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 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.