Sunday, October 04, 2015


Last Rites For Still Born ASEAN Super League

I must admit I am not a great fan of the proposed ASEAN Super League. When you have strong leagues in Indonesia (usually), Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam why would they want to weaken their own domestic scene for a vanity project. It does seem the drivers are Singapore and they need to be careful what they wish for.

Arsenal once put all their eggs in one basket when they naively though the Financial Fair Play would level the playing field and allow all clubs to compete equally. Despite being managed by a guy with an economics degree their thinking, which was at the heart of their business plan for so many years, did not take into account the concept of loopholes and highly paid legal teams.

Likewise Singapore who, along with their myriad strategic plans, hubs and leveraging, are now hoping an ASL will be the answer to all their prayers and set them on the road to a place at Asia's top table to the detriment of their own league. With an ASL why even bother with the SLeague?

Let's assume for a moment that Indonesia is let back in to FIFA and their clubs can suddenly find the money to do things like pay salaries and find the wherewithall to keep to a printed  fixture list; which club would want to start traveling around the region playing teams in places like Laos and Myanmar, foregoing the old enemies on their own turf? No disrespect to Laos Toyota but will Persib fans turn out in force to see them on a wet Tuesday in Soreang?

The clubs proposed so far to enter the ASL so how seriously the local associations are taking the idea. Malaysia want to enter something called Frenz United Under 18. Apparently Frenz United are at 'the heart of a football revolution currently taking place in Malaysia and around the region. As the country’s first Professional Football Club with Academy for professional footballers; FUFC is conceiving, promoting and implementing game-changing excellence in football that is enabling an entire generation of highly-skilled, disciplined and competent individuals.'

The Philippines are more focussed on building their own national league; they are considering entering their national Under 23 side. The Thais with a league boasting the likes of Muang Thong United and Buriram United are looking at entering Port FC, nee Tha Reua, nee Thai Port, nee PAT.

Against that type of opposition you can see why Singapore is so excited. They want LionsXII to compete! Consider a league with the following:

Frenz United U18
Philippines U23
Port FC

Now as big a fan of ASEAN football as I am, I am hardly salivating at the prospect of watching any of those teams. When you look at the Indian Super League, which is kicking off its second season as I type this, you see how two bob the whole thing looks. Can you imagine the sponsors queueing up to get involved in the way they do in India cos I bloody well can't. Already there is talk Cambodia, Laos and Timor Leste are struggling to find sponsors for a team.

If you want to have a professional ASL then go the whole hog with franchises and serious investors with serious cash to burn. Don't fanny around with a Poundland version where no one is really interested outside of one country.

And Singapore needs to understand the ASL is not an exercise to brush the whole SLeague under the table. They have managed to run that league into the ground and for all their business school speak they have shown an absolute poverty of imagination how they can revive it. And FIFA, already a tad upset with the way the FAS is running itself, may not  take kindly to a member association without a professional league.

An ASL is not the panacea to the ills that plague football in Singapore, it is not a one tablet cures all solution. It is time for the FAS to stop believing in fairy tales and do something concrete about the game in their own backyard and not expect teenagers in Malaysia to be the solution

Friday, October 02, 2015



Thursday, October 01, 2015


Coach Eka Takes The Long Road To The Top

What do coaches and footballers do when the world governing body FIFA and the government suspend the local association, essentially putting football in lock down. Some look to careers outside the game to put food on their tables with stories rife of big name players opening restaurants, lesser known players getting behind kaki limas and others using their motorcycle as an ojek.

Others have basically become boots, or chalkboards, for hire, waiting for a club to hire their services for unofficial competitions like the President Cup or the Independence Cup.

But one young coach has taken an entirely different approach. With the Indonesia Super League shut down he reached for his rolodex and his passport and is now coaching in the Middle East with little known Bahrain side Al Najma.

From Indonesia with its passionate crowds of 20,000 plus at the big games to a tiny gulf kingdom, what can Bahrain offer an Indonesian he can’t find in his own backyard? Well, apart from experience, a stint in Bahrain seems to be well regarded in the coaching fraternity with the likes of Steve Darby (current coach of the Laos national team), Vjerun Simunic (ex Brunei coach now with Perak in Malaysia) and Dragan Talajic (with Thai giants Muang Thong United) cutting their teeth there. And of course there is the small matter of a recent World Cup Qualifier which in which Bahrain defeated Indonesia 10-0.

Then again Rudy Eka Priyambada has always been one to try something new. He started coaching back in 2001 at ISCI, a private sports club that caters to the international community in Jakarta before moving on to gigs with international schools in the capital.

It is certainly an interesting place to begin in football but lacking any kind of professional football career the football association were somewhat wary of this fresh, bubbly newcomer in his early 20s. He failed his C license, a blow that may have ended the ambitions of another wannabe coach but Rudy is no ordinary coach. ‘I used the rejection to motivate me,’ he says when he met in a hotel in Bahrain last weekend.

Far from Indonesia he may be but he had just come from Friday prayers and he ordered an iced lemon tea suggesting he would not be forgetting his roots in a hurry even though the football establishment failed to notice his talents. He continued to study for his badges and all the while his close contact with Jakarta’s expat community improved his language skills no end. It was his growing competence in English that saw him attend an AFC training programme in Malaysia in 2008; every year member associations are invited to send coaches on these course but with many Indonesian coaches having little grasp of English the invites would remain unopened. But Eka jumped at the opportunity and he ranked first among ASEAN coaches and received a scholarship to spend time in Germany where he studied for his A license, a necessary to coach at the highest levels.

‘After (Germany) still Indonesia doesn’t care about me, doesn’t give me a chance to be involved,’ he says. With Indonesian football crying out for quality coaches this head in the sand attitude from the PSSI does seem a bit odd but it may be some consolation to Eko to know that had Jose Mourinho been born in Jakarta he too would never have got the chance to coach either.

