After something like 2.75 years in Vietnam, I'm taking the low road back to civilisation.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Dunedin Thistle AFC

Having just seen El Clasico, read all about the Raiders's impressive showing in Manila, and being presently stuck between a cancelled Sunday game and a cancelled training session thanks to the snowfall, this seems about as good a point as any to reflect on the way my own amateur football involvement has been going.

Rewind a little and Floyd's acupuncturist told me I should wait about a year before "returning to the bench" in December last year. He also mentioned during one of the 3 $50 sessions I attended that the healing process was based around 50% dietary, 20% exercise related, 20% pills intake and 10% down to his methods. There left me little doubt that I wasn't going to keep paying $50 twice weekly when I could stop eating sugar and boozing and improve my condition for free. Not that I was ever going to do either of those. Although I now take milk and just the one sugar in my tea instead of two.

Anyway, playing in goals for Raiders towards the end of my time in VN gave me a taste again and the confidence that I could get back involved in football without risking my leg for a third time. I had toyed with the idea of doing some refereeing, but I thought there was still some game time left in me yet.

I had a look on Gumtree for clubs needing a goalkeeper during pre season and emailed a couple. Links Utd, the first one to get back to me invited me along to a training session which was largely pre-season running. Having purposefully avoided pounding tarmac with my twice broken leg, this run up and around Arthur's seat was torture and only the last 5 minutes was in any way related to my skills or development. We had a game that midweek which I featured for the last 20 minutes after their existing keeper had ruined his clean sheet by trying to dribble round a striker, and managed to keep the score at 2-1.

However the intense pre season fitness schedule meant that I was burdened with pain at the site of my recovering double fracture and I skipped a couple of training sessions, only managing to make another 20 minute substitute appearance for them. It turned out there were 3 different keepers in the frame for the team and I wasn't feeling confident enough in my leg strength to battle it out for a starting slot.

Subsequently I was prepared to content myself with pick up games of 7's or whatever I could get with friends. However, after a 5's tournament with an ex-colleague, I was forwarded an email appealing for a half-decent 'keeper from another ex-colleague, and went along to one of their pre-season friendlies to see the existing 'keeper blunder his way through the second half to lose them the game 6-5.

This was my number 1 shirt. There was no able competition and an agreement that I train when I could. After a single training session, we had the opening game of the season and earned a 4-2 victory at or home ground. I played well, bookmarked and loaded up my credit card.

Unfortunately, a couple of months later, we haven't won a game since and my performances have been somewhat less impressive, masked by the fact that we have only been scoring a goal a game, and not really threatening to beat anyone. We should really be a solid mid-table outfit, but have been left with 5 points out of 6 games due to ill-discipline, an inability to deal with the long ball and laziness.

My leg has turned a corner and I rarely feel leg pain anymore, only wincing occasionaly when performing twisting landings, so I have been training nearly every week. I have been picking up new injuries more frequently than I would like but that's something I'm having to accept as par for the course now.

There is a small Spanish contingent in our squad, and they introduced a goalkeeper who came along and impressed during the same training session that I nearly broke some fingers. He then got his chance in the weekend game where we had played for 87 minutes with 10 men after another debutant was dismissed for a headbutt, and despite taking a 2-0 lead, we drew 2-2 against an inferior side. He has since been unable to play or train due to his work commitments and I have not lost the jersey.

My expectations of this league were of aging squads, a lot of on field hostility and dirty challenges. What has been surprising is the youthfulness of most of these teams. The more senior players have been a lot calmer, less prone to go into savage challenges, which would prolong their playing careers.

Compared to Vietnam (which will inevitably evoke a wave of sentimentality for SRFC), we only have a referee, so offside calls are dubious and don't help my teams attitude to the validity of long ball tactic that opposing teams invariably adopt. I have played 6 games and spectated at one where I was injured, and there has not been a single photo taken. Team spirit is conspicuous by it's absence. And we are facing a winter shutdown because the snow has arrived. Our captain has walked out on us because he felt unappreciated for taking the team in the absence of the main two in charge.

