With the World Cup in Brazil upon us, it seems a good plan to tell you guys how it goes down in China… Cue a blog.
With no Chinese participation and a country no particularly known for footballing might, it may be safe to assume that the World Cup is passing by without much notice. Wrong! In fact, there seems to be two distinct groups of people, the completely apathetic and the fanatics. As the games are on at midnight and three and six in the morning, those who were watching the previous day’s games drag themselves around like zombies drinking Horlicks. It’s no help that as usual the kids like to run around like Tigger on Red Bull just to grind in the pain.
England have done me no favours, either- their early exit has allowed for ridicule from the American contingent (who at the time of writing were very much still in the competition), as well as local restaurant owners heckling me down the street and laughing at me when I told them where I am from…. Brutal. Nevertheless, after drawing Honduras in the office sweep stake, this seemed only appropriate, topped off with my Chinese name on the back!! Xi Men sounds like Simon a bit (I suppose) and can translate as West Gate, but is a common Chinese surname and not a forename.
The Chinese have got it sorted in terms of watching the games, though. They enjoy street BBQ and beer in copious amounts with big groups of friends crowded around TV screens, every bit what we imagine everyone to be doing at World Cup time.
School have got on board and organised a match between a staff XI and what they called a ‘professional team’- which turned out to be a local club side. After a couple of training sessions with a bit of a thrown-together side, we strolled out into the ground (which even had a stand!!) to face the well-drilled opposition. The standard of the game wasn’t the best and our side lacked real quality in several areas. To put this into context for those who know me- I was given the number 7 shirt and asked to play the Pirlo role- the playmaker of the side. For those who don’t know me, I have never play a full 90 minutes on pitch as I’m usually a goalkeeper and being asked to anchor the side is about as sensible as giving a 4-year-old the responsibility of cooking for 500 distinguished guests at a dinner party. Nevertheless, we took to our task manfully.
After being bombarded with shots and besieged around on our own 18-yard line for the first twenty minutes, the foreigners took a wholeheartedly undeserved lead through a piece of uncharted magic and brilliance. One of the central midfielders, who cleared the ball with a delightfully weighted through-ball down the line with an elegance and balance rarely seen on a football pitch. He then proceeded to head in the resulting corner to the delight of the assembled masses in the crowd. For those of you who haven’t clicked, yes it was me, and yes I am utterly ashamed of this entire paragraph. There is a video, which will almost certainly follow in due course. Until then, here’s a picture of me waving.
Half time arrived with the foreigners trailling 2-1, due in part to a comedy own-goal by one the Americans, who I can only assume was attempting some sort of American football style safety. At half time, we were treated to a some excellent backroom staff treatment, with close friend Shina deciding that I needed a cold bottle of water in the back of my leg to help with….. well I don’t know really.
The rest of the game- fair to say- played out according to how it should, with the Chinese hosts controlling large parts and making us run ragged. Several bouts of cramp towards the end didn’t really help our cause, but all in all it was an excellent days football with some good links forged for the future, with even talks of a rematch. For those interested in the boring details, it ended up 7-4 in the end. Massacre.
I hope you have enjoyed a little look into the World Cup here in China. I’m off to go and find some sleep from somewhere, as I had to get up to watch England’s thriller against Costa Rica last night and thus I’m tired and fairly depressed!
Have a great week everyone!