Without an island wide football cup for ages, it was only fitting that with Matt leaving the island in just a few weeks, he could get the send off he fully deserves with an excellent 3rd place in Taichung. And had luck been on our side, a final match-up against the Taipei Black Stars could even have seen us walk away with the cup. Instead, the Lions returned to the capital with their heads held high as they put in some fine performances to gain the final podium place.
With the majority of Lions meeting on Saturday morning at Taipei main station for the High Speed Rail down to Taichung, and the others making it down on a Ducati (Alejandro) or the previous day by bus (Matt, Panda, Clovissimo), driving down with the family (Christian) or indeed living there already (Jaime), regular readers of the website will be not at all surprised to learn that the last 2 people to arrive at the meeting point, with seconds to spare before the departure of the train, were Dumb and Dumber. Aka Gayer Rob and Don Dumbassini. Both were duly fined rounds for their tardiness, Gayer Rob being fined an additional round for wearing the most disgusting pair of shorts ever, even out-doing Mao with his perennial Thai-esque shorts.
At Taichung the group met up with Mirko who had been unaware that women were invited along as well, thinking instead that his sojourn at the Howard Prince Hotel would be in the sole companionship of Gayer Rob. Piling in to 3 taxis, we headed over towards the pitches, stopping at the 7-Eleven for water, we managed to make it to the pitch on time for the game.
Judas the Second had brought Ichiban headbands for the whole team, and so a good percentage of Lions tied them round their heads, ready for the fights ahead. Those who did not were fined a round of beers by the ever more officious chairman at the evening ahead.
Despite the success at the end of it all, it all started so wrong for the Lions. Up against Taichung Compass in the first game, this group of death line up was all one-way traffic, with the Lions maintaining possession although not really creating goal scoring chances on the small pitch at Jim Morrison Academy.
And then with the Lions pushing for that elusive opening goal, Compass broke down their left wing, and with the Lions defence struggling to get back in time, the shot came in which was saved by Fowler, diving low to his left, only to palm the ball directly in to the path of the oncoming attacker who had a simple tap in to make it 1-0. Very much against the run of play.
This was the turning point, as the Lions then lost all confidence, and some very strange tactics were employed. Off went Mirko from his defensive central midfield role, to be replaced by Clovis, not known for his abilities as a central midfielder. And so it seemed to be, as he decided to push forward, leaving a gap you could do a 3-point turn with a cruise liner in, for the Compass to take advantage of.
And this was then exploited as a ball was passed in to the penalty area, Rooney tussling for the ball and getting in front of his attacker, only for attacker to fall down. From where the referee was standing, it looked like a penalty, and so it was awarded. From where Rooney was standing, it looked like the ref was having a laugh.
From the resulting penalty, Fowler finally made it the right way, but the ball was just a little too high for him to get any contact with, and so it was 2-0 Compass. And that essentially was how it ended, because the Lions did not make the Compass keeper work, and seemed to have run out of creative ideas.
Judas version 3.0
After the first game, the Lions watched as the Scum (aka Animals) took on JFC and a familiar face was in the squad, playing in Scum colours. None other than Luis “I got hit by a motorcycle so I’m too injured to play” Rocero. Calls of “JUDAS” rang out from the Red Lions, but justice was to be served as JFC beat the Judas-inhibited Scum 1-0. Class. And more was to follow.
Rising from the ashes
A short while later, we were up against Tainan Phoenix, on the big pitch, where good footballing teams get the chance to show their skills and where quality will usually show. Captain Cooke decided on a seriously attacking 3-5-3 formation, until it was noticed that unless the team was going to employ an attacking goalkeeper, this might not be ideal. The Lions started this one slowly, being overrun by the opposition, Tainan Phoenix, before stunning them with a classic comeback.
Looking all out of sorts in the revised 3-5-2 formation, Phoenix found space all over the field as the Lions failed to cope. Within a couple of minutes the Lions were a goal down before a cheeky lob over the keeper who had to commit himself to the challenge, given the lack of defenders, doubled the Phoenix lead.
