This was, without doubt, a Red Lions tour of global proportions. Players flew in from all over the place to gather in Bangkok for this annual pilgrimage to the Footballing Holy Grail. George the Hippy flew in from Santa Monica, taking time out from his dope smoking friends at the wife swapping commune to indulge in a trip down Memory Lane. Jan-Hendrik “Team Player” Meidinger flew in from Guam. Paddy the Monk, back to his glorious former self, ambled in from England, as did Hewitt, with Olaf flying in from Dresden. Olaf’s wife/gf/partenaire de vie took the shortest route over from Cebu Island, with all other Lions assembling at various times and dates flying in from Taiwan. Except Grimaud, of course, who already lives in Bangkok.
The pitches were not quite in the pristine condition that we are usually treated to, but given the state of Bai Ling pitches this last BML season, your humble chronicler is in no position to whinge. As the taxis arrived at the Patana School pitches, the tinge of excitement surged through the Lions collectively, everyone seemingly up and ready for the 2013 tournament.
For the record, the Lions squad consisted of:
Andy the Bear
Paddy the Monk
Jan-Hendrik “Team Player” Meidinger
Mirko the Carp
Tim “Brutus” Brown
George the Hippie
Pablo the Confused
And your Humble Narrator
Traditionally, the Red Lions are slow starters, never scoring more than one goal in the opening match, usually shaking off hangovers and unwanted ladyboys instead of switching focus to the football. But not this time. The Red Lions – up against Schwerzenbach from Switzerland – raced out of the blocks, with French Chris putting the Lions in to a 1-0 lead by the end of the first half.
The second half was more one way traffic as Tim “Brutus” Brown rose like a Gordon Ramsay soufflé and scored with his head, taking out the goalkeeper in the process, and with the final touch of the game, Andy the Bear secured the bonus point. Bonus point? Oh yes, for the first time in Lions history, a bonus point was gained in Bangkok. Get in!
Shortly after came Hanoi Drink Team, and this was most definitely not a one way match. Thankfully though French Chris put the Lions in to the lead, scoring the only goal of the game. Mao in goal was finally brought in to action, making a decent save to his left from a free kick after the ref awarded a nothing free kick – must have been out of sympathy.
The third game of the day was against Wanchai from HK, and it was not the Red Lions finest performance of the day. And that is putting it mildly. The Lions were given no time to settle on the ball, and there was a distinct lack of movement from the players which – given the heat and the collective age of the Lions – was perhaps understandable, but being shut down at every opportunity meant that the ball was simply handed to the opposition and the Lions got stuffed 3-0, despite the best efforts of Mirko the Carp in midfield.
Still, the Lions were not too downhearted, and knew that a point against the Farangutans would secure 2nd place in the group, and a quarter final line up the following day.
Andy the Bear was having issues hydrating himself, despite a steady flow of Gatorade. Jan-Hendrik left his bandana out to dry, claiming it was from the sweat from running around in the Wanchai game, although the empty water bottle he tried to hide was a bit of a giveaway.
Given the amount of Germans in the squad, Paddy the Monk was in his element, regaling tales of Dresden and other such wartime ditties. George the Hippie was just relaxing, closing his eyes and thinking of Santa Monica. Tony Hewitt for once decided not to talk about his dog, but his investments in Cyprus were picked up as the topic for the afternoon.
In fine spirits then, the Lions headed on to the pitch for the final match of the day, with the Carnegies team watching from the sidelines. And within just a couple of minutes French Chris had scored one, and then two to give the Lions a seemingly unassailable lead at half time.
But the second half saw a resurgence from the Farangutans, and perhaps the Lions were tiring but all in all a stirring comeback was experienced, with 2 goals scored in the last 2 minutes. Still the Lions held out for the draw which secured a place in the cup competition on the Sunday.
In the evening, all the Red Lions with one exception (can you guess who it was?) assembled at the fine open air place that has become the tradition for Red Lions Saturday dinners over recent years. Even Mrs Mao and the Noodles joined in the evening feast.
