Why Arsenal? I asked.
“I’ve been an Arsenal fan since just before my 17th birthday. My high school soccer team went to England for a pre-season and our coach got us tickets to a game while we were in London. I don’t know how he chose Arsenal, but I’m pretty sure that it was the opening game of the season at Highbury. This was before the Premier League, but Arsenal were still in the top flight. I don’t recall the game very well, except for being impressed by David Rocastle. Mainly what I remember was standing on the crumbling terraces behind the goal and understanding why there were stadium safety issues. It was terrifying, especially squeezing out of the too-small-for-Americans turnstiles onto a street full of mounted policemen in riot gear, but also exhilarating.
I’m pretty sure that it was the first game of the season, which I think is also mentioned in Fever Pitch, because the next home game that year was a 6-0 and I definitely would have remembered 6 goals. I had to look up this up, as well as Arsenal’s opponent that day; the internet tells me it was Liverpool and that they won 2-1. I guess If I had chosen my team based on performance I would be a Liverpool fan.
Why Milan? I asked.
“Because I’ve got this shirt at the lucky draw organized by our church before we played football.”
At about the same time as Baptist missionaries started harvesting souls in the northern Kachin state, a journalist George Scott introduced the game of football to what was sometimes known as “the Scottish colony”, the great country of Burma. Besides being a reporter for the London Evening Standard and later colonial administrator, Sir Scott of Scotland loved the game – in late XIX century he organized first football matches in the country. Young Burmese men loved football, said Scott, because it was “just like fighting.” Andrew Marshall, another great journalist and my travelling partner these days masterfully writes about Scott’s life and legacy in his book “The Trouser People”.
Fast forward to XXI century, Burma’s Kachin is unfortunately still in state of permanent troubles. Devastated by a long ethnic conflict and widespread heroin use, the land squeezed between India and China and crazy rich in natural resources remains difficult to access patchwork of territories owned by the government forces and different rebel groups.
Today, for a young lad like Brang Sengli there are not many better options than working in rice fields, wearing a football jersey donated by the Church. Smiling him and his best friend Aung Mai who loves Arsenal (like!) because of Robin Van Persie (not like!) happily posed for pictures after working in the field while some farmer girls giggled under straw hats behind their backs.
Why Thai Port? I asked.
“Well, the stadium is only five minutes from where I live. That’s how all started.”
The rest is a long and ongoing story. On her twitter profile (worth following for some thoughtful and funny observation about football and Thai society) otherwise very cool Lillian describes herself as “Artist/Photographer. Dirty Liberal Feminist. Apathetic Gooner. KlongtoeyArmy Conscript”. There @TheLilyfish mentions two football clubs that play a big part in her life – Arsenal and Thai Port (Klong Toey army are their supporters). While following Arsenal is reduced to late night/early morning matches on TV (she use to live in the UK and was regular at stadiums), the passion for Thai Port takes her, together with a weird mix of tough boys from the notorious Klong Toey slum and local expats, on a colorful journey through the amazing Thailand and its even more amazing football league.
Unfortunately, the Port was relegated last year (“it must be some sort of a plot against us”) and they now play in the second division against clubs strong as an ambitious junior German amateur team, but their supporters are united as ever. From their home games in the slum (great stadium, thought) to away games played on rice fields across the country – the Klong Toey army is there. Week in and out Lillian is with them. “It is not like some other club with lots of sponsors but no soul. This is different”.
I photographed Lillian in her studio where she is usually behind the camera taking portraits of people for her fascinating photo project “I’m Bangkok”. She didn’t need to pose much nor I needed to edit my pictures – Lillian wears this jersey so naturally that every shot looked perfect.
This is a fantastic news for all of you Footballists fans:
Damir Šagolj, a friend, and a reporter who works for Reuters news agency and is currently based in Bangkok, Thailand, joins Footballists and will be our regular contributor. Here is his first post. Enjoy!
Why Arsenal? I asked myself.
“Because Samir brought me this shirt.”
Indeed, although it is bit awkward for one displaced Bosnian (Samir, Lodon) visiting another even more displaced (Damir, Bangkok) to have a foreign team’s shirt as the present – this one worked very well and I liked it from the first moment.
Despite supporting a wrong team back home in Sarajevo – almost an inexcusable blunder – Samir is one of my dearest friends and I would be happy if he had brought me any other shirt. Liverpool let’s say or, God forbid, Chelsea. But, he chooses the Arsenal and even had their shop at Emirates made a shirt with my name on it.
For years now, Samir has his seat just above one of the corner flags at Arsenal stadium and I get my face into the screen trying to see him every time camera stops there. I started following and cheering for Arsenal because of Samir and even that little prick RVP didn’t make me change my mind.
However, I know one day Samir and Damir will take these shirts off and put back red and blue of their Sarajevo teams, the only ones that really matter. But, for now let it be Arsenal.
Ps… this is my first post for footballists.com, one of the coolest things that exist on the Internet. I could have put my two sizes too small Zeljo shirt for it, but it should be no surprise really why I choose to have Samir mentioned in my introduction – both him and Veba, the author of this genial blog, are very similar in what they do, and how they do it. Quiet and not-pretentious and good and so smooth that all of the others, me included, should learn a big lesson from these fine gentlemen.
I live and travel mostly in Asia so I hope to bring little bit of oriental spice to the Footballists. It is my honor and commitment to be a part of it.
Why Arsenal? I asked.
“My father is a big Arsenal fan and that’s how it started.”
It was about time to meet my first Arsenal shirt. James was born in the New York City where his father, who is obviously responsible for his support to Arsenal, still lives. James visits NYC often where he hangs out in pubs that have a big Arsenal fan base, to watch games. We met at the lobby at Concordia university where he studies English literature and Film. Our short conversation reveals James as a through, knowledgeable fan. I sensed the respect for Arsène Wenger and his managing philosophy, the respect I share. Being a young man, I thought after, James has been supporting Wenger’s Arsenal whole of his teenage and adult life. How will it feel, for James and his generation of Arsenal fans, when the time comes for The Gunners to change the manager?