The Lions were being pummelled at the back, and another Phoenix attack brought Fowler in to action once more, taking the attacker out totally as the ball was slid under the massive bulk of the Lions keeper. Thankfully there was a Red Lion on the line to stop the ball from going over for 3-0, and the Lions cleared upfield. The referee looked at Fowler, said “good save keeper”, bringing the reply “cheers mucker” as Fowler still looked bewildered as to how that had not been a penalty.
But in times of trouble, when that missing element is someone who can just stick the ball in the back of the net, up popped Fred with arguably two of the finest goals you will see at a competition of this sort.
First of all, in a rare attacking opportunity, Panda got the ball in the left corner at the Phoenix end, feigned one way, nutmegged his defender and laid off a delicious cross for Fred to volley home as the ball came across his body. The Lions now had hope, and with 6 minutes to play pushed forward in hope of a not necessarily fully deserved equaliser.
The Phoenix goalkeeper was made to work and made a couple of good saves before Christian got the ball on the right wing and Fred showed that the first goal was no fluke by producing an almost carbon copy of the first goal with just a couple of minutes spare.
Phoenix were now totally rattled and the Lions pushed forwards for that winner, but time ran out without any more noteworthy action, the Lions settling for the draw which put them bottom of the group.
Judas version 4.0
Having not made it on to the pitch for the second game, the transfer of Clovis to the Celts was arranged and so the Panamanian was seen in the green shirt, proving once and for all that Panamanians in general, and Clovis in particular, will open up their canal to anyone who wants to sail up it.
Despite the best efforts of, or perhaps because of the inclusion of the Panamanian who was elated after Panama’s lucky victory over the USA in the Gold Cup, the Celts lost.
Captain Cooke’s Tactical Masterpiece
The cunning tactics from Chancy “Captain my Captain” Cooke of coming bottom of the group meant that the Red Lions got placed against the top team from Group D, for the final qualification places to the Cup or Plate competitions. And wouldn’t you know it – we were up against our good friends JFC.
Mao, in true form, decided to go and pay a visit to the JFC camp before the game to add a little spice to the fray. Finding Emperor Hirohiro, aka Tayu San, Mao asked about the goalkeeper.
“He’s not very good is he?” Mao stated (not really asking) in typically undiplomatic fashion. Minister of Diplomatic Affairs Christian was not invited to this top level discussion, hence the frank talks.
“Is he scared of the ball?” Mao continued.
The fact that aforementioned goalkeeper was indeed sitting next to Hirohito himself brought smiles to all, although perhaps these smiles were merely veiling the real thoughts of “fuck off you cheeky cunt”. But Mao’s tactics were to sow those seeds of doubt, and sometimes such despicable tactics bring instant results.
The sun was making its final descent, the land of the Rising Sun was about to fall, as the Lions reverted to a 2-4-2 formation obviously designed to give the opponents a fighting chance. When reminded that winning this game would get us to the Cup, Captain Cooke decided that he was not feeling so generous after all, and added full backs to the starting line up.
From the off, it was clear that the Lions were ready for the fight, and went straight for the jugular. Within a couple of minutes, Fred had a chance of a shot, but it was very very weak, and aimed straight at the goalkeeper.
But wait a moment! Those seeds, planted just moments before the game had kicked off, had been growing and growing, and despite looking like he had hands and body behind the ball, the keeper inexplicably let the ball trickle through both, and across the line in to the net. A Howler that had all the hallmarks of having been made by the Lions own keeper.
The Lions did not let up, and were pushing forwards all the time, looking for that 2nd goal which would end any hopes that the Japanese may still have harboured (geddit?) of a comeback. Bryan – taking goal kicks – thundered a bullet up field which was cleared off for a corner.
Rooney took the corner with a pinpoint cross to be smashed in to the back of the net by aforementioned Bryan with a bullet header that almost broke the back of the net. 2-0. Game over.
Fowler was hardly called in to action at all, the defensive quartet of Charles, Bryan, Matt and Polish Rob were distributing well up field, the Japanese not putting any kind of pressure on the Lions whatsoever.
And the Lions – now toying with their prey – were not finished. Fred ended the day on 4 goals by scoring his 2nd of the game as the Lions battered the Japanese once more, as if they were Kakiage. It was 3-0, and the Japanese were surrendering all over the place as though it was 14th August 1945.
