The Taipei Red Lions, usually united in their arrival in Bangkok for the annual Easter tournament, for some reason must have become ruffled with Mao letting the cat out of the
closet bag. Instead of the standard meet at the airport for an alcohol-filled flight to the City of Angels, this time only Mao and Mirko the Carp traveled together, all other Lions trying to maintain a low-profile in the aftermath of the revelation that just about all Red Lions are screaming benders.
At check in, it was Mirko the Carp who let an occasional tear escape – under the pretense that he had something in his eye – when he found out that he could not check in at the Hello Kitty counter. On top of that, he was especially downcast when he found out that the EVA Airways Hello Kitty plane had already left for Fukuoka.
But Mao most definitely made up for it upon arrival at Bangkok by ensuring the services of a pink taxi, which brought the first – and perhaps only – smile of the weekend to Mirko the Carp’s face.
Arriving at the Taipan Hotel, the two early arrivals waited for Andy the Bear – who had flown in from England – and Paddy the Monk, joining them for a quick afternoon beer.
A couple of years ago, some of you will remember, Clovis got to the airport only to realize that he needed a visa to get to Thailand. This year, it was Charles who realized last minute that he needed a valid passport to get there. Thankfully the New Zealand consular service was a tad more on the ball than Charles was, and managed to get him a new travel document which ensured his participation in the tournament. He too trundled in, to the news that he would be joining Mao at the captain’s meeting at the Old German Beerhouse that evening. A permagrin crept upon his face at this news.
Tony Hewitt and Dave “Robots” Roberts had traveled in nice and early to acclimatize to the conditions, a far cry from the cold, wintery conditions of Shanghai. Volker was flying in under the cover of darkness so that there would be no publicity of his arrival, the mask of his gayness having been unveiled unceremoniously, not yet willing to accept the constant gaze of the paparazzi following Mao’s revelation in the Tournament Report.
Jan-Hendrik had flown in from Guam, and decided to be a true team player by not even staying in the same hotel as most other Lions, opting instead – in most a show of the utmost selflessness – to rough it in the Hyatt.
Jim “Shambles” Campbell had also arrived early, whining about how hot it was having had to walk around a golf course, oblivious to the fact that he sounded like a woose.
Mao and Charles headed out to the Captain’s meeting, where the Red Lions were drawn in the group of death. Admittedly this did not come as too much of a surprise as there was only one group, the tournament being played in league format. Thankfully though, the Lions were handed an 11 AM start, avoiding the really early kick off.
Charles had been fed at the German Beerhouse, but Mao was whining as there was nothing veggie for him there, other than beer, so the two headed over to the former Red Lions favourite hotel, the Manhattan, for a curry. With the Sheraton now opposite the Manhattan, the hotel has tried – and failed miserably – to become a little more up-market. But the curry was still good.
As Mirko the Carp had joined Jan-Hendrik for dinner at the Hyatt, the rest of the Lions contingent went out for an evening of entertainment. Those wishing to know what sort of entertainment is being talked about needs to get over to Bangkok for the next tournament, as what happens on tour, stays on tour.
Saturday morning finally arrived, Volker the ever-efficient German making his way to the field nice and early to make sure his towel was laid out on the sun lounger. Off he went to play once more for Olympique Saigon in the open tournament. The rest of the Lions decided they would finally face one another openly, meeting up for breakfast at the hotel buffet. Hewitt also turned up at the hotel, but Jan-Hendrik had arranged a driver from the Hyatt.
In to taxis to head to the pitch, arriving in the sweltering heat, several open tournament games already in full swing. Volker came over to join the Lions warm up as Andy the Bear went through the team line-up. There was a slightly surprising line up, with Charles, who generally likes to take it up the rear, spearheading the attack. Despite Mao’s suggestions that he be left out of goal, due to the dislocated finger injured in the BML match against International, goalkeeping duties were indeed handed to the Lions number 17.
With French Chris not having replied to the requests sent regarding kick off (he would later turn up to the pitches at Patana School, injured), and with Jim “Shambles” Campbell opting to play for Hibernians Singapore, the decent sized squad of 11 Lions had turned in to 9, but still it was a squad full of quality.
