Why Schalke 04? I asked.
“I don’t know Schalke. This is Adidas.”
It’s five in the morning and I’m having my first coffee at a street café in downtown Phnom Penh. Across the table from me, wearing a blue Schalke 04 shirt sits a man who can easily be an actor or a professional poker player. His face is like a rock, his left eye half closed as I approach with “good morning sir”.
Wong Meng is neither a poker player nor he is an actor. Wong Meng is a cook at the factory in suburbs that makes nice clothes for big brands. That’s where he got his blue Adidas shirt, he said. I thought posing for a picture will be difficult but he just said simple “yes”, got up from his chair and, without changing the face, stood in the middle of the street for me.
Cambodia’s garment industry is huge and getting bigger. More than 300,000 workers produce the clothing, mostly for exports. There is a high chance you have worn clothing from Gap or H&M or Adidas that has been stitched together here.
Why Liverpool? I asked.
“Because I started dating Lev.”
Smadar fell in love with Liverpool through her love for Lev. The amount of love in this post surely beats all the predecessors so I’ll leave it at that.
Why Milan? I asked.
“I like Milan and Barcelona. Because of Ronaldinho.”
Zack was rushing down the street in a company of a young woman when I approached him. Even though in a rush, he was kind to stop for a picture. Ho got his shirt on sale, he said. He is from Montreal and currently studies at the Université de Montréal. And now that the school started he ‘doesn’t have much time to follow soccer.”
Why Saint-Étienne? I asked.
“I’m from there.”
When I was a kid, falling for the irresistible Liverpool team of that time, there was another team that was hard not to like. From a small town in France, with Yugoslav international goalkeeper Ivan Ćurković, winger Dominique Rocheteau and Argentinian fullback Osvaldo Piazza among other great players, Saint-Étienne played some great football and became the most successful club in French football history. They reached the European Cup final in 1976 only to loose to Bayern Munich. They won their last title in 1981, captained by Michel Platini, and then it all fell apart and Saint-Étienne disappeared from the football map.
As I was approaching the entrance of the Vendome metro station, negotiating all the obstacles of a construction site, out of darkness emerged Étienne in his beautiful Saint-Étienne jersey. A quick chat revealed that he came to Montreal 3 years ago to finish his studies but stayed to live and work here afterwards. When I got back home that evening and checked the current French league standings I found there, at the very top, no other club but Saint-Étienne. Leading the league lasted for one day only – before Monaco took over – but it filled me with joy and hope that a small club from central France could successfully compete, again, against the big and rich ones.
Why Liverpool? I asked.
“When I realized that Yossi Benayoun plays for Liverpool I became a fan. You know, I’m Jewish.”
Lev’s answer further complicates what’s already complicated; he provided yet another reason, first of this kind on this site, to fall for a club. We met in a pub one early Sunday morning and shared the experience of watching, on TV, Liverpool beat Man United. Lev is a newcomer, relatively, to football/soccer world. It’s been about 5 years or so since he started following closely. He used to play soccer at a University and then coach.
In the meantime Yossi left the club but Lev stayed.
Why Manchester City? I asked.
“Mancini! Because of him.”
Wait a second! Did he really say Mancini, Roberto Mancini? Will someone, please, stop this ferry – I’m afraid otherwise very smart and beautiful boy is not feeling well and he might need some assistance.
I asked again, he said “because of Mancini” again. I know, Myanmar is just waking up from decades of isolation and can be strange but I really did not expect such an answer, here or elsewhere. I needed to talk to Niang Lin Tun for a little bit longer, to see is there anything that can be done with his taste. It turns out that he also likes Manchester United and Chelsea. The young chap wearing a beautiful fake light blue jersey is obviously confused; you cannot cheer for Man City and Man United at the same time.
Or perhaps you can. If you are sixteen, surviving in today’s Yangon selling cigarettes and chewing gums to passengers on a public ferry, divisions and rules of outside world don’t necessary apply to you. Why not liking it all – the game, its clubs and their shirts?! But, Mancini – that I don’t understand!
Why Liverpool? I asked.
“Born red, always red.”
John was born in Liverpool so I inquired further: Why not Everton, why Liverpool? His father was a Liverpool fan and one of John’s earlier memories is of the 1971 FA Cup final between Liverpool and Arsenal at Wembley which his father attended. Liverpool lost the game but John became a fan. In all of his family only one of his grandfathers was an Everton fan.
We met this morning in a local pub to watch Liverpool beat Man United to maintain the perfect start of the season. Obviously we were very happy but these pictures were taken at halftime while uncertainty was still very well alive. John was in a good company. His son Sacha is a talented player scoring goals all over the island of Montreal. Of course Sacha is, just like his father and his grandfather before him, a devoted Liverpool fan.