Eko brushed off the rejections and reached for his passport once more, this time to Australia where he tapped into his expanding international contacts and met with a number of senior football officials there. With glowing references he went door knocking and he ended up at Monbulk Rangers.

Hardly the most glamourous club in the state and a far cry from Melbourne Victory in the ALeague but he didn’t care. He was coaching and he was learning. Those months weren’t easy. His days would often begin at 3 am as he worked in a bakery to make ends meet. In the lower reaches of Australian state league football there is not a lot of cash to be found and Eko was forced to get creative. He needed the dough so he worked in a bakery, he cleaned tables, he washed dishes. ‘Work 3 o’clock. 12 o’clock go back to the flat. Five o’clock coaching until nine o’clock.’ And he lost his family, his wife leaving him and taking their son. One more knock back and one he wears on his sleeve; as well as his twitter profile. He started his journey with a burning ambition to be a coach. He now wants to be a father to his son. ‘I will make my son proud of me.’

It was that ambition that caught the attention of Indra Sjafri, another young coach who was doing things the unorthodox way. He had though been recognised by the PSSI and appointed coach of the national Under 19 side. Indra recognised Eka’s drive and perhaps saw a bit of himself in the young coach and appointed him as his assistant. Again it wasn’t a job overflowing with cash; ‘Rp150,000 petrol money,’ he laughs, ‘but doesn’t matter.’

It was the start of a journey that saw Indonesia win the ASEAN Football Federation Under 19 Championship as well as finish top of the AFC Under 19 Championship Qualifiers. This success was unheard of for generation of football fans and they flocked to the games.

With the break up of that successful side following the finals in Myanmar the coaching duo went their separate ways, Indra to Bali United Pusam and Eko to Mitra Kukar, an unfashionable but fairly well run club in East Kalimantan, as assistant coach. If Eka thought he had arrived he was to be disappointed. Just when you think things are going well football has a way to slapping you in the face again and the suspension of the PSSI saw the ISL halted after just two rounds and saw players and coaches left twiddling their thumbs.

Well, many did that. Eka twiddled his rolodex and an old mate from a previous training course invited him to talk in Bahrain. ‘I’m not here for the money,’ says Eka, his eyes as ever on the bigger picture. ‘I want the experience from working somewhere new, that is important.’

There is big money in Middle East football. The Qatar Stars League and the Arabian Gulf League are slowly producing sides to compete with the best in China, Japan, South Korea and Australia in the AFC Champions League. They don’t have an Al Ain and they can’t attract the likes of Xavi while at international level they have yet to win a trophy. But as the experiences of the coaches mentioned earlier testify it does offer the talented and the ambition an opportunity to burnish their credentials in a competitive league and that is what Eka is after. And with that it was time to leave.

With his positive outlook the young coach is embracing life in Bahrain, learning the language and of course finding time to hang out with the local Indonesian culture though he does balk a bit at the prices for a rendang! It has been a bumpy road so far for him, one that has seen zero encouragement from his own FA to losing his family to having his first job in the big time end almost before it had started but he remains optimistic and he remains fixed on his goal. ‘I want to learn.’


AFC Success Does Little To Thrill Fans In Kuwait

After the AFC Cup Semi Finals 1st Leg both Kuwaiti sides seem to have one foot in the final for the second year running continuing their fine tradition in the continental competition. Kuwait SC, who overcame Tajikistan side Istiklol 4-0 last night have won the trophy three times (2009, 2012, 2013) while Qadsia who must carry a narrower 3-1 margin to Malaysia for their second leg against Johor Darul Tazim are the reigning champions.

For all the success the Kuwaiti sides are enjoying in the prestigious competitions, why the apathy from their fans? Talk to most Kuwaitis and they say they 'support' either Qadsia, Kuwait SC or Al Arabi with the vast majority opting for Qadsia. But that 'support' doesn't necessarily translate into bums on seats on match day.

Last season I saw Qadsia take on Kuwait SC in a pretty important Premier League game at Qadsia's stadium in Hawally. The crowd was around the 5-6,000 mark for a game featuring two sides still in with a shout of the title. Not long after and another top three clash saw around 25,000 witness a 0-0 draw between Al Arabi and Qadsia.

When Qadsia played Al Ittihad in the AFC Cup Final back in 2010 in Kuwait the crowd was in excess of 58,000. Yet when they came up against the Malaysians around 1,500 bothered turning up. Yet even that number dwarves the 350 estimated to have watched Kuwait SC last night. 350 for a semi final in a competition they have won three times!

What is behind this apparent apathy towards football? Kuwait boasts a fine pedigree, even reaching the World Cup back in 1982, at a time when they were the undoubted power in the Gulf region. Those days are long gone and it seems years of political infighting behind the scenes have paid the toll for fan apathy on the terraces. In recent years the Kuwait FA have been banned twice by FIFA, yep twice as often as Indonesia, and many have now turned their back on the game.

There are echos of Singapore in all this. Singaporeans pine for the glory days of the early 90s when players like Fandi Ahmad, V Sundramoorthy and Abbas Saad won numerous titles for the Lions as well as helping old ladies cross the road and carving their names into the nation's psyche. Those days are long gone and the 90s generation are stuck with their memories and what they feel is an inferior product poorly produced and presented by those in authority.

Likewise Kuwaitis look back fondly on the 1970s, early 80s when they hoovered up trophies like the AFC Asian Cup as well as taking a vice like grip on the Gulf Cup of Nations which they won six times across the decades.

October could see an interesting time for football. After playing their opening World Cup Qualifier against Myanmar was shifted to Qatar it looks like home ties against South Korea and Lebanon will now be played in Kuwait but at the Kuwait SC Stadium and not the much bigger Jabar International Stadium which hosted Qadsia's AFC Cup Final appearance back in 2010. And of course we are halfway towards a second successive all Kuwaiti AFC Cup Final which could well be played on home turf. The Premier League is also slated to kick off in the middle of the month. A busy football calender for sure and an important one. But will the fans care?