The Lions were in hungry mood and for the first five minutes went on an attacking spree against the Spartans which left Mao in goal all alone as a spectator, which many feel is the best option for a keeper of his calibre. Jan-Hendrik had one fantastic chance to score, hitting the woodwork for the first – but not the last – time this weekend, as the Lions laid siege to the opponents’ goal. Charles also had a good chance, but his shot lacked power, and the ball trickled in to the grateful goalkeeper’s arms.
After 5 minutes, the Lions really could have been 2 or 3 up, but the tide was now turning from them, and all the good passing movements had dried up, the Lions no longer able to string even one pass to feet. The Lions defence was now being thrown in at the deep end, and the keeper brought in to action a couple of times.
Right on the stroke of half time, Mao made one save, pushing the ball out wide, Spartans midfielder though getting past his defender and taking a shot which made a slight touch with the post before going in for a 1-0 lead.
The second half saw more pressure on the Lions goal, the Lions now completely out of ideas. Still, a better defensive performance ensured that no more goals would be conceded, although Mao was forced in to a save or two to keep the score at 1.
After a half hour break, the Lions were ready for some more, this time up against Vietnam Reunited. The Lions knew that only a win would help, and so they set about mauling the opponents immediately. The first half saw all the play in the opponents half, with Mirko the Carp, Volker and Jan-Hendrik in the Lions midfield being absolutely masterful, shutting the opponents down all the time, giving not one inch. If the Wehrmacht had done that in 1941, then Moscow and Stalingrad would have fallen within minutes, and we’d all be speaking German now.
The Lions forced a succession of corners, and from one, Tony Hewitt scored an excellent goal with a bullet of a header at point blank range. It was nothing less than the Lions deserved, although the team knew not to let complacency set in at half time.
In the second half, more excellent Lions football was on show, and another goal looked inevitable. If the first goal was a classic, then this one would have been given cultural heritage status by UNESCO. The ball was floated in from the right wing to Andy the Bear who found himself in so much space, the ball struck so sweetly, it must have had an excessive calorific value. 2-0 Lions and game over.
The third game promised to be a tougher affair, but it wasn’t really, German All Stars Singapore not living up to the expectations. Volker was late once more, just the same as last year after his Judas-esque behavior, putting Saigon as his top priority. Fined a round, Volker then decided that these fines from the Chairman were getting a tad expensive, so he pledged allegiance to the Lions.
To the game. It was hardly a classic Lions performance, although the opponents were not exactly on form themselves. Paddy the Monk, Charles and Hewitt all performing well in the defence, whilst Andy the Bear scored his second of the day as the Lions won 1-0.
The next break was a little longer so we were entertained by Hewitt who regaled tales about his dog’s flaunt with fame on Shanghai TV. Thankfully the monotony of the talk about Tony’s dog was also balanced out by the discussion about Milton Keynes, Warwick and – of course – Coventry/Dresden both having the shit bombed out of them during the war.
Soon enough though it was back to the football.
Next up were the tournament hosts, the German Old Stars Bangkok, and this was a great match, with plenty of action. Jan-Hendrik scored the only goal of the half, nipping in before the keeper, before taking one touch to control the ball and calmly slotting it home for a 1-0 lead.
At half time, Mao approached the GAS keeper to find out how the hell he could let Jan-Hendrik (of all people) score. The keeper replied “he was as fast as lightning”, a phrase which has never before been used to describe the Lions goal scorer, and is quite likely never going to be again.
Despite a spirited fight from the hosts in the second half, the Lions defensive team stayed strong, but no one could find another breakthrough, so the game ended 1-0, and the Lions were now well and truly back in the mix.
To the final game of the day, and the Lions were tired. The heat of the day had taken its toll, as had sitting through all those stories about Ao Bao and Milton Keynes.
The Farangutans were the final opponents of the day, the game pretty much lacking in anything, the only memorable moment of the game coming when the Farangutans attacker weaved his way through the Lions defence, and he tried to feign a shot to get Mao to dive, alas the Lions keeper was too knackered to move, which gave Jan-Hendrik that extra split second to come in with the all-important last-ditch challenge to knock the ball off for a corner.
