It’s so hard to believe that a year ago Joshua was playing in his Excel Sunday league in Borehamwood, with and against many of his friends and loving every minute of being part of a team and all that comes with it. It broke his little heart to leave Excel, especially mid-season, and we could only hope that he would find something similar in Hong Kong. He has. And a bit more on top.
Joshua plays for two football clubs in Hong Kong. The first is Maccabi, a thriving Jewish football club that comprises mainly of boys from his school so the atmosphere is always great – for the kids and the parents. The second is Asia Pacific Soccer Schools. He joined this club soon after we arrived here and at the end of the first term he was put forward by his coach to train with their squads from the start of the Autumn term. This basically means that as well as just training and learning skills each week, the boys with the most potential train together and also play in tournaments about once a month. There is also the opportunity for them to take part in international tournaments a couple of times a year. We were told that this year there would be a tournament in Bangkok in November and one in Phuket in February. From the moment we found that out, we felt that we just had to make this happen for Joshua. What an experience it would be for him to say that he’s played in an international tournament. We picked the Bangkok one and after some discussion it was decided that just Joshua and I would go, leaving Dan and Eden behind. Dan has done a lot of business travel around Asia already, whereas I haven’t been anywhere yet! We didn’t think it would be fun for Eden to be schlepped on a 3 hour plane journey each way, just to be confined to the hotel for the weekend and one of us would have to stay behind with her anyway, so it was decided that Eden and Dan would just stay in Hong Kong.
From the second the tickets were booked, Joshua was beside himself with excitement. I was also pretty excited to be going to Bangkok too of course!
This was my vision …. nice hotel, bit of sightseeing, warm weather, bit of sunbathing, then sit and relax in the sun with my book and magazine whilst keeping half an eye on Josh on the football pitch making sure I took enough photos and videos to satisfy Dan when we returned home.
This was the reality …. rain, rain, rain, a bit more rain, a lot of mud, more rain, wet clothes, wet everything. Well, maybe not that bad, not in hindsight anyway, but it felt pretty bad at the time.
We arrived at our hotel on Friday lunchtime. It was the same hotel that the coaches and almost all the players were staying in and Josh was really excited about this. He had already seen a few other ‘Asia Pacific’ boys on our plane, from older age groups, as well as boys who play for another Hong Kong team who were also playing in this tournament. All Josh wanted to do that afternoon was go to Siam Ocean World, the biggest aquarium in South East Asia, or something. I got details of how to get there – and bravely led Josh into the unknown! If you had shown me a map of Bangkok I would have no clue where exactly we were. If I’m honest, show me a map of Asia and I couldn’t really tell you where Bangkok is!! But we made it. At one point it dawned on me that I should have got a card with the hotel name on it so we could get back there easily in our taxi. But I hadn’t. I put that to the back of my mind until I needed to worry about it! The aquarium was amazing and our ticket included a behind the scenes tour, a glass bottom boat ride where Joshua got to feed some sharks, one of those foot spas where fish nibble at your feet and a 5D show ticket which we didn’t do as Josh was too scared! Joshua loved every second and after a quick sushi dinner, we headed back to the hotel.
The journey home was one to remember. The train was so jam packed that it made the London Underground in rush hour on a hot day seem comfortable! Joshua lost his patience pretty quickly. I guess it was even worse for him being half the size of everyone else, squashed up close! But someone gave him their seat eventually and things eased up a bit. The only funny bit was a sign on the train saying, ‘Please give up your seat for monks’. Really? Why? And the picture that accompanied it was even funnier! We got back to our station, it was dark and not that easy for me to get my bearings to remember which side of the road to stand on to hail a cab back to the hotel. I couldn’t even work out which taxis were available or not! Josh was hopping around needing a wee but I ignored that and we got a taxi in the end. Of course the driver had never heard of our hotel and barely spoke English. All I had on me was my room key which had the name of the hotel on it and the phone number. He still didn’t know the name when I showed it to him (it was about 20 mins away, so maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised), so I had to call them, pass my phone to the driver for him to get directions which he did and he got us back without abducting or murdering us or at minimum taking us the long way round for a bigger fare. The journey cost us all of about 50p and I was so happy to be safely back at the hotel that I gave the driver a nice tip – I think it was at least 20p.
Next day, Joshua and his team-mates all had a fun time running around at breakfast together, we had a relaxing few hours sunbathing by the pool before finally getting ready to head off for the first day of the 2 day tournament.
Joshua got a customised shirt to wear, saying ‘Bangkok Tour 24-25 November 2012’ on the front and number 8 (random selection, not indicative of position) on the back. He was so proud of this shirt.
As we set off on the bus, the rain started. It also started raining out of Joshua’s eyes as well. I’m not sure if he was more worried that the tournament would be called off or of the thunder and lightening that we were suddenly in the middle of. Either way, he became a tearful wreck! He’d been looking forward to this weekend for so long and this was not what he (or I!) had pictured. When we arrived at the British International School where the tournament was being held, the start was delayed until the rain stopped and everyone was huddled together under the shelter of the stands which weren’t really keeping us dry as the wind was so fierce that the rain was coming in from the sides! The rain didn’t really stop properly so the organisers made a few changes to the timetables and schedules. They were unable to use some of the pitches as the grass was so sodden.
