It could have been any other of over twenty original shirts from different countries he owns, but gods of coincidence decided it’s going to be a Buriram United’s dark blue Tao will wear that day, almost a year ago between protesters in Hong Kong’s Admiralty. The protest colours, yellow was the most dominant, exploded over central Hong Kong in October 2014 and I was practically colour blind after shooting millions of pictures every day. But two Chang elephants and that beautiful blue, my favourite of all Asian football colours I could not possibly miss.
Besides sporting such a beautiful shirt and being Thailand’s champions several times, Buriram United F.C. is not the most loving sports club in the Land of Smiles. It’s one of those money-can-buy-you-all-but-not-really clubs that many people love to hate. Since it was bought by a local politician in 2009 who renamed it and moved to his hometown (original name PEA, colours purple/white), Buriram United is a powerhouse of Thai football. They have amazing new stadium, one of wonders of Buriram, a strong team and even stronger rivalry with Bangkok’s Muangthong United for which Robbie the God Fowler, pushing his wasted body to the limits, use to play.
The day I met Tao and his beautiful family, Buriram United beat Police United 2-1 to secure another league title. A year after they remain atop the Thai Premier league together with Muangthong United, 56 points each. At the same time in Hong Kong, few hundreds pro-democracy protesters with yellow umbrellas are taking streets of Admiralty again to mark the anniversary of protest – is Tao there and what shirt he wears?
Why City? I asked.
“I was visiting England in 2005. I liked Rooney a lot and liked United. But, while I was in Manchester, it was City that played the season home opener (vs. West Bromwich) and I went to see the game. It was a terrible one, scoreless. But, I came back home Manchester City fan.”
I don’t go to Starbucks often but I spotted the shirt inside and decided to walk in. Born in Canada, in Ottawa, to English parents, Rob is a life-long soccer fan. He lived in Montreal for a number of years but not anymore. Currently he lives and works as transport engineer in Abu Dhabi. After I got back home I looked up the City team (finished the season at 15th place) that played in that game vs. West Bromwich (relegated): Vassell, Sinclair, Bradley Wright-Phillips, Barton, Claudio Reyna, Danny Mills, Sibierski, Musampa, Andrew Cole, David Sommeil, Ben Thatcher, etc… Well, it must have been a great atmosphere at the stadium to win Rob’s heart because I doubt this City team could do it.
Why Colombia? I asked.
Tom was born in Canada after his parents came from Hungary. He speaks fluent Hungarian and we had a nice chat (not in Hungarian) about second generation immigrants and languages here in Montreal. But, it was his girlfriend who turned him into a soccer fan. We agreed that Colombia has a very good team and had a nice showing at the last year’s World Cup. Tom is an artist doing illustrations, paintings and drawings.
As I write this it’s halftime at the Women’s World Cup game between France and Colombia. Colombia is leading 1:0 and I imagine Tom and his girlfriend having a good time watching the game.
Why Liverpool? I asked.
“You know why. Just write it down.”
I do know why: for the same reasons as this guy. Sasha and I have been best friends for thirty years and we discussed football related matters about million times, so I know. He writes for living; about his literary genius you can read all over the internet. Better yet, just pick up one of his books. The latest one, The Making of Zombie Wars, is coming out in May this year and it truly is a roller-coaster ride of sex and violence. He can’t help himself so Sasha often writes about soccer/football too. He’s been quoted at the top of this page, a fine achievement I think.
We both love to play the game, not just talk about it, and were involved in many matches together, be it in Sarajevo, in Montreal or in Chicago, sometimes as teammates and sometimes on the opposite sides. The only argument we ever had was during one of those matches (we were teammates in that one). But then I tore both of my ACLs and retired from the game. Sasha still plays every week year-round, regardless of the weather, in a Chicago park.
Why Raja Casablanca? I asked.
“Best, best, best”
The initial enthusiasm of someone who thinks he is a pinball wizard quickly deflated after a machine, accustomed to someone’s else hands, hungry swallowed my coins. With great regret I made conclusion that my magic somehow vanished (I blame digital world) so I moved to the next room where local boys were attending what looked like a serious tournament in table football. To avoid further embarrassments, I choose a little boy age seven or something to play with. I use to own one of these tables and I think I’m good in it. However, it turns that the boy is not from this planet and he puts all the balls behind my wooden goalie before I even managed my tactics. I admit, in my career of promising table football player I lived though a number of humiliating defeats. The one in a dungeon just off Rue el Fassi in Morocco’s capital Rabat is probably the worst one.
So I walked away, down the street and then left to a small alley following the irresistible smell of freshly baked bread. Like a black hole, a small bakery sucks me in. One of boys inside, Hassan is his name if I remember correctly, was wearing AC Milan shirt but as soon as he saw my camera he jumped and proudly put a green-and-white Raja Club Athletic jersey over it. Naturally, I took pictures of smiling Hassan and then followed him and one Ronaldo pushing carts with bread through the labyrinth of Rabat’s old town.
Raja Club Athletic from Casablanca, eleven times champion of Morocco, had reputation of being a people’s club for which was often more important to hide the ball and humiliate the opponent than to score goals. Many of my friends will now, with a loud sigh, think of FK Velež from Mostar in Bosnia and its legendary generation of artist players. It’s not a surprise that one of these geniuses, Vahid Halilhodžić, led Raja Club Athletic to the Moroccan title as its manager in late nineties.
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.