WTF?, I asked.
“You know, Bird loves Liverpool”, said one of his friends.
The idea and and rule of Footballists, simple and never-changing, is to talk and take pictures of people wearing shirts of their favourite football teams. This is, obviously, a special edition on our blog so let’s make an exception. If Khun Bird would be wearing his favourite shirt today the gods would be angry, that’s what his rule says. Actually, Khun Bird is a god today. More precisely, a god possess his body. It’s complicated.
The bizarre vegetarian festival on Phuket, the island known to be a tourist heaven in southern Thailand, easily tops otherwise very bizarre list of events I normally attend in my wanderings through Southeast Asia. In short, the festival, featuring face and every other piercing, spirit mediums and strict vegetarianism is a part of the local Chinese community’s belief that will help them obtain good health, and the rest that comes with pleading with Nine Emperor Gods. However, the original idea somehow developed into a spectacular festival of mind blowing rituals. Besides usual self-mutilation that is known to other religions in other parts of the world, what makes veggie fest in Phuket very special is variety of objects that are used to piece bodies. Car exhaust pipes and alloy wheels, chandeliers, nunchakus, models of racing cars and sailing ships, umbrellas, barbed wire and every possible kind of spikes, knifes and screwers plus M16s and other weapons – it is all pierced through cheeks and mouths of devotees of different Chinese temples as they parade through Phuket. That and many other unimaginable objects sharpened to cut through flesh. If you are in the mood, probably not, for some more pictures and attempts to explain the unexplainable, please look here and here.
Khun Bird, god for a day, loves Liverpool. I had no chance to talk to him directly as he was in trance with two metal rods carrying LFC flags, oranges stuck at their sharp ends, pierced through his mouth but members of his entourage, all wearing original Liverpool shirts, briefly explained his passion to me. So I took some pictures and then followed another god, fishing net coming from his mouth, into the crowd. For true believers this would be another strong proof that if you choose the right team, here and elsewhere, You’ll Never Walk Alone.
Why Barca? I asked.
“I hate Barcelona. My club is Chelsea.”
In front of a local carwash, this Labour day early morning, John and his two colleagues were waiting for the first customers to arrive. As I passed by I just said “Nice shirt” with my thumbs up. “No, not really.” he replied to my surprise. After he told me that Chelsea is his team I asked, obviously, why Chelsea. “Anybody can play in Chelsea… black, white, you can be green, anybody. Not in Barcelona.” He got this jersey from someone as a gift.
John’s been living in Montreal for a few years now. He comes from South Africa.
Why Ecuador? I asked.
“And I’m not even from Ecuador… I got it as a gift a few years ago.”
The rain had just started and I only had my phone on me (‘the best camera is the one you have with you’ as someone famously said) but I decided to stop Camil anyway. He grew up in Montreal but his parents come from France and Morocco. He supported France in the World Cup. I sensed his sympathy for Spain as well as he claimed that ‘Spain will bounce back’.
Camil then asked me how did Liverpool play earlier in the day since we met a couple of hours after LFC match with Tottenham. It gave me much pleasure to report the score and a nice Balotelli debut. As we parted, just a block further into my walk, I ran into an advertising display at the local bus station. There was Mario Balotelli, larger then life, unreal, in this hockey city. This unexpected encounter must be a good omen for the season to come.
Why Argentina? I asked.
“I have many friends that are from Argentina.”
I walked into a store and there was Yanick, working. He was kind enough to step outside so I can photograph him. Yanick is from Montreal but has a strong connection with South America, his girlfriend is from Peru. Along the way he befriended a few Argentinians and started following their national team. Our chat was brief since he had to go back to work and I needed to go and get some flowers.
Why Venezuela? I asked.
“A friend from the States sent it to me as a gift. He liked Chavez and sympathized with Venezuela while Chavez was still alive.”
Venezuela’s national team, nicknamed La Vinotinto, has never qualified for the World Cup. I imagine, there is not much space for football in the nation crazy about baseball. But La Vinotinto jersey made it all the way to Sarajevo. Boris is my brother and these days our Bosnia and Herzegovina team plays in its first World Cup tournament in Brazil. So will Venezuela one day, I hope.
Why Italy? I asked.
“I’m from Italy. Actually not from Italy, I’m from Brazil. But my ancestors are from Italy”
At Tutty’s, sovereign behind a cashier he operates, Luciano smiles. Italy just won against England in an unexpectedly entertaining match and Andrea Pirlo, a football genius in the body of priest, or vice versa, is on TV. The largely empty restaurant in a small street behind the church in Porto Alegre is, apart from a dodgy night club offering pleasures of unknown sex, the only facility opened at this time of night. Two fat waiters with enormous quantity of gel in hair dance between empty tables serving unhealthy food to few customers. Naturally, football is on all of many screens mounted on Tutty’s walls.
To make almost poetic picture perfect, Luciano wears a Pirlo shirt. I immediately walk to him and, in a short conversation full of understanding using a meta-Latin language, we agree on number of things. Above all is our love for football with less running and more improvisation. And sometimes painful love for countries of our forefathers (my Bosnia played day after in its virgin World Cup match and I was already very nervous). Luciano’s, just like of many great Brazilians (Luis Felipe Scolari, Felipe Massa, Falcao…) came from Italy. Centuries later, that duality proved to be a win-win situation – no other combination in football offers more pleasure and trophies.
Andrea Pirlo fits perfectly in that picture. To re-phrase a friend – if the God played football he would be just like him. He doesn’t run, he sees it all and he can alone win a big match without even touching the ball, as he did against England. I’m not religious and nothing can be done about that but if Pirlo brings Italy to the throne this time I may consider starting at least a sect. I’m sure it would not be hard to find followers.
Why Man united? I asked.
“I’ve been watching football from when I was very young. This is when Cantona played, and I fell in love.”
Okay, that is possibly the most normal of all the answers to a question asked but, honestly, I didn’t expect to hear it. If not made clear, Ling’s bright red shirt, one of about a thousand at Aqsa road just outside Bangkok that morning could have suggested something else – perhaps affiliation to “red shirt” movement that, in Thailand’s color coded politics, fights for what they believe is right wearing all sorts of red clothes. Football jerseys included.
But, no. Ling said his Man United shirt has nothing to do with protests and that he is visiting a friend near the area where red shirts have been gathering for weeks. He just likes Cantona and his moves with the ball a lot, that’s all. Fair enough. Football uber alles.
A day after, Thailand’s mighty military staged another coup d’etat and immediately desaturated the streets of its protesting colors. Reds and others were sent home. Military fatigues are dominating again in a country in whose turbulent times you better be careful what color of shirt you wear.