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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.

#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.

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!

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

Part 2 – Malaysia

After my unsuccessful quest to watch a Premier League match in my one night stay in Hong Kong, I wanted to see what the world of football had to offer in Malaysia. In terms of trying to find football and pretty much everything else, Malaysia was a game of two halves; the hustle and bustle of the city and the peaceful tranquillity of the islands.

After three planes in 24 hours and a surprisingly accommodating night in an airport, I headed to the Kuala Besut jetty to board the first boat to the Perhentian Islands.

From my research before arriving at the islands I knew it would was very remote, but didn’t imagine anything compared to the reality. Electricity was turned off after 7pm, there were only three boats to mainland per day and you couldn’t book accommodation- the only way to guarantee a bed for the night was to get the 830am boat to the beach, then it was a free-for-all with about 20 others to try and find a room.

I sensed that I wouldn’t be getting my usual daily fix of football whilst on this tiny stretch of beach.

After two days of waiting, Saturday finally came around. As the island was so small & everyone either didn’t speak English or wished me ‘good luck’ when I asked where I could find WiFi, I challenged myself to simply find out the day’s results; something that I could usually muster up in a matter of seconds back home. Even a task that seemed so simple took hours of searching.

I stayed on the smaller of the two islands, Perhentian Kecil, where there were only two beaches with places to stay or eat. The only TV screen I managed to find was used to show a safety video for scuba divers going down to the reef and had no channels.

There’s a routine that pretty much everyone sticks to on Perhentian Kecil; wake up, swim, snorkel, trek through the jungle and party on the beach at night. Unlike most other beaches where you spot a volleyball game or people playing catch, there were no signs of any ball games anywhere.

The restaurants claimed to have WiFi, but were pretty hesitant to give out the username or password. It took me until the Tuesday, after trying out Mie Goreng (a traditional Malaysian dish) from four different shacks to finally pick up one bar of WiFi. It was a painful wait trying to load BBC’s football page, but worth it discovering Middlesbrough had ended their Sheffield Wednesday hoodoo with a 3-1 win at Hillsbrough.

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Kuala Lumpur was completely the opposite. The trees were replaced with skyscrapers, clear waters replaced with thousands of people and the dry sun replaced with clouds and humidity.

We made the journey to the city in a taxi and the entertaining taxi driver gave me a tour of his hometown just outside the city.

He was a very proud man and was telling me all about his cars, how many chickens and cows he owned and showed me where he used to play football as a kid. It looked like a very poor farming area, with goats roaming around everywhere but everyone seemed so happy.

The goalposts were home made from bamboo and the patch of grass they played pn was shared with chickens and wild dogs. About 30 children were playing around one goal and it reminded me of the 2006 Carling advert, but they all looked like they were having the time.of their lives.

What their playing surface lacked in quality, it more than made up with enthusiasm for the game.

As we came closer to KL my driver/ tour guide showed me the schools which were ran by the government. The facilities were such a contrast to the farming area, with football pitches in pristine condition and seating for spectators to watch.

Unlike my experience in Hong Kong and the Perhentian Islands, football was everywhere in Malaysia’s capital. As I walked around Bukit Bintang, the sport was shoved in my face in the form of pubs advertising live games and market stalls selling all kinds of jerseys, albeit counterfeit.

Even when I finally got out of site of the pubs and stalls, when I arrived at the hotel and put my backpack down, I was amused to find I had been provided with a Manchester United towel to use during my stay.

I left KL for Indonesia on a Tuesday night when there was a full set of Championship fixtures so I wore my Boro Jersey with pride. Whilst queuing to check in I heard the name ‘Adam Johnson” from behind, in between a number of other words that made no sense to me.

Next in line were about 20 young Malaysian boys, head to toe in tracksuits travelling abroad for a tournament. They played for Felda United FC, a Malaysian club who played Liverpool in a pre-season friendly losing 7-0 with Danny Ings scoring hat-trick.

One of the boys began to talk to talk to me about the transfer window, as deadline day was fast approaching. He spoke very good English and told me how he wanted Manchester City to land Kevin De Bruyne. He believed if they did this they would be too hot for other EPL teams to handle and would have their hands on a third title, come May.

