Friday, 16 August 2013

Football in Chamgang

After banging on about my impressions of football in Bhutan in general, I wanted to share a few stories and photos from football in Chamgang and the wonderful educational institution that is Yangchen Gatshel Lower Secondary School. 

The new pitch

Chamgang (and YGLSS) has only recently opened its first football field. It is surrounded by beautiful forests and mountains and is (unsurprisingly) carved out of the side of steep hillside. Sadly, there was not enough money in the Dzonghag budget to build a retaining wall below the field so I'm sure most of the field will have washed away in three years time. 

We've already lost a couple of metres of sideline in the last six weeks
But for the time being it is setting football-loving hearts aflame across the village and providing a welcome regular distraction from work for me and the other teachers. I've been enjoying remembering all my Year 5 soccer skills and getting to know the students and other villagers better by chasing a leather ball around a field like a crazy person.

School footballers and our resident ara-brewer/dancing referee

The field at this stage consists mostly of dirt, now turned mostlyinto mud. Lots of mud. But the Bhutanese football mantra of ‘we must play on!’rings out in even the most torrential rainstorms.I've finally learned how to play in the mud - but still find mud in my ears three days after my latest game.

These boots are made for wallowing

The teacher team
Nothing beats finishing a tough game of swamp-soccer like a plate of momos and a cuppa tea. (That's an official Bhutanese football jersey by the way: a good way to set yourself up for failure by looking like a pro but playing like a jackass). 

Official diet of the Bhutanese National Team
 Here's a story of one of my epic failures in the footballing arena, originally posted on stalkbook.

Moment of Village Footballing Glory Number 487

So it's the big football match of the month: teachers and students versus police and villagers and I'm playing on the left wing. I'm wearing my fancy new Bhutanese Football jersey and because I'm playing in a country that is officially ranked last (207th) on the FIFA world rankings, I'm feeling pretty(foolishly) good about the fact that I'm actually able to score a few goals over here.

The game begins and a nice through ball comes from the Dzongkha lopen and suddenly it's just me with 30 metres to go and the keeper to beat. I charge ahead, already picturing the ball sliding into the top corner of the net.

Then, a total foreigners mistake: complete failure to factor in the pond of 30cm deep mud standing somewhere on the edge of the box. The ball stops dead in the muck, I shoot past it, try to recollect it with my left foot,end up collecting mud instead and perform the most spectacular face plant in the short history of Chamgang village football.

 There is an audible hush from the other players as I lie gargling mud and wondering how I ended up in Kokoda. Normally the Bhutanese Ihave met have such a developed sense of slapstick that there would raucous laughter and merciless teasing at such a spectacular stack but being a chilip,people are too respectful to laugh outright at my theatrics.

There is a loud slurping sound as I haul myself out of the mud, a large Matt-shaped imprint slowly filling with water below me. Play resumes and we end up winning by a margin of six goals. Once I reenact the faceplant myself, the teasing becomes open-slather. "Sir has best luck!""Best swimming all game!" "Sir has left a xerox copy in the mud!" are common lines, along with a lot of re-miming of the incident.

Ego in check I do manage to slide at least one past the keeper doubling my goal tally for the last 13 years, but I realize that I do still have a lot to learn about playing football Bhutan styles.

The magical disappearing pitch...
Volleyball: the only substantial rival for the beautiful game

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