Wednesday, September 30, 2015


The Cups Floweth Over

Ok so at first glance a 3-1 reverse may not seem the best result in the world but do not underestimate Amri Yahya's late goal for Johor Darul Tazim last night against Qadsia. It was always going to be a tough night against the AFC Cup holders

Doris Fuakuputu gave the home team the lead in the first half and the experienced Bader Al Motowa made it a two goal cushion when he converted from the spot just before half time. Seydouba Soumah made it 3-0 on 58 minutes and the tie seemed all but over for JDT. However substitute Amri Yahya, on for Gary Steven Robbat, pulled back a consolation on 82 minutes that could be oh so vital going into the second leg at the Larkin Stadium.

In Indonesia the draw has been made for the President Cup.

03/10 Arema v Sriwijaya
04/10 Mitra Kukar v Persib

10/10 Persib v Mitra Kukar
11/10 Sriwijaya v Persib

I am not sure Persib will be too upset about journeying to Palembang for the second was there after all they were confirmed Indonesia Super League champions last year. The haze, though, could yet prove to be the elephant in the room with many flights being delayed in and out of Sumatra at the moment.

Can they still call the Singapore Cup the Singapore Cup? Tonight sees the semi final stage with a Filipino, Brunei, Japanese side vie for a spot in the final alongside one Singapore representative; Home United.

30/09 Global v Albirex Niigata
30/09 DPMM v Home United

Second legs to be played Friday. Again the threat of the haze looms over the ties with SLeague games recently postponed thanks to be the poisonous air.

In the Malaysia Cup JDT's second string side, known as JDT II headed north to Alor Setar to take on Kedah and returned with a 3-2 win thanks to the Singapore influence. Shahril Ishak gave the visitors the lead on 15th minute before Sandro da Silva restored local pride on 38 minutes. It was then the turn of Baihakki Khaizan to get on the score sheet, netting in injury time of the first half.

Chidi Edeh raised the roof for the home side on 55 minutes when he levelled but any thoughts they could kick on for a win were dashed when Zaquan Adha made it 3-2 with 11 minutes. Could a JDT side appear in the AFC Cup Final and the Malaysia Cup Final? That would certainly be something different...

Tuesday, September 29, 2015


JDT Face Tough Qadsia Challenge In Kuwait

It seems ages ago that I travelled to Malaysia to catch Johor Darul Tazim take on East Bengal in the AFC Cup. In fact it was February, seven months back. JDT defeated the Indian side 4-1 with goals from Nazrin Nawi, Safiq Rahim, Safee Sali and Chanthuru Suppirah in front of 12,000 plus fans at the Larkin Stadium. It was the first game of a journey that has seen the Malaysian side travel to India, Hong Kong, Singapore and Hong Kong again, a journey that sees them playing in the semi finals of the AFC Cup for the first time in their history.

Qadsia, yellow, in action against Kuwait SC in Premier League 2014/25
Their opponents are Kuwaiti side Qadsia and it is probably fair to say they are little known outside of the Middle East. In Kuwait they are probably the biggest side in the country with almost everyone you speak to saying they support the team in yellow. At the tail end of the 2014/2015 season they were still in with a shout of lifting the Kuwait Premier League and they were playing Al Arabi, another contender in a three horse race that also featured Kuwait SC. An estimated 25,000 filled Arabi's stadium in Mansouriya, comfortably the largest crowd of the season. The game ended 0-0 and with it Qadsia's title ambitions.

Qadsia have a proud tradition in the AFC Cup, reaching their first final in 2010 when they lost to Al Ittihad (Syria) on penalties at the Jabar International Stadium in Kuwait, a game watched by more than 58,000 fans at a stadium that has never been used since.

The following two seasons saw Qadsia reach the Group of 16, each time failing to get the better of their arch nemisis Kuwait SC after penalty shoot outs but in 2013 they reached the final one more time where they met...yep, you guessed it Kuwait SC. Needless to say they lost, 2-0, but they were getting closer to their holy grail and in 2014 they defeated Iraqi side on penalties to lift the trophy for the first time. It was a run that had seen them travel to Indonesia to play Persipura Jayapura, some trek that from the Middle East, and having won the first leg at home 4-2 there was a feeling the Black Pearls had enough to get the job done on their home patch, especially after they had convincingly brushed aside Kuwait SC in the previous round (2-3, 6-1).

Qadsia however made the long journey look simple, crushing Persipura 6-0 on their own patch and setting up an all Middle East final. Again. Since the competition started in 2004 Middle Eastern sides have come to look upon it as their own piece of silverware with Kuwaiti clubs lifting it four times, Jordan sides three times, Syria and Bahrain once each. The only break in the domination came in 2011 when Uzbekistan side FC Nasaf defeated Kuwait SC in the final.

With Kuwait SC taking on FC Istiklol in the other semi final the AFC Cup could well be ending up in the Middle East again.

Domestically the 2014/2015 season wont go down in the annals as one of Qadsia's best. They faded towards the end of the Premier League season, a 1-0 loss at home to perennial rivals Kuwait SC was soon followed by the disappointing draw against Al Arabi and finishing a disappointing fourth, 10 points off the leaders Kuwait SC.

The 2015/2016 Premier League season has yet to begin. However Qadsia are not going into the game against JDT totally unprepared. They have already overcome Syrian's Al Jaish 3-2 in the quarter final tie of the AFC Cup and while they dominated the first leg, played at Kuwait SC stadium, and could have won by a bigger margin than 3-0, they struggled in the second leg, ostensibly an Al Jaish home game but played at the same venue, and even managed to miss a penalty.

That inconsistency has also been evident in the Federation Cup. They opened their campaign with rusty, if gritty, 2-2 draw against Al Yarmouk, forced to come behind twice against the unfancied side.