So the focus is now on playing well personally, enjoying my football, avoiding injury and identifying an 11's team in San Jose.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Looking for work

When I was in Scotland between graduation and going out to Vietnam, I would generally stick in a job for 8-14 months before picking something else up rather easily. The length of time I spent unemployed had been completely up to me. So when I was hearing from my mother (the ultimate pessimist reactionary) about the dearth of jobs available even for those emerging from uni with quality degrees, I dismissed the situation as problems concerning graduates with no experience battling it out with each other for the select few top jobs.

I'll at this stage admit that the truth lies close to what my dear old mum intimated when I was still in HCMC. Seemingly the majority of people are suffering joblessness for somewhere between 2 to 8 months before finding gainful employment.

After working for the Edinburgh International Festival during August, it took exactly 2 months for something promising to crop up for me. Admittedly I could have been trying harder and applying for more menial tasks (I would like to think that Pizza Hut would take me back in a heartbeat - but I think that era is best left behind).

It didn't take long for us to start thinking about where to go to find ourselves valued and receive offers for our considerable talents. Japan of course was the first place that cropped up and we almost immediately agreed to try and find an 'in' sometime after our lease ran out on the flat here in Edinburgh. However, Hana's Japanese teaching contacts painted a not too dissimilar picture to that of the UK and we started opening our minds to alternatives.

Costa Rica had been second on my preference list of TEFL course locations back in 2007, an interest which had been built on the back of my research into a potential second animal care volunteer project after returning from wrestling with African penguins. Since then only the glowing reports from semi-regular visitor Florian, and a passing mention of the allure it also held for Hana had really brought Costa Rica to the forefront of my mind. When it emerged that Hana knew a current IH Costa Rica employee and was about to get in contact with the DOS, it very quickly became a lead that should be followed up.

If only to see some Ocelots.

Basically, we both had a Skype interview which was short and sweet, contained no tricky questions and inferred that our CV's spoke for themselves, and a few days later had received offers for contracts starting in May of next year.

What a contrast.

Until that point, I had not heard a single word that hadn't been an automated email response (apart from that painful Bank Of Scotland phone interview) and following a 15/20 minute chat here was a guy 8500kms away who was prepared to offer me a job based on the very same CV.

Which would enable me to see three toed sloths crossing the road as we travelled the ridiculously small distances from San Jose to the beach.


Subsequently, I have had an interview here which sounds tantalisingly like a nice little driving gig to fill the intervening months before I fly West shortly after my 30th birthday.

However, neither of these are more than words at this early stage.

The situation in general is not much of an inspiration to return to these frozen shores any time soon.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The trumpet

Most peoples memories of WOZA revolve around the noise picked up by TV cameras giving the impression that there was a constant droning sound deafening all inside the ground. Not the case when you were actually there. I wasn't and still am not a massive fan of the Vuvuzela, but it was by no means annoying to me when I was actually at the matches. My ambivalence to the instrument comes about due it's position as a direct replacement for team songs and chants, which to me is a critical part of physically going to games. I certainly wouldn't have invested my own money on one, but when Henno brought me one back from Bloem, I embraced it as I would any Orlando Pirates emblazoned merchandise.

A relatively poor debut showing from my lips as I tried to make an impression on the Green Point stadium and it's surrounds, the knack seemed to come and go, and stay gone. The trumpet has since featured in the away end at Aberdeen .v. Hearts, helping the away team to a 1-0 win. I wasn't the mouthpiece at that game, having long since thought better of sitting around at Pittodrie in late Autumn watching football just yards away from the baltic North Sea coast. My nephew was the one who endeared himself to the travelling support that day.

However, this was not the only trumpet to feature in my World Cup experience. Stellenbosch's premier drinking hole, The Trumpet Tree, was our venue on several nights to watch the games. Seemingly ran by one of Henno and Christoff's old academic pals, the provision of a log fire and flamin' hot Jalapeno Poppers warmed the frozen souls of those who had migrated to the Cape in winter from much more tropical climes. The Trumpet at the world cup this year, for me, will always be the bar, and not the plastic instrument.