I was impressed with Malaysia, especially getting to see how the game is played and the facilities that were so different from back in England, and more recently Hong Kong.

5 aspects football could take from the NFL…

A sell out Wembley hosted the final match of the International NFL series on Sunday, as the Dallas Cowboys beat the Jacksonville Jaguars. There is no contest which is the most skilful, passionate and overall superior out of the beautiful game versus Americas version of Egg Chasing, however there are certain elements we could incorporate this side of the pond which would make attending football matches more of an experience for fans…

1. Cheerleaders

Here in the Premiership we have have ‘the Crystal’s’ warming up Selhurst Park on Matchdays, but apart from that we have very little female activity. The only eye candy at a football game is the Little-Moe lookalike serving up the Burgers before the game, unless your close enough to see the Wags. We need something to look forward to for all those sleazy old men and a few more cheeleaders would do the trick.

2. Wearing the team colours

Unless your between 8 and 13, if you turned up to a party with a Stoke City top you would be ripped to shreds by the cool kids in their hackett polos and you’d have to turn it around saying ‘Joking… I thought it was fancy dress.’ In America they have snapbacks, beanies, tshirts, tracksuits, actual jerseys, the lot; In fact, if you went to a party you would see at least 5 people in an out of date LeBron James Heat top and 10 in some sort of headwear. You wouldn’t exactly wear a Sunderland cap to your next party over here, would you?

3. Half time entertainment

Yeah, we get the odd ex Pro reading out a raffle ticket or an X factor winner taking a few penalties, but our half time consists of grabbing a beer and a burger in the stands. The likes of Michael Jackson and Beyonce have performed in the half time shows in the NFL. At least if you support Sunderland And your losing 4-0 at half time you have something to look forward to.

4. Things to do around the ground

Americans are over the top in most aspects of life, but they deserve credit when putting on a show. Outside Wembley there was music, dancing, and different types of NFL related games (e.g. Fastest throw) overall creating a more enjoyable and memorable experience for fans.

5. Food

Of course there was a ‘Mac n cheese’ van on Wembley way for the NFL games, only the Americans could have come up with this. It served Mac and cheese burgers, deep fried balls and the usual you would expect. The most extravagant food we get at football games is an undercooked £8 margherita!

All this may not fit in with domestic football in England, but surely would work nicely with the international friendlies and qualifiers. This would help prevent Wembley from being half empty and draw a lot better atmosphere than the usual England games.

Premier League Accumulator Week 1

Admit it, we all thought last Super Sunday would be a bore. No one predicted the Baggies to bag a 4-0 win in a surprisingly entertaining match.

Thankfully, this week you can eliminate any worry of boredom whilst watching the football thanks to Foufourfeed’s handy four-fold accumulator to keep you on your toes whether your watching Jeff and the boys on Gillette Soccer Saturday or the highly anticipated Chelsea vs Arsenal.

Accumulator- 9/1

Arsenal vs Chelsea- Over 2.5 Goals

Fabregas returns to the Club that made him with a real point to prove after snubbing a return to the Emirates and opting for West London.

He already has 6 assists in the League and will want to continue this form in a free scoring Chelsea side. Arsenal haven’t been shy of goals either recently, with Welbeck proving he can be prolific after scoring 4 in 2 games with his Champions League hat trick in midweek.

We’re going for over 2.5 goals in this London Derby at 7/10.

Leicester to win vs Burnley

Leonardo Ulloa has taken the step up from Championship tom Premiership in his stride scoring 5 goals already this season and is 4/1 to get the first goal. We are backing the Foxes at 4/5 against a struggling Burnley side who have only scored once all season, allbeit against Chelsea.

Man Utd vs Everton- Over 2.5 Goals

Both teams have been in 8 goal thrillers- and been on the losing side going down 5-3 to Leicester and Chelsea respectively. With Di Maria showing he can hack it in the Premiership and Utd’s sudden burst of goals we can only see this match ending with at least 3 goals (8/15)

Swansea to win vs Newcastle

The Swans have been a real force this sason, and it seems all the Magpies in Geordie Land are against Pardew.A defeat would surely end his stint as Newcastle manager and we believe the Sans will run out victoriuos at 17/20.

Stick a fiver on this and you’ll return £50, with the odds at 1/9 we reckon it’s worth a punt!