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!