stomach was barely holding on.

Well, to make a long story short, I am happy to report I made it to the end of the game without any embarrassing on field bodily functions. However, after the game I spent the rest of the day once again between the bedroom and bathroom. But I earned my invite back! Turns out, my neighbour is the coach. They asked me to come back today to play, but I had to work, which was a good excuse to also recover. So I’m sure I’ll have some more soccer tales for you in the future. Until next time….