Sunday, June 13, 2004

It is now

This has been my daily routine for the last seven days:

Get up at 6.30, having gone to bed at about 11 the night before. Meditate for an hour. Have breakfast. Hang around Bhagsu with some of the friends I've made. Then watch 3 hours of passionate, sometimes comic Tibetan football, played at high pace on a caked-over Sahara of a pitch.

How I've enjoyed this week. Every day seemed to be more eventful, the football more entertaining, the sense of the big occasion that little bit bigger.

In Bir versus Dharamshala we got the crowd trouble Kalsang-la, the Tibetan manager, so feared. A Dharamshala player went to take a throw in by the Bir supporters, all 50 of them. A couple of them launched some empty plastic bottles the player's way. He picked one up and threw it back in the general direction of the stand, at which point one particularly drunk looking Tibetan got down and tried to get to the player and, I assume, attack him. One or two Bir players had to restrain the guy and send him back to the stand. Two lone Indian police men stood on the side of the pitch the whole game and at the final whistle the fan was taken to a room by the official seats, my new perch for the tournament (goodbye gantry). I think he was just given a talking to by the sports association officials. The Tibetans like to keep this sort of thing internal. They don't want their own spending the night in Indian jails.

What else? Oh yes, a real streaker the other day. Half time in the first game of the day and he jumped down and sauntered to precisely the centre circle, where he dropped his pants and mooned all four sides of the ground. The crowd pretty much egged him on. And that includes the Buddhist monks.

By Friday, after the semi-finals, I'd seen enough to choose the new players to add to the existing Tibet squad. I sat down with Kalsang-la and Thupten-la, the first team coach, and we finalised our decision together. The 12 were announced yesterday, immediately after the end of the final and the presentation of the trophy.

3,000 people there yesterday, over double the previous crowds. Kathmandu won on penalties, after a 2-2 draw with the team representing the Tibetan unit of the Indian army. A great game, played in perfect sunshine. The army came in having scored five goals in each of their last three games. They were faster, more powerful and more creative, but Kathmandu played a defensive game and put their captain, a professional in the Nepalese league, up front for counter-attacks. Kathmandu went ahead twice and each time the army found just enough to equalise. The first army goal was the goal of the tournament, a flick up and smashed volley from one of their established national players. But he and two of his team mates went to pieces in the penalty shootout: three penalties, three misses, and Kathmandu put all of theirs away. If this is what they're like under pressure, it doesn't bode well for the Indian army.

The Kathmandu number 5, that 17 year old Rio-like defender I mentioned in my earlier blog entry, had another accomplished, mature game, justifying his place in the new national squad. He's the first player I thought to select and he's probably my favourite of the twelve. I've become pretty attached to them over the course of the tournament. Got to know their different styles and weaknesses and strengths.

It has been such a positive experience to be so involved. Kalsang-la tells me the team will probably go to France next year to play in a tournament of non-FIFA countries. Fancy a trip to Paris, anyone?


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