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4 of the Best - Arsenal in Asia

by Soppy

1999 Thailand v Arsenal

Recent years had seen a host of European big names heading to Bangkok seeking to cash in on the growing interest in football. Especially English football. Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea, Newcastle. Even Middlesboro and Newcastle had come over along with Bayern Munchen, AC Milan and others so it was only right the biggest should come over.

The Arse had previously been in Asia. Back in the wonderfully dull as dishwater days of Terry Neill, bubble perms and short shorts, the Arse went to play in Indonesia a couple of meaninigless friendlies which had seen Neill fall out with all n sundry. But there had been little or no publicity. Now, especially since USA '94, Cantona and Beckham, English football was riding along at the crest of the wave and Arsenal wanted a piece of the action so a couple of friendlies were lined up, the other being in Kuala Lumpar.

But working in Bangkok at the time, this was obviously the biggie. Bergkamp had checked his Thomas Cook and found that he could get from London to Bangkok nearly by train viaMoscow, Beijing, Kunming, Hanoi and Phnom Penh with a couple of bus journeys thrown in but he decided to stay at home and water the garden. Mind you, if he'd had www.pissedupasia.com to guide him...

The stadium had been years in construction and had finally been made ready for the '98 Asian Games but I have little recollection of the venue. A bowl shaped 80,000 seater was nearly full for the visit of Anelka, Adams et all but yours truly was blissfully ignorant of all around him as lunch time in Bobby's Arms kicked in. 1 - 0 down after 5 minutes, I was convinced we had scraped an honourable 2 - 2 draw till I saw the paper the next day. Kanu scored twice in a 4 - 3 reverse but who cares...I nicked a poster, chatted up miserably a bar maid, saw my mates edge away from me and my anti Tottenham songs and suffered the ignomy of a phone call a few days later from a Thai friend who told me she had been sitting a few rows down from me but was scared to talk to me.


2001 Man Utd v Arsenal

How well I remember our first 6 - 1 reverse in my time as an Arsenal fan. I was living in Belgium, we were the second best team in the country after United. We put out an understrength team and wa got tonked. That was 1973, Leeds were the best. In 1987 I went to Goodison Park, saw us play well enough in the first half to be clapped off the field yet we were 4 - 1 down, soon to lose 6 - 1 to the best team in the land, inspired by Gary Lineker. Fast forward another 14 years to Old Trafford, again against the best team in the land. For reasons that escape me, Grimandi and Stepanovs were our central defensive pairing. But this 6 - 1 was different. Against Leeds I was a 9 year old in love with Joanna Smith, a blonde siren in my class, just coming to terms with the fact that the football hormone can be overpowering. Goodison, well, I was there. I knew how we played and I was there in that ropey tin pot stand behind the goal cheering us daftly to oblivion. But Old Trafford...that was different...

Much older, less wiser, Dhaka Bangladesh was home for this fixture. ESPN had secured the rights for the English Premiership and to be fair the coverage weren't bad. The problem lay in areas. There was Hong Kong, there was India. India is of course obssessed with cricket and we in Dhaka received our ESPN from the Indian satellite. Which meant that we didn't get every game live. Not if there was a cricket match. Somewhere. Anywhere. And this was the case for the Manchester United Arsenal game. ESPN was showing cricket, not the football.

Unable to get to Bangkok, my usual escape clause, I had to make do with watching the game live on soccernet.com and it's tele text print out. You know what I mean

1 min Adams throw in, Giggs clears

Not an enjoyable way of watching a football match if there is such a thing, but it was all I had. Waiting for the next episode is painfully slow. 2 min Corner to Arsenal. You are then waiting on tendeerhooks while the person who does the input reads the programme, finishes his wagon wheel and panda pop before proudly telling the world 4 min Penalty United. Hold on!!! What happened to our bloody corner you bloody numpty...

So there I was, settled down in front of the monitor, connected to the ether and the game starts. The phone rings, I answer it, return to the monitor and we're 1 - 0 down. Eh? Go for a piss. 2 - 0. Download some e mails and what do ya bloody know but we're 3 - 0 down and my dinner has not finished turning in the microwave. And you know the worst thing, sitting there in Darkest Dhaka. The worst thing is I could do squiddly about it. Absolute zip. In the stadium I could scream at Grimandi and Igor along with the other fans who had made the trip. Even in a bar watching it on TV I could throw my empties at the screen. But what can you do in front of the bloody computer? The computer, the internet, for all the benefits it undoubtedly brings to the work place is ultimately a machine. A cold, mechanical, humourless, passionless machine. You are left dribbling at the screen, overcome by this feeling of impotence while thousands of miles away a stand in from a cheap hammer horror movie is wearing your shirt and playing like Andy Pandy in stilettos.

