Soccer in the Tropics
by Marty Aspin
It's not all beaches and cocktails working on tropical islands. There is other stuff too. Like playing football for a local team, amongst the weeds, cowpats and occasional coconut seller.
For a few years now I have replaced my regular Saturday afternoon of uniwhite glamour with a more humid and raw form of soccer. Whether it was the bumpy rain soaked Cambodian pitches or currently on the former battlegrounds of Aceh, I have enjoyed running out to play the beloved game.
Currently in Aceh, I have racked up a little over 30 games and shared with team mates some uniwhites philosophy including Bill Hill's 'keep the ball on the ground in the air' AND John Whitehouse's 'get out there and do the business' which may have been lost in translation, but all the same entertaining.
For those of you not familiar with football in the tropics, let me share with you some tactics and pre-game rituals.
Most important is the strip, the jumper and shorts that shows your strength and glamour while allowing you to play comfortably in sweltering conditions. So, in the current context when the team captain shows up with bright red thick nylon strips complete with double thick built in undies there is a problem skipper. Think Warwick capper in a sauna - it's not pretty.
After looking like a div, it is important that the team at least prepares well. It is important that no one stays up all night, passes out on the beach and shows up with 2nd degree burns 10 minutes after the first whistle. This person has now recovered and has full use of his lips.
Warm ups are also a serious part of soccer in the tropics. Showing up at least 10 minutes before the game is mandatory. It is a common site to see 11 players frantically pulling on their socks minutes before the game under a palm tree with a goats attempting to steal essential items from the supply box. The warm up is essentially now over as pulling on your socks has created a pool of sweat and you are in fact warm. This also doubles as ground keeping in the dry season.
Now with your bright nylon kit and body twinging at very muscle you are now prepared to take on the local side - usually consisting of players either just out of school weighing a shade over 50kg or armed forced strong men usually keen to prove themselves as Vinnie Jones wannabes.
With the equatorial sun baring down, you chase the ball madly around a patchy pitch surrounded by a swamp, duck pens and a sewerage channel. Cheered on my local farmers burning waste only 20 meters from the sideline allowing a nice smoke to settle over the 18-yard line, you wave as you score a blinder from 25 yards out. Hooray.
With the full time whistle approaching, you take on your 10th litre of water and pray no extra time is needed. With a much-needed rolling subs policy, you make use of the bench after brushing off some goat poo and take advice from the local farmer on his 4-5-1 formation.
The whistle blows and sporting handshakes complete the game. Socks come off, a beer may be popped and the sun sets on a fun afternoon. Back to the 'clubrooms', which in Aceh means a team mates small coffee shop. Oh Happy days.