They followed that by defeating Al Fahaheel 4-1 before thrashing Al Tadamun 6-0. The goal gluts though came against traditionally weak sides but with so many goals coming in the latter stages of the games JDT need be under no illusions as to the fitness of the Qadsia squad. A 0-0 draw against AL Arabi last night need be of no significance ahead of tonight's tie as Qadsia have been treating the Federation Cup as a squad competition, rotating players at will subject to the other, more important fixtures.

Last week for example they came up against Kuwait SC one more time in the Super Cup with Kuwait SC winning comfortably 3-1.

It is fair to say then Qadsia have yet to get into their stride. The losses against Al Jaish and Kuwait SC in the more important games suggest they are a team that can be got at but JDT should not underestimate the fitness levels of their opponents who are of course used to playing in the heat of the gulf.

One player JDT should be already aware of is Bader Al Mutawa. He wears the 17 shirt and so do legions of Qadsia fans in recognition of the Kuwaiti international who has been with the club since 2012 save a couple of spells overseas in Qatar and Saudi Arabia.  Back in 2012 he also had trials with Nottingham Forest but was unable to secure the necessary paperwork. Perhaps lacking the pace of a few years ago, Mutawa strikes me as being a Teddy Sheringham type player, intelligent, quick thinking.

For goals, Qadsia will be looking to Congolese striker Doris Fuakumputu, signed from Saudi side Al Fateh where he averaged nearly a goal every other game over a five year period. He too is the wrong side of 30 and when I saw him play against Al Yarmouk and Al Jaish he did perhaps look a bit off the pace.

Tonight's game is crucial for JDT. To take a point back to their Larkin Stadium would be a magnificent achievement and despite Qadsias claims to a large support they frequently play in front of crowds around 3 or 4,000. Playing in front of a hostile JDT crowd could well be a nerve wracking experience for many. JDT also have the experience of a long campaign behind them. They are used to playing with each other and know each others strengths and weaknesses while Qadsia are still a work in progress. However the absence of striker Luciamo Figuero after he was red carded against South China could be a big miss.

It promises to be an intriguing game this evening and a point for JDT would be a monumental achievement as well as the first step to an AFC Cup Final in a season when Malaysian football
has embarrassed so many

Sunday, September 27, 2015


Late Fixture Changes

The curse of the late fixture change has struck again. After my Nepal break I had hoped to catch an Arabian Gulf League game in Sharjah before flying from Dubai to Kuwait and taking my pick from the Federation Cup ties being held today.

Of course things don't work that simply, do they? First came the news the AGL games had been put back 24 hours meaning I had the choice of expensive taxi rides to Abu Dhabi or spending time in the pub...Then I hear the Federation Cup ties were put back 24 hours meaning the Sunday games had become Monday games!

See, it's not just South East Asia!


Persebaya's Name Change Adds To Farce

Last weekend in the President Cup Persebaya United defeated Sriwijaya 1-0 thanks to an 83rd minute goal from Slamet Dwi Cayoho. Today they meet in the second leg of their quarter final tie with one difference. Persebaya United are now called Bonek United.

Yep, you read that right. Midway through a competition a football club has decided to change its name and indeed its badge.

In one respect this is a victory for the fans of Persebaya  who are known as Bonek. They have never regarded Persebaya United, nee Persebaya, nee Persikubar, as their team from their city. When the rebel league was formed in 2011 the Bonek en mass followed Persebaya 1927.

Quite Persebaya United carry on is beyond me. The fans have long voted with their feet; an estimated 25,000 turned out for a friendly between Persebaya 1927 and Persibo ahead of the recent Independence Cup Final while there has been little to no interest in United's attempts in the President Cup.

The name change is a naked attempt to get fans on their side but it is doomed to failure and it is time the whole sorry saga was put to bed once and for all. A strong Persebaya with their passionate fans will generate more interest in Indonesian football. The current farce just ensures the laughs won't go away.

Indeed as I type this comes news Persebaya United/Bonek United have pulled out of their tie with Sriwijaya due to be played today...There seems to be a large crowd in Palembang for the tie and officials are discussing whether to play the game or not!

UPDATE - game awarded 3-0 to Sriwijaya. Bonek United stayed in the dressing room it seems.

Friday, September 25, 2015


A Nepali Football Experience

There are many reasons to visit Nepal. There's that spiritual lark that had hippies heading here by the combi load in the late 1960s, in search of love, peace and ganga man. Then there are the mountains, bloody great big things with snow and stuff that some people seem to think are great fun to climb. Me? I certainly didn't come in search of the inner me and I was knackered climbing the stairs to the Tom and Jerry pub.

But once I heard there would be a couple of games on, ee, proper excited I was. I spent the morning walking the narrow lanes of Thamel, a tourist ghetto along the lines of Khao San Road and Kuta, numbed at the sheer number of trekking guides and prayer flags on sale to the visitor and counting the hours to kick off.

The season had been halted following the devastating earthquake that had hit the country back in April and had only recently started up again. An uncertain political situation outside of the capital meant that when re-compiling a fixture list, officials sought to play the games in and around Kathmandu as much as possible.

I had arranged to meet with Nabin, the chairman of the local Arsenal Supporters Club in the garden of my hotel and of course I arrived late. We jumped on the back of his motorbike and headed off into the godawful traffic. Horns and klaxons provide a symphony that I ever associate with South Asia and Kathmandu was no exception. Everyone with something to press or tinkle was pressing and tinkling for all their worth in an effort to gain the slightest advantage on the road. Did it work? Did pressing the horn as long and as often as possible bring any advantage? Did it bollocks but  I guess it made people feel good.

We finally left the main road behind and touched the outskirts of Patan, a one time independent city state popular with tourists but for now at least just one more suburb of a nation's capital to be whized past on the road to the football.

We arrived at the All Nepal Football Association Complex, parked up and entered the ground. In fact it is not really meant to be a ground, more a training facility for the national teams but for now it is being used to host games in the National League. There was a small covered terrace behind one goal, just beneath the flightpath to the international airport while a small stand on one side held fans, media and other dignitaries as well as the players dressing rooms underneath.