The Lions were now through to the Cup competition scheduled for the Sunday, up against Kaohsiung Massive and Tainan Phoenix (once more).
Judas gets his just desserts
The Scum, with Judas version 3.0 still in the team, were up against the Black Stars in their knock out game, and it was a boring 0-0 draw, which went to penalties. The Scum wanted to change their keeper for the penalties, but curiously were not allowed to by the referee.
First up were the Black Stars, scoring with the Scum goalkeeper static. Obviously the guy does not know that in a penalty shoot out, the keeper is allowed to move. Up then stepped Judas version 3.0, and with Alejandro doing his best behind the goal to put off aforementioned Judas, encompassing all the diplomatic skills learnt from Mao, Judas goes and slaps the ball wide. By about 2 metres. The Red Lions were not at all distraught about this.
Black Stars attacker number 2 scored, putting all the pressure on the Scum to score, but the penalty hit the post and rebounded wide, bringing with it just a few broad smiles on the Red Lions players’ faces. There was no way the old enemy could now end up ahead of the Lions, a fact that was not unnoticed by all members of the Lions.
The shame of Judas version 2.0
It was time to get back to the hotel or Jaime’s unserviced apartments before getting changed and ready for dinner. Those staying in the Howard Prince Hotel were ready and waiting in the bar as those staying chez Jaime inexplicably refused to take advantage of saving time and water by showering communally, despite Clovis being up for it, as dinner was moved back a little while.
When they finally did turn up at the hotel though, taxis were ordered and off we went to the Hakka restaurant that Jaime had deemed to be worthy of a State visit. It wasn’t.
Not only is Jaime fined a round for arguably the worst Red Lions Tour Dinner ever, but he is also fined an additional round for not having the balls to turn up and accept the errors of his ways the following day, but instead putting as many kilometres of distance between him and the rather hungry pride of Red Lions who had been expecting something nice to eat, rather than – as Alejandro so eloquently put it – fish spine soup, and fat casserole.
The official State announcement is that Jaime has been relieved of all entertainment organisation duties permanently, and further future fines of rounds will be placed upon him at Chairman Mao’s discretion. The State has spoken.
On top of the crap food – which was not only poor in quality, but also low in quantity (in total contrast to the amount of beers drunk) – the Lions had to sit and endure some keyboard music that – with all due respect to the musician himself – sounded like the crap that Taipei taxi drivers play in their cabs when driving a foreigner around for any trip lasting 20 minutes or more. Although the opening song of “It’s yesterday once more” had offered a glimmer of promise. Alas none came, and so the topic of conversation turned to who was rumoured – among the Red Lions – to be heading to the forthcoming Kylie Minogue concert.
That dinner. I just can’t get it out of my head.
After what could have been seen as the last supper, certainly could have been Jaime’s last meal ever had he had the balls to stay in Taiwan instead of fecking off to deepest India, the Lions decided that having disposed of close to 40 bottles of beer in the “restaurant”, although the term restaurant does all other restaurants across the face of the planet an injustice, it was now time to get in some serious drinking.
Off to the Cosby Bar, for some more live music but this time with a musician who could (a) play music and (b) knew some decent tunes. He did not – however – have any Kylie in his repertoire. Bryan asked, but the guy on the guitar gave him an answer in the negative. He should be so lucky.
The rest of the evening melted in to an alcoholic haze, with TB worryingly quiet in the bar. Rooney and Mao breathed a collective sigh of relief later when they found him sitting in the hotel bar with Fred and Phoebe, not having received any phone calls to bail him out of jail for pummelling the crap out of someone.
Mrs Mirko also arrived at the bar, and was treated to a threesome. She announced that it was the threesome of her dreams. Of course, she dreamt that Mirko was Jerry Yan, and Gayer Rob Jay Chou, but in life we can’t always have what we wish for.
Whopping. Huge. Massive.
Sunday came, and after early morning mass, and passing of
wind bread and wine, football was allowed to recommence. The Lions who had stayed at the hotel had feasted on breakfast, followed by a relaxing soak in the hot tubs. Those staying chez Jaime were treated to Jaime doing a runner before having to face the Politburo to answer to his crimes against humanity the evening before.
