Toe-punts, temples and Tasmanian devils – A footballing travelogue through Asia and Australia

Part 5 – India

After an incredible four months, my traveling adventure was coming to an end, but first I had the small matter of India.

From the moment I had set off back in August, India was the country I was most excited to visit. I had heard lots of stories about people going to India that I didn’t believe could be true until I found myself in that exact situation.

Whether driving a motorbike, shopping in a supermarket or simply walking down the beach, I had the task of dodging sacred cows that roamed wherever and whenever they like.

I stayed in Goa, Delhi and Agra throughout my three weeks there, and in every room I stayed in I was spoiled for choice with sports action on the television. Just about every football match from the Premier League, Serie A and Bundesliga was broadcast live, and I had around 10 channels to chose from, including Star Sports, FOX Sports, TEN Sports and Sony SIX. This was far from what I was used to back in the UK, where multi-million pound TV deals mean that we get to see three out of 10 games on average per match day, providing we pay for Sky Sports or BT Sport in the first place.

If there was no football, I had a variety of NBA games to choose from, and no matter what time of day, cricket (the country’s most popular sport) would always be shown. For me, as a lover of most sports, India had the greatest accessibility of sports from any of the other destinations I had visited.

The moment that cemented my love for the country was during my time in India’s richest state, Goa. As luck would have it, I arrived in Goa just in time for the last regular fixture in the Indian Super League season. FC Goa were managed and captained by two Brazilian legends, Zico and Lucio, and they faced Delhi Dynamos in the last league meeting.

The ISL has a format dissimilar to major European leagues, where the top four go into playoffs with the winner of the final taking the ISL crown.

Delhi Dynamos were managed by another Brazilian great, Roberto Carlos, and boasted names like Florent Malouda and John Arne Riise in their starting XI.

FC Goa ran out 3-2 winners against Carlos’ men to finish top, in what was to be the first out of three meetings in just over a week, with Delhi finishing the regular season in fourth.

The first semi-final was a disappointing match in an almost empty stadium up in Delhi, as the Dynamos beat FC Goa for the first time ever, 1-0. Cricket is the state of Delhi’s official sport, and I couldn’t get over how empty the stadium was. Even the fifth and sixth-tier of English football had a greater following than what I was seeing in Delhi.

Back in Goa for the second leg, the place was buzzing. Unlike the rest of the country, football is the official sport of the state, and since 2014, when the ISL began, the people of Goa have been football mad. I watched the match in a local sports bar and trucks were driving past blaring out music, with men dancing on top with the Gaur (FC Goa’s badge) drawn on their torso. The whole place has orange and blue Gaur flags waving in the wind, and you see them on cars, lampposts, umbrellas, bars, dogs, roundabouts – you name it.

It was a carnival atmosphere like I had never seen before, and the game was yet to kick off. To get in the spirit of things, I decided to adopt FC Goa as my Indian team and bought the jersey to fit in with the hundreds of people that surrounded me.

I was speaking to the owner of the bar, who told me that the IPL has had such an impact for the area. Young children now have stars to look up to in an FC Goa shirt and can dream about playing at the 27,300 capacity Fatorda Stadium, which was full to the brim for most games. I inquired about getting a ticket to see the game, but a friend told me I had no chance.

With their own fans behind them, Zico’s men put in a solid display, playing Delhi Dynamos off the park and easing to a 3-0 victory.

The final between FC Goa and Chennaiyin was held at the Fatorda Stadium, but I had to catch a flight north to Agra, so missed the game. I rang up Air Asia to try and change my flight, as I knew the atmosphere would have been electrifying around the state, but I could not find a way to stay.

Unfortunately FC Goa lost 3-2 to World Cup winner Marco Materazzi’s Chennaiyin FC, in an explosive affair that didn’t see a goal until the 54th minute.

The ISL has been a great success in India and promises to keep getting better and better, whilst attracting some of the big money names in the football world. In fact, it may end up rivaling MLS, with world-class players at the end of their careers opting for India instead of the States.

It is also a chance for young managers to have their first taste at leading a team, such as Carlos and Materazzi. It was widely thought that the Brazilian was using his time in India as a stepping stone to gain experience before landing a coaching role at Real Madrid. That has yet to happen, but with the appointment of Zinedine Zidane, it looks increasingly likely.

