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 Liverpool?, I asked many times and got always the same answer in a language I don’t speak with the attitude I understand perfectly. There is no need for translation – a raised eyebrow and a pose of someone who will never give up speak volumes.
I know Khun Suarez for many years. He is one of tough motorcycle taxi drivers working in my street and he wears his football shirts to work. Most of the time it is one from his vast Liverpool collection although recently I’ve seen an Atletico Madrid emblem under his taxi vest. He takes me through the madness of Bangkok traffic almost every day – without people like Suarez (not his real name but we both like it) I would be just another miserable passenger stranded in what often looks like one huge parking lot in the streets of a monster city.
Our conversation, always short but pleasant is a combination of gabbling in my non-existing Thai and his equally understandable English, with important elements of pantomime. The words we understand are always the same: Liverpool (followed by his smile, a rare moment in the world of Bangkok’s taxi drivers), Manchester and Chelsea (with a face expression of someone who is about to vomit) and number of goals from last night’s matches. At the end of the day when I come back home and when he had already taken off his taxi jacket, we share a few glasses of poisonous Thai whiskey, rarely a beer. The conversation however remains the same, about football. It’s been like this for years and I don’t want it to change. He is one of very few things that can make me feel Bangkok home.
Tomorrow morning I will be again on the back of his decomposing 125cc Yamaha and he will wear a Liverpool shirt. There is a slim chance Liverpool is snatching that trophy tonight but that will change nothing. Some things are just bigger than anything money can buy, including the title.
Why Chelsea? I asked.
“It’s my team ever since I was a kid.”
For a few blocks we were overtaking each other at intersections, Nick on his skateboard and I on my bicycle. Finally, we were stopped by a red light and I asked him about his jersey. Nick was just visiting, for a weekend, from Toronto, and doesn’t have much time for soccer. Then the lights turned green.
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 Chelsea? I asked.
“My uncle lived in England in the 80’s and became a fan. So it’s in the family now.”
Agonizingly long winter is finally over and the time has come for football/soccer fans to come out in their jerseys. So today I walked my dog, the camera in my bag, wearing my LFC shirt only. I was walking by a group of young man when one of them, wearing Impact shirt, gestured ‘thumbs down’ towards me. He was obviously commenting on my jersey so I approached him to see how could I help the poor soul. Only when I came closer I noticed he is also wearing Chelsea shorts. That explains it, I though, no help.
Born in Montreal, Nick is Chelsea fan by chance (his uncle could have fallen in love with any other club while in England) but he likes Montreal Impact too. Football identities on this continent are complicated. He went to watch Impact game, live, only once, but ‘now that they are in MLS’ he plans to go more often.
Why Chelsea? I asked.
“I like Chelsea and Michael Essien.”
Ebenezer Adu Twum, or Ebby, is everything this blog is about. He was born in Ghana, lives in Italy, supports an English club and is currently on a few weeks student exchange in Montreal (so we could meet). I suspect he supports Chelsea primarily because Michael Essien plays there. He is not alone in following a team because a certain player plays for it. It used to be the other way around, one supports a team and, consequently, likes the players wearing the team colours. But footballers became celebrities, and fandom has changed.
This wonderful young man, Ebby, lives in a small town Malnate, in the province of Varese, and plays football for the local FC Aurora Induno juniors team. I had to look it up but Google performed poorly. However, as soon as Ebby mentioned FC Aurora Induno I remembered reading a wonderful book The Miracle of Castel di Sangro by Joe McGinniss. You should read it too.
Why Chelsea? I asked.
“I was 11. Man United won a title and the day after all my friends in school were Man United fans. I went home that day and told my father ‘I like Manchester United.’ My father looked at me and said ‘No, you like Chelsea!'”
And Daniel does like Chelsea to this day. I would like to meet his father; Daniels’ reply to my question is of the kind I am after. He comes to Montreal from Sweden, to study. He quickly found other Chelsea fans (see Jason) and watches the games with them. Daniel calls Montreal his temporary home but you never know with this city. He might just stay here. Regardless, welcome to Montreal Daniel Isaksson.