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!

#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!

Harrold strike makes it seven home wins out of eight for Reds

There were plenty of promising signs for Mark Yates as Crawley overcame Cambridge United 1-0 on a wet afternoon at the Checkatrade.com Stadium to make it seven home wins out of eight and, considering the circumstances, claim one of their best wins of the campaign.

A dominant home display was sealed when Matt Harrold’s strike separated the two sides, completing a double over their opponents for the Reds.

The boss named five changes to the defeat at Portsmouth with Jimmy Smith injured and Luke Rooney and Roarie Deacon dropping to the bench. Mitch Hancox and Josh Emmaunel returned to their parent clubs, whilst Lee Barnard, Gavin Tomlin, Ross Jenkins and Jon Ashton made starts.

There was also a place in the starting XI for Reds latest addition, George Smith, at left-back. The 19-year-old loanee has played 17 times for Barnsley in League One this season and was up against his former Tykes team-mate, Luke Berry, who returned to the U’s in the summer.

Crawley were looking to get the first three points of 2016 against the team they gathered their first win of the season against back in August.

In the opening 25 minutes the home side’s best chance of finding the net came from direct balls into the box. Deliveries from Simon Walton and the sweet left foot of Smith reached Matt Harrold on numerous occasions and the target man did well to hold up the ball. On 15 minutes he shielded the ball from the U’s defence for the oncoming Tomlin, who shot through a crowded box only to be parried by Will Norris.

Reds’ dominance paid off on 35 minutes when Lee Barnard’s low driven cross from the right met the boot of HARROLD, who slotted home passed a helpless Norris from six yards for his fifth goal of the season.

As the rain began to pour down the slippery surface made it tricky for both sets of players to judge the bounce.  The quality of football, however, showed no sign of fading, especially from the Reds. Both full-backs combined with Gavin Tomin and Gwion Edwards, but the inch-perfect final ball was proving the obstacle preventing Crawley from grabbing a second.

Reds were in trouble in the early stages of the restart as Conor Newton’s knock down was met by Berry, whose 30-yard effort swerved away from the goal, clipping Darryl Flahavan’s left-hand post.

Midway into the second half the U’s had a ten-minute spell where they were putting Reds under pressure, but the towering home defence were first to every ball and prevented Flahavan from having to produce a save.

Harrold and Barnard looked like a proven strike partnership and both put in solid performances. Harrold could have opened the scoring even earlier when he found himself in on goal with a few yards on the chasing Darnel Furlong, but the right-back recovered, sticking a toe out to deny the striker.

The addition of Smith at left-back looks to be a smart bit of business by Reds and he certainly won the battle against Berry. The newcomer didn’t put a foot wrong all game and was a threat going forward, and impressive defensively chasing back and helping the back four clear their line.

Reds looked comfortable towards the latter stages of the game and cruised through four minutes of injury time to claim a well-deserved three points which lifted them to 13th in the League Two table.