0-0, with neither team threatening too much, and 10 points from the day, another three games to follow on the Sunday. All in all, the Lions were satisfied with the performance, especially after the first game loss. And with all to play for, there was hope still in the Lions’ hearts.
Beer was drunk.
The next morning saw the Lions up against Red Star KL, yet despite the warnings of watching the diagonal pass, which was the only way the opponents would be dangerous, the Lions decided not to heed them, and succumbed to a 1-0 defeat thanks to a goal from, err, a diagonal ball.
At this point Jan-Hendrik and Mirko the Carp decided that it was not fun in agreeing on everything and instead had a rather heated discussion about things, both walking away from the other in a huff, mumbling crap about the other in German, Volker playing the Swiss neutrality card.
Calculations were now being made as to who had how many points, and there was a rumour that the Phuket Lions had dropped points finally which would give the Lions a mathematical chance of still being able to win the competition.
Ah yes, those Phuket Lions. Everyone remembered them from last year, where they cheated their way to victory. The Lions watched the Phuket game as their number 9 dived his way in to the record books, falling down at any given opportunity.
As the Red Lions got on to the pitch, Mao had a quick word with the ref to make sure he understood the Phuket number 9 to be a diving cheating twat. As the game got underway, the number 9 took his first dive, and the ref waved play on. Charles had him in his pocket, although on a couple of occasions the tackles could have been seen to have been slightly unfair. Still, the ref was not interested, and it seemed that the seeds had been sown.
It was once more a game of few chances, with Hewitt, Charles and Paddy the Monk being strong at the back, and the midfield of Mirko the Carp and Volker working hard to find space and string a few passes together and give Jan-Hendrik a proper servicing. The Phuket keeper made one or two decent saves, Jan-Hendrik hitting the bar from a very tight angle, as the Lions pushed forwards.
In the second half it was more of the same, no one giving space, the old, grey-haired Phuket Lion at the back whining like a woose when he didn’t get his own way, screaming death threats of a Mafiosi style in traditional Sicilian style with the accompanying hand gestures to anyone he felt deserved them. Which essentially was the Hibernians team behind Mao’s goal, cheering every time the Phuket Lions fucked up a shot, which was actually fairly regularly.
With the game coming to a close, and Hibernians now in the driving seat as the top team in the round-robin format – having beaten the Phuket Lions 2-1 – the cheating diving number 9 had one more go at it, finally sucking the referee in with a blatant dive which was worthy more of a yellow card than it was of a foul, which he ended up getting.
The ref was setting the wall, but the cheating Omerta-esque Godfather took the free kick anyway, the ball hitting the back of the net, the ref not amused, and bringing play back. Once satisfied the wall was at the correct distance, he allowed the free kick to be taken, but it was a shit free kick, and easily cleared. From the clearance though a low ball was swung in, Mao diving low, punching the ball hard to safety, the referee deciding now that time was up, a 0-0 draw the final result.
There was now no longer a way for the Lions to win the competition, and there was also a thought about perhaps throwing the game against Hibs, who were expected to beat Vietnam Reunited in their penultimate game. It was not a truly serious thought, but still it was there.
However the need to do that evaporated as Hibs lost to the Vietnamese team.
And so the final round of games of the 2012 tournament came, Hibernians with very little to play for, the Lions needing to win by 3 goals to get the bonus point if they wanted to perhaps overtake Shambles and Co.
It ended up being a very tired affair, the Lions perhaps shading it in terms of chances, with the Hibs keeper making one or two good saves, and Jan-Hendrik hitting the woodwork yet again.
Dave Roberts also came on for the final couple of minutes as the Lions pushed, but the tiredness was showing after 8 grueling games in sweltering heat over the weekend, and despite a strong showing at the back once more, thanks to the defensive efforts of Hewitt, Paddy the Monk and Charles, at different times of the match, as well as the fine midfield play from Andy the Bear, Mirko the Carp and Volker.
So the tournament ended with the Lions in 3rd (or perhaps 4th) place, having the meanest defence of the tournament, with just 2 conceded all weekend. Once more it was an excellently organized tournament by the German All Stars, and the Lions finished off a few beers before heading over to Grimaud’s place for a barbecue and … errr… more beers.