Sunday morning came around, with whispers of interesting night time activities for various Red Lions, which of course will not be repeated here. For achieving 2nd place the Red Lions were rewarded with a 9 AM kick off, which may once more have affected some player’s thinking. TB, Pablo and Mirko the Carp for some reason all took separate taxis, with the drivers all getting lost on the way. This left the remaining squad a tad threadbare for the opener against Beijing Sexy.
But French Chris had had a good night of sleep, and was truly refreshed, ready to pounce. So he did. In the first minute. Scoring his 5th goal of the tournament, Beijing were shellshocked. But they steadily worked their way back in to the game, but found Paddy the Monk, George the Hippie and Tony the Cypriot Banker solid in defence. And on the most rare occasion that they got past this veritable Great Wall, your humble scribe was alert and in no mood to let in any goals. Not just yet anyway. Despite being outplayed, the first minute screamer from French Chris was enough to put the Lions in to the semi finals against FC Farang (not to be confused with the Farangutans).
With the taxis now having arrived, the Lions were up to full strength, and ready for the challenge of the semi final. Alas this did not go according to plan, and a combination of Mao and Volker led to the first goal, Mao also perhaps at fault for the second, although he was whining that he was taken from behind (oo-err missus). And by this time the damage was done. A third was to follow before half time, as the Lions failed to put in a performance that was worthy of a semi final.
The call at half time from Andy the Bear was that a Lions goal could change it around. But if we concede again, “we’re fucked”.
For the first few minutes of the second half it was the Lions who put in more fight, a good combination in the middle of the field looking strong and passing the ball nicely, Chris or TB up front, with the rolling subs, looking to shoot and put the Lions back in with a shout. But despite this pressure, Farang counter attacked and the Lions were fucked. 4-0 then.
Except the Lions had the last laugh – right on the final whistle Chris got his 6th of the tournament, unofficially golden boot winner, to provide some Red Lions pride.
With a wait now of several hours before the 3rd/4th play off, the Lions decided they wanted to drink beer, so offered Vietnam Reunited who similarly got stuffed in their semi final penalty shots to decide the game, thus leaving more drinking time. Mao’s cunning strategy worked as they accepted, and immediately both teams went to the organizers who said no problem, and there was a field free for an immediate penalty shoot out.
The Vietnamese were up first, your humble chronicler facing the first penalty. Mao dived a tad too early and went under the ball, but was actually watching, stuck out his hand and knocked it over the bar.
Tim “Brutus” Brown, the man who has missed more penalties for the Red Lions than the Red Lions have actually had penalties was first up. Trying to make up for his incredible, infamous penalty miss of 2006, he blasted the ball in to the net, 1-0 Lions.
Mao, incredibly, saved the next one too, with a low dive to his left.
Up next was George who scored with a mellow, very calm and collected penalty. 2-0.
The Vietnamese hit the bar with their 3rd, leaving Hewitt under pressure knowing that he could score the winning penalty.
Hewitt then went and missed.
Vietnam responded by scoring their 4th penalty, but had to hope that Mirko the Carp would miss, or that the keeper would be more Mao-esque. He didn’t, and he wasn’t.
Up stepped the Carp, boom shanka – in the back of the net, the Lions won 3-1, and immediately started drinking beers.
Well – what did you expect?
And with that, another fantastic Bangkok Tournament came to an end for most Lions, although some went on to play for Carnegies Ancient Team in the Masters Tournament.
On a personal note, I would like to thank every single player who was in the Lions squad for this epic tournament. I like to think that everyone got enough playing time, and everyone played their heart out. There was a fantastic team spirit all weekend, great weather, great food, great banter!
To those who came from so far away, thanks so much for supporting the Lions at all times. It’s people like that who make the Taipei Red Lions the best team in Taiwan.
And with that, your humble chronicler bows out.