Nabin tried to sweet talk us into the media area but the steward was having none of it. Maybe it was my shorts, maybe it was the fact I wasn't a journo or maybe his wife had left him, he had tooth ache and someone had let the air out of his tyres on his motorbike but he was not going to let us pass and that was the end of it. Sir, if ever you move to Singapore you could steward SLeague games there, no worries!

We finally took our seats in the VIP bit with no hassle and I sat on a plastic chair, the sort that usually gets thrown by drunken English football fans in European city centres, close to ANFA officials and the new national team coach Patrick Aussems looking resplendent on his sofa!

On the pitch Far Western were kind of hosting Manang Marshyangdi Club; I say hosting, there aren't that many stadiums in Nepal so the ANFA Complex is being used by a  few clubs and indeed after this particular game Nepal Police were due to play someone else on the same pitch.

There were a few hundred fans in the ground with most of them either in the stand or behind the goal in the covered terrace. The stadium, too grand a word really, is still being constructed and opposite the main stand there is an apartment block used by young players in the national age group sides while behind the other goal is the ANFA office. For the lads in the apartment block it must have been like having their own personal executive box though I fancy there was no a la carte menu for them. The area behind the main stand resembles a construction sight and as the game was in progress work was still going on with labourers moving soil about. The dressing rooms were spartan, none of the luxury you find at clubs like Arsenal. In fact they didn't seem to have any facilities at all and after the game the players were soon heading for home, many still in their playing kit!

At half time former Persija defender Rohit Chand came over for a chat. He's still waiting for his money! I have been following his career for a while now since someone pointed him out to me a few years back. Graham Robers, former coach of the Nepal national team, raved about him and was forever linking him with clubs in Europe while overlooking the small matter of work permits. Anyway, with the Indonesia Super League inactive Rohit was back in his native Nepal and preparing for the South Asian Football Federation Championships at the end of the year. Don't you want to play in the National League, I asked him. He smiled.

There were a few Africans playing for MMC and Far Western and Nabin said they would probably be earning about $500 a month. I often wonder how a player ends up in places like Nepal..I am sure they would have interesting stories to tell of their footballing careers but time was always going to be against me on this trip.

The game itself was ok. MMC won 6-0 and it could have been, should have been a lot more. It was almost like they felt sorry for their young opponents in the second half, resorting to long distance pot shots that troubled the ball boys more than the keeper. After the game the Far Western coach had a bit of a moan about the number of games his team had played recently and all the travel they had been doing. And no, his name was not Arsene Wenger!

At the end of the game the stadium slowly emptied. I had noticed a group of security officials on the terrace behind the goal. I hadn't noticed some of them were armed. I'm from England, I'm not used to seeing armed people walking round the streets or even the stadiums. Not all were armed, some but enough. I asked Nabin what kind of trouble they experienced at Nepali football but he seemed surprised at the question. I saw once more that steward whose devotion to duty had seen me blocked from entering the media area. As I walked behind the worthies from the ANFA I didn't turn to him and gloat. He was doing his job after all and anyway toothache ain't no fun for anyone. Now, had it been one of the officious little buggers at an SLeague game, then I may have enjoyed a smile at them...

I didn't stick around for the second game which I must admit is most unlike me but with this a football day I had promised myself an ale or two near the hotel. Venturing out on to the main road, Rohit negotiated a taxi for me and I headed back to Thamel for a beer or six at Tom and Jerry, sat cramped in a tiny Suzuki with the windows open allowing to to inhale that poisonous Katmandhu air.

After a few beers one night several moons ago I floated the idea of following a season in the National League. It would be great to spend a bit of time in Nepal and as we all know football takes you to places you wouldn't normally get to.  Will it happen? Who knows but tomorrow I'm off to climb a mountain and buy some smelly candles and a tshirt with a big eye on it and stuff.

If you are interested in knowing more about football in Nepal then check out

Monday, September 21, 2015


Development Sides Upset SLeague Big Hitters

Warriors missed a big opportunity of closing the gap on SLeague leaders DPMM when they were surprisingly held by Malaysian development side Harimau Muda to a 2-2 draw on Saturday. The draw keeps them in second place, three points behind the Brunei side but still Warriors boast the worst defence in the league having conceded 36 goals this season so far. Fortunately they also have the best strikeforce with 34 goals. Yep, still in negative territory!

I would love to have been a tube of ralgex in the Warriors dressing room at half time as they trailed 2-0 to the Malaysians after the first 45 but they came out for the second half in Melaka revitalised and two goals from Fazrul Nawaz spared their blushes.

Last time out Harimau Muda had been thumped 5-1 by Tampines Rovers so this was a remarkable turnaround by the young team in a short period of time and while the 10-0 disaster against UAE still rankles perhaps this result and the success of the national team in reaching the AFC U16 Championships next year in India may suggest the current gloom is not a permagloom...depending of course on the grizzlies in charge.

Talking Tampines, their efforts to claw themselves back into the title race hit yet another stonewall when they were defeated by Singapore's own developmental side the Young Lions in a game marred by two red cards at the end. Anumanthan Mohan Kumar  hit the only goal of the game on the 16th minute and for all the brickbats that followed their failure to reach the knock out stage of the SEA Games in July coach Jurgen Raab must have been delighted with the discipline his side showed against such an experienced side.

Both sides remain in the bottom half of the table with little hope of escape but results like these are so important for young players' confidence and self belief. They may well get tonked in their next game but they have at least shown what they are capable against top sides.

