Thursday, 8 August 2013

Streakers, stretchers and documentaries: a brief look at football inBhutan

According to current FIFA world-rankings, Bhutan currentlyrates 207th in the world amongst footballing nations – tied lastwith countries such as the 61km2  independent Republic of San Marino and the tiny BritishOverseas Territories of Turks and Caicos Islands in the Carribean. Djibouti,Somalia, Anguilla and the Cook Islands all rank ahead of Bhutan in terms ofFIFA world-rankings. But despite its low official ranking, Bhutan must rank pretty highly on a global scale in terms of fervent passion for the game and willingness to tramp through inches of man-eating sludge in the hope thumping a flat ball into the back of hole-ridden net. 

The standing Buddha gets to watch all matches for free
Our introduction to Bhuanese soccer came when we first met Pema, a likeable, down to earth character who also happens to be captain of the national football team. Turns Pema is a bit of national stalwart having first begun playing for the national team in 2002. He's invited us to many matches at Thimphu's Changlimithang Stadium which also happens to built on the site of a famous 19th century Bhutanese routing of the Tibetans in which many a leather-booted horseman ran many a rusty sword through his whiskered Buddhist neighbour. victory of the in.

Monks waiting for the game to start

Changlimithang Stadium

 At the first match we attended, a visiting opposition player from Sikkim was injured badly enough to require a stretcher. None being available, players broke the frame off an advertising sideboard and used the sideboard instead. Genius! Such resourcefulness and wonderful disregard for the advertising industry! In another recent game, the match had to be interrupted three separate times while a streaker was escorted from the pitch. But instead of a fat, balding man, smothered in canola oil flashing his jangly bits around the pitch for a bit of media attention and drinking money from his mates (as would be the case back home), the streaker on the Bhutanese football field looked like this: 

A Thimphu stray just heading out for a stroll.

Pema's also told us some great stories about what it was like to play in The Other Final - an international friendly match organised by FIFA and played on June 30 2002, at the same time as the FIFA World Cupgrand final between Germany and Brazil was being played in Japan.

I've been a bit obsessed with this match because it was played between the two lowest ranked teams in the world, Bhutan and the tiny Caribbean island of Montserrat and being a sucker for an underdog, I love the idea of a match between the two biggest 'losers' in world football at the time

The match was actually the focus of a doco made by a Dutch film director who follows the journeys of the players in the lead up to the game and actually creates a fascinating insight into how two such small and underdeveloped countries (in terms of sheer footballing muscle) could have the creativity, good humour and chutzpah to pull together such a unique social and sporting occasion.

1 comment:

  1. this is good post, i like this....


    tanks very much.... :)