2001 Arsenal v Spurs FA Cup S/F

This was our third semi against that lot from N17 and I still hadn't seen one. I'd done the epic League Semis in 1987 which had been most enjoyable. But '91 I was living in Sydney, on the piss in Woolloomoolloo in the days before live football. In '93 I was living in Germany, had gone to see the girlie in Munchen and returned on the day of the semi to find my mate Keith crying in his beer in the Rose and Crown. So for the 3rd time in 10 years we were to meet and this time i was in Bangladesh. With no live coverage again. But this time I had Sky News with regular updates and action to supplement the soccernet.com text. 1 nil down, two one up is a regular refrain to Arsenal fans against the Totts and so it was on this day but what keeps this in the mind is not the game itself but what happened after.

You know how when you are really buzzing, really up for something. You wanna party all night, have a crack, knock back the beers...Exactly how I felt so I went down the BAGHA expecting the usual crowd, expecting to share my joy with kindred spirits, to share my delight with...3 morbid scousers who seemed to think suicide was preferable to living in Dhaka. So there I was,an excitable Gooner turning cartwheels in the bar and my audience was Tweedledee, Tweedledum and Dylan from the Magic Roundabout.

C'mon lads, have a bevy, I'm buying...

You're allright mate...

C'mon lads, who's died...

The missus has left me...

That's all right, go to Thailand tomorrow, Now get a beer...

You'd think it couldn't get any worse. You'd think anybody coming into the bar would be an improvement. Then in comes some aging Newcastle supporter. There's Gooner all excited...

Mike, what you havin'...

You're allright son...not in the mood...

Jeez you old farts. Four of them looking like death warmed up and me like I wanna party like it's 1999. I went behind the bar and changed the music.

We Gotta Get Outta This Place...

2001 Derby v Arsenal

That's all Every once in a while it becomes necessary for a long stayer in Thailand to cross the border and get a new visa. In Soppy's early days this meant a nightmare train trip down to Penang or Kota Bahru in Malaysia but as neighbouring countries Laos and Cambodia dragged themselves into the modern age then more interesting alternatives became possible. Vientiane being once such place.

Vientiane is a sleepy riverine capital of French influence and where a baguette is as widely available as rice. The nightlife will be unrecognisable to those who were here when the Americans, ahem, shouldn't have been bombing the shit outta the place, but their legacy remains. Not least in the ordanance that still claims the innocent long after the Yanks packed up their P/X and basket ball hoops and returned home.

B 52 Bar refers not to the cocktail, nor the band who sang about a rock lobster but the bloody great symbol of US power and might that is often sent out against such world powers as Iraq, Laos and Cambodia and some shells are displayed here. But this report is about a weekend trip for football and having discovered this bar was showing the game, we settled down with a local bevy.

But the bar owner decided to show Tottenham play Manchester United, probably out of sympathy for the poor totts fan in the corner so instead of watching Henry and co destroy some pissy team from the East Midlands we endured this minor stuff. The Totts were scoring for fun, 1 0, 2 0. Jeez, it was bloody 3 - 0 to 'em at half time and our resident daughter of Hoddle was turning hands stands in her little piece of paradise on the banks of the Mekhong.

But a game lasts for 90 minutes and it never pays to celebrate too early but I guess this is a lesson taught by experience and not a peeved Gooner pining cos he can't seen his own team.

Normally, the ideal result, at least from my point of view, in this game is a dull old nil nil, but such was the joy being displayed by the aforementioned lady that for once an exception could be made and, whisper it, a United 3 points was prayed for. Out of sheer bloody minded spite you understand. Man U get one back but still our Totts fan is cocky enough to beleive the 3 points are hers. A second and she starts to quieten down. Heaven forbid, the buggers equalise. Silence hangs heavy among the swirling cigarette smoke and the radiance beaming from the Arse contigent that becomes a fully fledged aurora borealis as afourth, then a fifth rattle into the back of the old onion bag and our joy is magnified by a factor of a zillion at her face. Oh what children can the football supporter be, misery was etched deep in her face.

But was it truly necessary, as the result had sunk in, confirmed by repeated re runs of United's second half goals, was it really necessary, as poor misty eyes walked out the bar, chin dragging along the floor, was it REALLY necessary to say...

Well, it's only a game...

You Bet!!!

This story was offered by pissedupasia.com, the lifestyle website for the discerning drinker... in other words, your guide to drinking yourself silly across Asia.

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