7 - Harimau Muda 18 6 2 10 21-32 20

9 - Young Lions 17 5 3 9 17-26 18


President Cup Latest

Arema v Bali United 2-1
Mitra Kukar v PSM Makassar 1-0
Persebaya United v Sriwijaya 1-0
Pusamania Borneo v Persib 3-2

Advantage home teams all around which is no surprise when you consider the hosts didn't lose any games of the group stages. Perhaps they should rename the competition Home Is Where The Points Are Cup. Given the narrow margins of victory you could have a real stab in the dark and suggest the losers last weekend could well come up trumps in the second leg. My tip...a Persib v Bali United final!

The second legs of these ties will be played next weekend.


Kuwait Catch Up

AFC U16 Championships Qualifiers

Afghanistan v Syria 2-2
Kuwait v Afghanistan 1-0
Syria v Kuwait 0-0

Kuwait finished top of the group with four points and go through to the championships in India next year.

Federation Cup

Khitan v Kuwait 2-2
Kazma v Al Nasr 8-0
Burgan v Al Shabab 0-1
Al Sahel v Al Arabi 1-2
Al Salmiya v Al Fahaheel 2-6
Qadsia v Al Tadamun 6-0

I was at the Al Arabi game and was impressed by what I saw of Al Sahel. They were well organised and dangerous on the break and can count themselves unlucky to lose in the end, albeit through controversial circumstances.

In the last minute they had a player sent off. Al Arabi went down their end and scored. That was it. That simple.

Not sure how strong the Kuwait and Qadsia teams would have been. They both had AFC Cup quarter finals last week and later today play in the Super Cup.

The shock though was Al Fahaheel thrashing Al Salmiya 6-2. Didn't know they were capable of scoring so many goals!


Riffa v Bahrain 2-0

It was all very last minute but the opportunity was there so I reached for it. Bahrain. The nation that thrashed Indonesia 10-0 in a World Cup Qualifier not too long ago. A tiny island in the gulf home to about a million or so people. And they had the FA Cup on going so I went so there.

Many moons back I saw Bahrain Under 16s compete in an Under 16 event in Jakarta and was impressed by what I saw. Tidy, crisp passers of the ball, good movement. not world beaters but easy on the eye.

And that pretty much sums up the FA Cup tie I saw at Al Ahli Stadium at the weekend played out in front of a crowd of dozens. Riffa ran out well deserved winners but Bahrain had their moments and all in all it was not a bad game with one good goal to savour, a Riffa striker controlling the ball with his chest, making space and volleying home from about 12 yards.

I will be back for more games in the future not least because there is beer available on the island and there is even a pub crawl to be had and that, as Ratcat once opined, ain't bad!

Sunday, September 13, 2015


Malaysia Cup Matchday 1

Johor Darul Tazim v Kedah 2-0 (Safee Sali, Chaturu) 18,710
Terengganu v Johor Darul Tazim II 0-0 13,500
LionsXII v Kedah 1-1 (Shahdan Sulaiman; Sandro Mendoca) 5,266
Sarawak v ATM 1-0 (Joseph Talang Tie) 2,130
Selangor v Kelantan 0-3 (Gilma Jose Da Silva 2, Iwuji Augustine) 13,260
Felda United v T Team 3-0 (Makeche Ndumba 2, Indra Putra Mahyuddin) 600
Pahang v PDRM 4-3 (Azamuddin 3, Dickson Nwakaeme; Dramae Traore, Ashfaq Ali, Jaime Braganca) 7,336
Penang v PKNS 0-3 (Nazrin Syamsulbhari, Gabriel Miguel Guerra, Nizam Abu Bakar) 5,055


How Do You Explain A Problem Like Persebaya?

You would think it was pretty simple. Persebaya come from Surabaya and boast massive support around the country. Back in 2011 they opted to enter the then rebel Premier League and their support went with them.

Thing is another entity, also confusingly called Persebaya, continued to play in the official league and fans stayed away in droves. Persebaya in the IPL, known as Persebaya 1927 took the fans with them and a local derby against Arema, the IPL one, not the ISL one (I hope you are keeping up) attracted 55,000 fans to the Bung Tomo Stadium.

While there were two leagues there continued to be two Persebayas. And when they leagues finally merged into one again in 2014 there were still two Persebayas; one that was a rebrand of Persikubar from East Kalimantan and one that lived on in the hearts and minds of the fanatical fans known as Bonek.

I went to one game at Bung Tomo when an expensively assembled Persebaya thrashed Perseru...the crowd was two or three thousand in that large arena. The players made more noise than the fans!

One reason the league has been cancelled in Indonesia and the association suspended is due in part to Persebaya. BOPI, bless their little cotton buds, said the league had to sort the ownership issues surrounding Persebaya. Difficult when the top bloke at the club was growing ever more influential in the corridors of footballing power.

The 2015 ISL season saw Persebaya continue irrespective of the strictures from on high until the league was halted. Now we have the President Cup and Persebaya United were drawn in the group hosted in Bandung. Reaching the quarter final stage where ties will be played home and away the rebranded Persebaya United seem to have decided to play their home games on the island of Bali. So much for Persebaya United.

And today ahead of the Independence Cup, also held in Surabaya, between PSMS and Persinga Persebaya will play a friendly against Persekap.

So there you have it. I think. Persebaya explained. Or not. Maybe.

Saturday, September 12, 2015


President Cup Quarter Final Draw

19/09 - Arema v Bali United, Persebaya United v Sriwijaya
20/09 - Mitra Kukar v PSM, Pusamania v Persib
26/09 - Bali United v Arema, Sriwijaya v Persebaya United
27/09 - Persib v Pusamania, PSM v Mitra Kukar


Groundhopping, Kuwait Style

Catching a game used to be so easy. You would pick up the paper in the morning, turn to the sports pages and hey presto there was a list of matches to choose from complete with kick off times. I thought the whole world was like that but nope, it ain't so simple. First in Indonesia and then Malaysia I learned printed or announced fixture lists aren't meant as any kind of guide for the casual fan. They are released because, well, um, someone has to do it and no consideration is given to accuracy. Some jobsworth thinks he has to release the fixtures, he does, job done. Not his problem if the list is inaccurate.