In terms of keeping up to date with football, India was by far the best, and I was able to see and learn how the domestic league has an effect on locals. Back to the UK now for me, swapping shorts and sunglasses for coats and umbrellas!

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#RoamingRed part 11 – Goa, India

After four months of spreading the CTFC gospel around the globe it was time for me to head home, but first I had the small matter of India, the last leg of my adventure. 

I spent the majority of my time in the wealthiest state of Goa and little did I know, but the place was football mad. It was reaching the business end of the Indian Super League season, with the top four teams going into a Play-Off style competition. FC Goa had finished top of the table.

I had visited the same beach bar every day on Anjuna beach called Aggies, and like the rest of the Goan bars, restaurants and cafes I went to, Aggies displayed the orange flag of FC Goa blowing in the wind above the sunbeds in front of the hut.

I became friendly with the family who owned the cafe and began speaking to Aggie himself, who told me how the introduction of the ISL had sent the state of Goa into football mania. Unlike the rest of the country where cricket dominates, football is Goa’s official sport and the blue and orange colours of the local team is branded all over the place.

I watched the semis at a local sports bar, where FC Goa overcame a 1-0 away leg deficit to win 3-0 at home to Delhi Dynamos, managed by Roberto Carlos, and book their place in the final. As soon as the whistle went there were street parties and cars driving past blaring out the FC Goa song and tooting the horn.

It was a bit like what I’d imagine England to be like if we ever won the World Cup.

Aggie had been to England before, but the only football he saw was as the home of the Premier League’s two Merseyside clubs, Liverpool and Everton. However his family have another footballing trip to England in their sites, and the plan next is to venture down south to the capital, with a stop at the Checkatrade.com Stadium to see the Reds a priority. 

That’s it for me and Roaming Red, back to rainy England to cheer on the Reds at home to Cambridge United on Saturday, COYR!

Toe-punts, temples and Tasmanian devils – A footballing travelogue through Asia and Australia

Part 4 – Australia

Down under wasn’t at all as I expected, especially in the northern territory of Queensland. Being from London I am used to always being surrounded by people, but as there is so much space and such a small population in Australia the smaller towns aren’t filled to the brim with human activity like Europe.

I expected Great White sharks to be having a beer in the bars I visited and crocodiles to be in the bathtub when I got home. In reality it was the opposite. I only saw two of Australia’s famous human-killing wildlife in my month there – a 2 meter long red-bellied black snake a 15 metre croc in the Darwin river.

I started in Cairns and ended in Sydney, and along the way came across plenty of struggles to keep up with what’s going on in the football world back in the UK. The first obstacle was the time difference. I would be calling back home early in the morning and my family hadn’t even gone to bed because I was ten hours ahead.

This meant it was difficult to replicate my usual Saturday routine of watching the scores come in via Gillette Soccer Saturday, sandwiched between watching both the early afternoon and evening kick offs. The time difference amounted to plenty of early morning alarms, annoyed room mates and mid-afternoon snoozes.

Trips were another factor contributing to missing my usual dose of weekly football action, one because I broke my phone on the trip and the other as we were stranded on a boat for three days.

Fraser Island was going smoothly for the first two hours. We boarded the ferry, drove 4X4’s around the sand island, arrived to our hotel and… my iPhone, the only chance of contact with the outside world I had, was a goner to water damage. Perhaps this was a blessing in disguise (for the three day trip anyway) as I could forget about checking the scores and concentrate on having a kickabout with others on the trips, in front of some of the world’s nicest natural waters such as Whitehaven Beach or Lake McKenzie (pictured).

Sailing around the Whitsunday Islands was an unforgettable experience, and from my ordeal on Fraser Island I knew I could go the weekend without watching football or checking the scores. This time, football was replaced with conversation. I wore my Ghana jersey onto the vessel and within the first hour a Chilean man came up to me and asked “Are you Ghanaian?”

Being fair-skinned and blonde I laughed and explained that I’m English but I have an obsession with collecting football tops, with obscure teams such as Japan, Buriram United and the Vietnamese national team in my collection. As with most places I had visited, football was once again the conversation starter and we were soon onto the success of the Chilean national team, both in the World Cup and Copa America, winning the latter on home soil.

After trying to find out if anywhere showed live coverage of English football or the Champions League on mainland Australia, I succumbed to the fact that the only opportunity to watch live matches would be to stream.