The final group meant that the Lions would play Kaohsiung Massive and Tainan Phoenix, the winner of the group making it to the final (the other group consisting of Eagles, Black Star and Kaohsiung Pacers).
Having scored 5 successive goals, the Lions sought to build on this, and went to work quickly against a Kaohsiung team that was without doubt the weakest team in the group. And it was Panda who took over the role of Red Lions goalscorer as the Lions set up camp in Massive’s half, helped again by a strong tailwind and Bryan’s mega-goal kicks.
Francois, who it could be said with no understatement, had not been his resplendent best the previous day, found some form and made some strong tackles, his passing game much improved, although it could also be said that it would be difficult for it to have been much worse. Rooney brought himself off after a few minutes, the Red Lions former captain feeling a tweak in his groin which is absolutely and unequivocally unrelated to the fact that he shared a room in the hotel with Mao, aka “Gay” Rob.
The smallest man on the pitch was also getting involved in the goal scoring action, putting the game beyond any doubt as a cross came in, and TB jumped all of 3 centimetres, towering over his marker, who was about 5 metres away and ogling Bonnie’s cleavage at the time, before glancing a header past the keeper to make the game safe.
Panda got a third, as the Lions for once came out of the blocks on a flyer. An investigation is on-going as to how chicken soup bound for the Mexican national team made its way to the Red Lions breakfast table.
So to the rematch of the Phoenix – Lions game, the Lions knowing that a win would put them in the final, and a draw probably would also be enough. Phoenix started strong, forcing a decent save from Mao who had to dive low to his left to stop a powerful shot from going in. But there was more to come, and another shot from just outside the 18 yard box after some sustained pressure from the opponents (and a poor clearance from Clovis – which some might say was not his fault, whilst others would find it an excellent opportunity to apportion blame for the Lions failure to win the competition by placing all the blame squarely on his shoulders). The ball bounced right on the border of the grass and mud, bouncing unpredictably, and under Mao who – it must be said – thought he had it until all of a sudden that bounce took it away.
Mao is very quick – at this point – to point the finger towards the poor clearance.
The goal was a minor setback, and brought out the fighting spirit in the Lions who pushed forward in search of the equalising goal, bringing out a couple of good saves from the Phoenix keeper and a couple of shots glancing just wide. In the last minute, Bryan had an excellent opportunity to get the Lions on equal terms, but his shot went 30cm wide of the goal, with the goalkeeper well and truly beaten.
So ended the Lions resistance, and all hopes now rested on Massive pulling off a result against Phoenix. Alas all these harboured hopes were misplaced as Massive showed they were the weakest link and got beaten 1-0.
The Lions had come to within a whisker of the final, but could not quite make it. Instead 3rd place was a good result for a very strong Red Lions squad. Don Dumbassini is fined a round for failing to score in 5 games, and for playing crap all weekend.
As the final game approached, some Lions players thought that it would be a good idea to take Mao up on his 3-1 odds of the Black Stars winning against Phoenix, and so bets were placed. Mao thanks all for their contribution to State funds, and bought the beers at the HSR station on the final journey home to celebrate.
After the 2-1 victory for Phoenix, the Lions were presented with… the Good Sportsmanship Award. This fine specimen of a trophy has a fish on top of it. Glad to see the organisers could keep to the footballing theme.
Taxis were ordered as several Lions decided it was a good idea to go to Chili’s. The idea in itself was indeed a most excellent one, until it was noted by one person who shall remain anonymous that by the time the team reached Tiger City, it would be time to leave for the station anyway, so all taxis were re-routed to the HSR station, where beers were consumed outside as the Lions relaxed and cajoled and talked about how crap Jaime’s choice of restaurant was.
Mao would like to express gratitude to OG and Dianne for joining the Lions despite OG’s injury, Francois for returning to his spiritual home of the Red Lions, Alejandro for tonking down the expressway on his Ducati at warp factor 9, and all other Red Lions and WAG’s who made their collective way to Taichung.
And Jaime, when you return, you’re really up the shit. Might as well settle down in Ahmedabad mucker.