The confusion over the venue for Qadsia’s first Federation Cup tie was to be a sign of things to come. Their second game saw them play Al Fahahhel, perennial cannon fodder from the lower reaches of the 
table, and for several days ahead of the clash the Kuwait FA website showed the game being played at 
the Kuwait SC stadium. It was no surprise then to learn on match day it was moved to Kazma’s Peace
and Friendship Stadium.

Like the Rochdale Supporters’ Club (Kuwait Branch) I was excited by the announcement as it meant a 
new ground for us all. Thanks to the wonders of GSM and the light traffic on the roads we had little 
difficulty in finding the stadium and arrived with a good 40 minutes to spare before kick off. Given the 
lack of interest towards the Federation Cup we were not surprised to see there was no one else around 
save the odd workmen doing workmen type things. We raced up the steps in eager anticipation of a 
new ground only to find it was the same as most others we had been to; a covered stand and an open
terrace with a running track keeping any fans at bay from the pitch. 

Considering there was a match due to start in a few minutes there seemed to be a lack of urgency 
anywhere. Indeed there seemed to be a lack of people on the pitch. The light warm up sessions you 
might expect from both sides were noticeably absent and on closer inspection so were the while lines 
on the pitch.  A clue! You can’t have a football match with an unmarked pitch so disappointed we 
trooped back to the car and pondered our next move.

Given the first venue for the game had been given as Kuwait SC’s stadium we decided to head there 
and we assumed we had chosen correctly when the tall floodlight pylons loomed on the horizon, their 
bright lights acting as a beacon to one and all...there is a game on lads! Except there wasn’t! Instead it 
appeared the lights had been put on to allow the groundstaff to water the pitch with their sprinklers and
hoses. Heaven forbid they do that in the dark.

It was now five minutes to kick off wherever the game was and we decided to head to Mansouriya. At 
least we knew Al Salmiya were slated to play there. At least according to the Kuwait FA website. As 
we drove we surfed the web and guess what? The Qadsia game was being streamed live...from 
Mansouriya! We made good time, missed the first 10 minutes but at least caught the game and as we 
sat in the stand watching Al Fahaheel struggle to keep up with Qadsia we couldn’t help but wonder; 
where were Al Salmiya playing? (Fahaheel was the answer though we didn't know it at the time!)

Federation Cup Week 2 Results

Kazma v Al Jahra 7-0
Burgan v Al Nasr 6-2
Kuwait SC v Al Shabab 5-1
Al Salmiya v Al Yarmouk 2-0
Qadsia v Al Fahaheel 4-1
Al Arabi v Al Tadamun 10-1

Friday, September 11, 2015


High Risk Malaysia Cup Ties Highlighted

PETALING JAYA: Three days ago, chaos reigned at the Shah Alam Stadium. No thanks to the irresponsible action of a group of unruly fans.

No one talked about the game – Malaysia’s World Cup qualifying Asian Zone Group A match against Saudi Arabia, which was abandoned in the 88th minute with the visitors leading 2-1.

All talk was about the unruly group letting off fireworks, flares and smoke bombs onto the pitch and the assault of some Saudi fans.

So, when Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT) entertain Perak in the opening Group B match of the Malaysia Cup competition at the Larkin Stadium on Friday, let’s pray that sanity prevails in the stands and it’s the action on the field that takes centrestage.

But knowing the simmering rivalry between the two sides, the authorities had better be prepared.
Last month, 11 fans were charged in the magistrate’s court in Johor Baru under Section 14 of the Minor Offences Act 1955 with using indecent, threatening, abusive or insulting words or with behaving in a threatening or insulting manner.

Then, JDT had defeated Perak 4-1 in a Super League match amidst flares and fireworks being aimed at the grandstand where the Perak fans were seated. Two police officers suffered head injuries and had to receive three stitches while another hurt his right arm.

That’s not all. Last year, the FAM disciplinary committee fined the Perak FA RM140,000 and ordered the Perak team to play four of their Super League home matches in an empty stadium due to crowd trouble involving the matches against JDT and Selangor.

There is definitely bad blood between these two teams – and their fans.

Hopefully, there will be increased security at the Larkin Stadium to prevent any untoward incident.
That is not the only match that will come under the microscope.

The Selangor-Kelantan Group C match on Saturday is another. And it will be held at the Shah Alam Stadium, the venue of Tuesday’s mayhem.

The good news though is that the Police and the Selangor FA (FAS) officials met on Thursday to discuss ways to improve security.

In other development, the FAM executive committee have also called for a press conference at Wisma FAM in Kelana Jaya on Friday.

They are expected to discuss three main issues – FAM president Tengku Abdullah Sultan Ahmad’s resignation, Tuesday’s Malaysia-Saudi Arabia match and the overall management plans for the national team.

Thursday, September 10, 2015


Balestier Khalsa's Unlikely Title Challenge

When you talk about big clubs in Singapore, to be fair you probably don't but anyway, Tampines Rovers, Warriors and Home United spring to mind. They have after all won 16 of the 19 SLeagues since the league started in 1996.

Chances are you won't mention Balestier Khalsa. In an unfancied league they are an unfancied club lacking a trophy cabinet until a couple of years back but now is the club emerging from the shadows to mount a serious bid for the SLeague title?

A quiet revolution has been taking place round Balestier over the last couple of years and it started under the tutelege of former APIA legend Darren Stewart. The one time Aussie international guided the club to the 2013 Singapore League Cup, their first ever silverware, defeating, nay thrashing, DPMM 4-0 in the final of the much maligned competition.

Stewart left at the end of the season and the club looked to one of their own with the appointment of Marko Kraljevic as coach. The man certainly knew about Asian football when he came in at the start of 2014 having played for Kelantan, Hong Kong Rangers, Balestier Central, Tampines Rovers and Jurong before moving into coaching and had been working with Woodlands Wellington's Prime League team when the call came to take over the hot seat.