Middlesbrough vs Leeds at the Riverside was the first time I used WiFi to access live coverage in Australia and it was a nightmare. Coming from Asia the weeks before, I was used to super fast internet in every place I stayed, but Australia was not the same. Boro won 3-0, but not until later on the next day when the highlights were released did I get to see the goals. The WiFi lagged at the three most important incidents of the match, but I still went to bed with a smile on my face after beating our Yorkshire rivals.

The confusing part about Australia was that they called near enough everything ‘footie’- Aussie rules, Rugby Union and football itself, which made it difficult to digest what they meant when I saw signs saying ‘live footie’ tonight. Sadly, it was never the real football.

Amid the Aussie rules semis and finals, the Rugby World Cup and rugby league (which I concluded was the East Coast’s preferred sport), the only live game I saw involved Sydney FC and Newcastle Jets of the A-league. The game, although entertaining, was far inferior to European soccer and probably on par with English football’s fourth tier, League Two.

The craziness of the country was topped off by the media being shocked at Massimo Luongo’s ommission from the Ballon d’or final shortlist. Coming up against footballing giants such as Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, the Australian was never in the running for most prestigious individual honour in the modern game. However, that wasn’t the way the Socceroos saw it.

My experience down under was incredible, but the fact I stayed up until 6am on penultimate evining to watch Australia knock England out of their own Rugby World Cup, in Australia, surrounded by Australians made me relieved to be leaving the country.

My hi5 travel video around Southeast Asia and Australia- 4 months squeezed into 8 minutes

After 4 months of befriending wildlife, being followed by the sun, staying in some of the world’s most unbelievable spots and meeting some amazing people, we’re home. Here is my 122 days worth of footage compiled into an eight minute video. The videos and photos were shot using the GoPro Hero 4 silver and edited in iMovie.

#RoamingRed part 10 – Phi Phi, Thailand

Phi Phi is known for its white sand and enclosed bays with a perfect backdrop of limestone cliffs, such as Maya Bay – the beach used in ‘The Beach’, the film starring Leonardo Di Caprio.

In reality, the island is far from its depiction in the Danny Boyle film, with hundreds of boats lining up in the crystal clear water, thousands of tourists and music pumping from sunrise until sunset.

Whilst watching West Ham fall to pieces against Spurs, I met a local Thai man called Mr. Liquor. I’m sure that’s not his real name, but that’s all he gave me! He was shouting and cheering and I asked if he supported Mauricio Pochettino’s men.

“In England, Totttenham and (Cristian) Eriksen is great, but in Thailand, Buriram United is my team” he replied.

My second encounter with Mr Liquor was at his shop by the beach, which sold football shirts, basketball jerseys, jewelry and plenty of souvenir t-shirts with elephants printed on the front.

I wore the Reds’ Puma home shirt and he started showing me each of the Buriram United kits: black, navy, white, and told me I could have one if we swapped.

Of course, I wasn’t going to give away my black and red beauty that has had so many compliments on my travels, so we came to a deal.

I bought presents for my family back home and he gave me the Buriram home shirt for half price, so I walked away with three anklets and another football shirt.

Mr. Liquor said he wanted to sell CTFC home shirt in his shop and when Reds eventually make it to the pinnacle of English football, he would have the full range in stock!

#RoamingRed part 9 – Nha Trang, Vietnam

From Cambodia I took the 15-hour bus journey to Nha Trang, on the coast of Vietnam, via Ho Chi Minh.

Nha Trang is a holiday hotspot for Russians and until my final day I still hadn’t met anyone else from the UK. Which was what made me look twice when I thought I saw a Newport County shirt stuffed in a backpack on the beach.

I waited for the owner to come back and I was right, it was the home shirt of Reds League Two rivals and I had finally met someone who wasn’t Russian.

Michael was a very friendly man who comes from the Welsh valleys, just a bit north of Newport. He came to Vietnam three years ago and has never looked back and you can’t blame him with 300-plus guaranteed days of sunshine each year.

Michael told me how County had gone out to Vietnam to coach football schools for the youngsters, but had to stop as the Vietnamese didn’t want to pay for the quality of coaching.

I managed to catch ten minutes of a local match and from what I saw they could definitely use some coaching. In the blistering heat they ran around like headless chickens, all chasing the ball leaving one solitary defender at the back. It wasn’t a problem though, as the opposition had no how idea to counter-attack and there was a swarm of 17 players around the ball all the time.