In his first season at Tao Payoh the club did something it had never done before; it lifted the Singapore Cup after defeating Home United 3-1 while the goals of Goran Ljubojevic saw the club finish in a respectable 6th place without really threatening the top places.

Ljubojevic's successful spell saw him move on to Sriwijaya while Balestier had the novelty of an AFC Cup campaign to look forward to but a 2-1 win over East Bengal were the only points they managed to pick up in their six games, finishing bottom of the group.

But now they sit third in the SLeague just a few points off the leaders and looking to be in a strong position to mount an assault on the title.

1 - DPMM 17 9 5 3 28-16 32
2 - Albirex Niigata 18 9 4 5 19-11 31
3 - Balestier Khalsa 17 8 5 4 26-19 29
4 - Warriors 18 9 2 7 28-32 29

They have just one defeat in their last 12 games, a 2-1 loss at home to Warriors, but along the way they have picked up three away points against imported powerhouses  DPMM and Albirex Niigata and their last home game before the break for the WCQs saw them defeat the leaders 2-1 with goals from Robert Pericic and Miroslav Kristic. In fact the duo have netted 16 between them to suggest their over reliance last season on Ljubojevic has been put behind them to good effect and with both players on the right side of 30 they still have much to offer.
This Sunday sees Balestier Khalsa take on inconsistent Warriors and if Kristic and Pericic can get among the champions notoriously jittery defence then another three points could well be theirs for the taking. Balestier Khalsa as SLeague title challengers...who would have thought it!


Persiba A Win Away From President Cup Big 8

Tomorrow sees the President Cup action switch to Jakarta. Nope, not for any games, Persija fell out of the competition with barely a whimper but the draw will take place in the capital city which is nice.

Seven teams are already through to the next round, known as Besar 8 or Big 8;

Bali United Pusam *
PSM Makassar *
Arema *
Persib *
Mitra Kukar

* denotes hosts in the group stage and yep they all qualified top of their respective groups.

Today is the final action of the group stage with games being held at Si Jalak Harupat Stadium in Soreang, near Bandung. First up Persebaya United take on Persiba Balikpapan before Persib host Martapura in the evening kick off. A win would guarantee the Honeybears a ticket in the next round and to be fair even a draw should be enough. Can we see Martapura defeating the ISL champions later? It can happen of course...

Persiba v Persebaya United 1-4. Persebaya United reach the next stage of the competition.

Ties will be played on a home and away basis on 19/20 September and 26/27 September.


Wednesday, September 09, 2015


Persija's President Cup Flop

Persija Jakarta exited the President Cup in Bali with barely a whimper as they drew their final game 0-0
with Mitra Kukar. A win would have secured a spot in the next round for the Kemayoran Tigers but that
was never on the cards after another dismal showing in the holiday island.

Despite being followed by the passionate Jakmania in large numbers yet again the players failed to turn 
up where it mattered; on the pitch. After losing their opening game 3-0 against hosts Bali United Pusam,
Persija spluttered to a 1-1 draw with Persita Tangerang, a game once tinged with the aroma of a local 
derby but these days just another run of the mill affair played far from home. 

At least Persija scored in that game, defender Gunawan Dwi Cahayo equalising two minutes after 
Persita had taken a five minute lead. 

One goal in 270 minutes of football with a strike force boasting Bambang Pamungkas and James Koko
Lommel is a poor return for Rahmad Darmawan’s men and no doubt will lead to more questions about 
what is going wrong at one of Indonesia’s biggest clubs but now in danger of becoming a Liverpool, 
a club living on its past, banking on its huge support but little in the way of hope in the near future.

Persija have long been a case study of how not to run a football club, struggling to find sponsors despite
their huge fan base and high profile across the nation. According to figures from Liga Indonesia, the 
body that oversees the Super League, in 2013/14 their wages to turnover ratio was an unsustainable 
118% and they lost Rp 20 billion. 

Compare that with champions Persib Bandung whose ratio was 44% and turned a Rp 2 billion profit 
and you can see the opening of a chasm that could continue to haunt Persija for years to come. Even 
Persela Lamongan, from a small city on the north east coast of Java, had figures that can only add to 
the unease among fans of Persija. They finished higher than Persija, paid a mere 30% of their turnover
in salaries and managed a tidy profit of around Rp 1 billion.

The mismanagement off the field has left its impression on it. The club ended the 2014 season poorly 
with one win and three draws in their final four games not enough to secure a place in the play offs and 
things didn’t improve at the start of the aborted 2015 season when the news from Persija was more 
about players refusing to train in protest at the non payment of salaries. They started the 2015 season 
with two tricky away games in East Java, drawing 4-4 against Arema in an absolute humdinger of a 
match before losing 1-0 at the aforementioned Persela. The season of course then ended with the spat 
between the government and the PSSI resulting in the ultimate sanction from FIFA.

The Jakmania faithful have been rewarded with a single victory in their last nine games and that came 
just over a year ago. Coach Rahmad, in his third spell with the club, has enjoyed success elsewhere with
Persipura Jayapura and Sriwijaya Palembang but even he seems unable to turn around the fortunes of 
the club from the capital city even though he is often working under difficult circumstances.

What must really grate though with the supporters is while Persija bounce around like a bottle adrift on 
the ocean, their bitterest rival, Persib, are going from strength to strength. Success on the field has been 
matched by success off it as sponsors queue up to match their brand with the team from Bandung. 
While they do their best to secure the best players of the day, and players like striker Ilija Spasojevic, 
Hariono and Zulham Zamrun fall in to that category, Persija applaud themselves for bringing back icon 
and legend Bambang Pamungkas.

Whenever competitive football returns, and hopes the ISL will restart in October seem to be fading, it 
looks like the future of Persija will remain bleak without a serious overhaul of the football club and 
some serious investment. Unfortunately for the Jakmania neither seems likely at the moment.

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