Whilst taking the photo I couldn’t help but raise three fingers in respect of Reds’ 3-0 victory earlier in the season, where Gwion Edwards controlled the game with two goals – one a thunderbolt – and provided an assist for Matt Harrold.

Michael hoped Newport County would steer clear of the basement battle with Dagenham & Redbridge, York & Yeovil, but admitted the gruelling festive period could have a bearing on the battles at both ends of the table.

#RoamingRed part 8 – Siem Reap, Cambodia

My first stop back in Asia was Cambodia – The cheapest and hottest place I have ever been. I started in Siem Reap to see what all the fuss was about Angkor Wat, unofficially the eighth wonder of the world and a UNESCO World Heritage site.

To visit the temples I hired a Tuk-Tuk driver (for only $10) for the day to take me from place to place. My driver was called Mr Lam and was a really nice man on just $1 a day wage, which I couldn’t believe.

He hardly spoke a word of English but he was trying his best to explain to me the stories behind the temples so he could earn a good tip. After half a day of nodding and pretending that I had a clue about what he was telling me, I changed the topic to football.

Mr Lam had no TV and no internet, but told me he watches the Saturday fixtures in the lively Pub Street at 10pm local time.

After saying thanks and tipping him I pulled out the Reds shirt and his face lit up; I think he thought I was giving it to him! It’s a good job I wasn’t because, as the picture shows, the size Large would have been more like a dress on him.

“Manchester,” he said. I assumed he thought it was United’s kit, which to be fair to him the colours aren’t that far apart.

He had never heard of CTFC before and took out his pen and paper and jotted down the name and league to look out for in the future. He also asked for our location just south of the capital so he could show his friends on a map.

Another international Red recruited!

Toe-punts, temples and Tasmanian devils – A footballing travelogue through Asia and Australia

Part 3- Indonesia

Bali quickly found its way into my heart as my favorite place in Asia for three main reasons. First, the water. Whether seeing dolphins at Lovina beach in the north, the marine life around the Gili Islands or the waves of Kuta, being in the water was always exhilarating.

Second was the chance to escape real life in the rain forest town of Ubud, where all day long you relax in tranquillity and soak in the jungle wildlife surrounding you.

Last and most important of all was the accessibility to soccer, and all sport for that matter, in the lively areas of Kuta and Seminyak.

Kuta is many people’s worst nightmare but every lad’s dream with cheap booze, music blaring all night long and a long stretch of bars and clubs showing nearly every sporting event imaginable.

It was the last point that impressed me the most. No matter what time the match was on, I was able to find every game I wanted to watch, which mostly involved the big guns.

Contrary to reports I read before coming out, I felt safe thanks to the locals of the area. I had read on TripAdvisor that Bali and Kuta were dangerous, and that western tourists had to be careful. In my experience however, the Balinese were very accommodating, helpful and some of the nicest people I have met.

Kuta was quite strange to me as an English soccer fan because it catered more to Australians. The bars showed Aussie Rules matches. There were many ‘Oz style’ BBQs and shops that sold Australian rugby (both union and league) jerseys.

Throughout the USA, Europe and most of Asia, I was used to sports stores selling Manchester United and Chelsea jerseys or Lakers and Bulls jerseys, so it was strange seeing all these different teams I had never seen before.

However, in the back of the stores were European soccer and NBA jerseys. Not long ago, you would struggle to find a jersey that wasn’t United, Chelsea, Real Madrid, Barcelona or Juventus (at a push).

Alongside these so-called ‘top teams’ were Borussia Dortmund, Southampton, Napoli, Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain. Who would have wanted a Manchester City top five years ago when Thaksin Shinawatra was chairman and they were getting beat 8-1 at Middlesbrough?

The variety of jerseys struck me and made me realize how there’s much more fierce competition in the top leagues thanks to the emergence of clubs such as Atletico Madrid, Manchester City and PSG.

During my Balinese adventure, I took the fast boat to the party island of Gili Trawangan to snorkel, lay on the white beaches and see what all the fuss was about.

Unlike most other beaches, where you spot a volleyball game or people playing frisbee, there were no signs of any ball games as the sand was a thin strip and if you stepped in the sea you’d land on hard, rocky coral.

The one exception was my last night where I joined in with two teenage locals doing keepy-ups on the beach whilst their family set up their beach shacks for the fire show. These were no ordinary keepy-ups, however. They used a small ball made of wood and had an unusual technique to keep the ball in the air, only using the inside of their feet.

One of the first things I was taught in soccer was to pass and control with the inside of the foot. I was never taught to juggle with it.

One thing I can definitely say is that the Balinese love soccer. I even met one guy who supported both Bayern Munich and Arsenal, and another who had a jersey that was half the sky blue of Manchester City and the other half the devil red of United. I couldn’t imagine seeing that in the middle of Manchester.

From what I saw, the locals were enthused by soccer as a whole, not by one particular club. They enjoyed watching and playing the sport, which is dramatically different than the relationship with the game in the UK. The Balinese do not have the same connection with the club than someone supporting their hometown team in England, which means the Balinese can enjoy watching a good goal no matter who scored it.

Bali is memorable for the beaches, rice fields, temples and people. It’s also the locale where I saw Wayne Rooney on TV surpass Sir Bobby Charlton as England’s all-time leading scorer, watched Middlesbrough grasp a 2-1 victory over Nottingham Forest, and where I watched the beginning of the Rugby World Cup.

Next up is Australia!

#RoamingRed part 6 – Fraser Island, Australia

After sailing around the Whitsunday Islands for 3 days, my next stop was Fraser Island. Again, this was a three day, two night experience, but instead of being stranded at sea we visited shipwrecks, champagne pools and drove off-road in 4X4s.

In my 4×4 was Ryan from Leicester, and we began talking after both asking the inevitable question “So who do you support then?”

Ryan (pictured) was a massive Manchester United fan and, as many others have, brought up the 2011 FA Cup fourth round tie between the two sides when Reds were mentioned. It seems we have stuck in a lot of people’s minds since that defeat, with many believing Crawley gave a great account of themselves and were unlucky not to come away with a replay.

Of the eight passengers, five were boys and spoke about football for the majority of the three days, while the three girls were crammed in the back and couldn’t get a word in.

One of the boys on the tour was a Leeds fan and looked distraught when I brought up the appointment of ex-Reds boss Steve Evans. He acknowledged the success he’d had at Crawley and Rotherham United, but described him as a ‘clown’ and crazy to take the job at a club who have had seven managers since June 2014.

With Massimo Cellino vowing to stay away from Elland Road and fans looking to buy a majority stake in the club, maybe Evans can try and emulate the promotions with CTFC, but it definitely won’t be in the foreseeable future.

Let’s hope Reds can prove the magic of the FA Cup is still alive and conjure up a similar cup campaign to 2011, starting with the first round at home to Luton on Saturday.

#RoamingRed part 5 – The Whitsundays, Australia

After snorkelling the Great Barrier Reef I headed south to Airlie beach to sail, swim and … more snorkelling!

I lived on a boat for three days sailing around the Whitsundays and visited Whitehaven beach, commonly in the top three beaches in the world! The boat was largely filled with South Americans all partying and speaking Spanish, but I managed to find the only other English people within two minutes of boarding.

Again, football was the conversation starter and we were immediately on to the subject of the Reds.

Zach (pictured) was 19 from Worcester, and had the closest link to Crawley Town I had come across on my travels so far. He was in the youth team at Cheltenham Town when Mark Yates had his successful five-year spell at the club, leading them to two successive play-offs finishes.

Zach supported Arsenal and after a dismal start to their Champions League campaign he was impressed with the performance against Bayern Munich and most notably the recent form of Mesut Ozil.

An idea for a January transfer swoop maybe, the German star would look good swapping red and white for red and black?

As the hours went by we started chatting to a Chilean and Argentinian who were room mates, studying in Australia. They were taunting each other about Chile’s Copa America success and how Argentina haven’t had enough bottle in the last two major competitions, losing both in the final.

When we started talking about Reds the Argentinian immediately started screaming “Sergio Torres, Sergio Torres!” He knew of the former Reds’ favourite South American from his time in his home town in Argentina.

I asked whether he’d seen much of Torres’ time in England but he’d only seen one clip, albeit probably the most important of them all – the injury time screamer against Derby in the third round of the FA Cup back in 2011.

For a League Two club, Crawley really have caught the eyes of an impressive number of people from all over the world.