Joshua’s first match was against Tai Tam Tigers. They are a Hong Kong based team who are very good and who they have played in quite a few local tournaments before. A local derby you could say. They lost 1-0. Not a great start. I loved how the players are all made to shake hands at the end of each game and then the team huddles together for a debrief! Each game was 16 minutes. In the second game, Joshua asked to play in goal. I have no idea where this came from as he’s a striker through and through but his coach was happy for him to try and to his credit he kept a clean sheet. Although he didn’t have to make a single save – Eden would have probably kept a clean sheet! The final score was 0-0. The third game was against the Tai Tam Hawks from Singapore, Joshua was upfront for most of the match until he was subbed. Again it finished 0-0 but a good result as their opponents are a very good team. At this point everyone was thinking it would be good if someone, anyone, could score a goal!! They were meant to play 4 games by the end of the first day but the rain became so bad again that the organisers called an end to things early and said that weather permitting we would start earlier the next day instead – at 7am! The tournament was due to finish at 1pm the next day and they had to stick to that as people (including us) had booked flights based on that finish time. So the only option was to start as early as possible.
Sunday morning dawned, barely, and it was still rainy & stormy. But we didn’t get any news of cancellation so we all got on the coach and headed back to the tournament, slightly dreading the thought of another wet, goal-less day! Again we had to wait around when we arrived as there was a lightening warning and the organisers wouldn’t make the kids play with a risk of lightening. But that passed eventually and the games kicked off. Joshua’s Under 8’s team were joint 2nd bottom in their group of 8 teams. Not the best. First match of the day was against Bangkok Soccer School – the home team, tricky. The result – another 0-0! I was starting to question my value for money here!! But it was a respectable result as Josh’s team were defending the whole time. Morale wasn’t at it’s best with no wins yet, not even a goal. But finally, they won a match! The next game finished 1-0 and they were all ecstatic!! Finally a goal, and a win! Next match Joshua was in goal again, again at his request (Dan was protesting from Hong Kong!). He did well, but conceded a goal. Nonetheless, the game finished 1-1 and Josh also made some good saves so wasn’t too disappointed.
That was the end of the group stage. They’d won 1, drawn 4 and lost 1. Now they were waiting to find out if they’d got through to play for the Under 8’s cup. Of the 8 teams in the group, the bottom 4 would play in a semi-final and final for the Plate and the top 4 would play a semi-final and final for the Cup. We were told that one loss from 6 games would normally easily earn a place to play for the Cup but with all those 0-0’s, no one could be sure. Finally the announcement came. The boys had just squeezed 4th place so were playing for the Cup – but their semi-final was going to be against the team who finished first. Yikes. They were a great team. Josh was positioned up front for the semi-final and he was raring to go. It was a tense game and Josh was frustrated to be subbed again (the coaches made sure everyone got a chance to play and with 10 in the squad for 7-a-side games, there was a lot of substituting!) The game finished 0-0. These were now knock-out stages so a penalty shoot-out now faced the boys.
As Joshua had been substituted, he wouldn’t be amongst the first 5 penalty takers so I knew he probably wouldn’t get to take one. I was wrong though. This was the longest penalty shoot out I had ever seen. Each team kept scoring and missing or having their penalties saved, in mirror image of what the other team had just done. There was nothing to separate them. Boys who missed were in tears, this was a tough way to settle things for Under 8’s. Joshua eventually got his turn and coolly smashed it into the bottom left corner, a perfect penalty and he tore away with his arms out like an airplane! He’d done his bit. Still no winner and eventually some boys were getting their second go. The boys who had missed their first ones had to pull themselves together to take a second and finally, finally, after what must have been 12 or 13 goes, Josh and his team actually did it!!! They were in the final!! Finally I knew what it felt like to support a team who actually won penalty shoot-outs!! The boys were all on top of each other on the grass, it was amazing, they were so happy, and it had been so tense! Whatever happened next, it didn’t matter, they had done so well, had a magical moment and the sun had even come out at last!! Dan had been on the other end of the phone getting live commentary from me the whole way through the shoot out and I think he was regretting not being there!! He couldn’t stand the tension!
They had 15 minutes before their final and the coaches were urging the boys to sit in the shade, stay calm and drink lots of water whilst they figured out the team for the final. The boys were buzzing and on such a high after the semi that there was no chance of them sitting still!
Joshua was placed in midfield for the final against Singapore International. This was the team they had played when Joshua was goalkeeper and let one in. He got subbed again and was very frustrated with himself as he didn’t think he played that well but he’d done just fine. I think he was just upset that he thought that was the end of the tournament for him. The result? Of course, 0-0 again! Penalties again! To settle the final. To win the Cup. Blimey, we thought the semi was tense!! Again, Dan appeared at the other end of the phone not wanting to miss a second. We were told the penalties in the final were to be ‘best of 3’ before ‘sudden death’, not the ‘best of 5’ like in the semi. Just as they were ready to take the first, an organiser came running up saying that the rules were that it wasn’t ‘best of 3’ in the final, but ‘sudden death’ from the off! What?? But then he said that if the coaches from both teams had already agreed on ‘best of 3’ and were happy to stick with that, then that was fine. So off they went. The teams were tied with 1 goal each and 2 misses each after the first 3 penalties so it was sudden death. It didn’t go on for quite as long as the semi. Joshua didn’t get to take one this time but the end result? THEY DID IT!! They had been total underdogs from the start of the tournament, knowing that they were up against some pretty fearsome teams. But they weren’t embarrassed once, every result was respectable, they kept their cool to win two penalty shoot-outs (unlike their parents!) and now they were the Bangkok Soccer Schools International Tournament 2012 Under 8’s Cup Winners!! This time the tears came from the parents. And the coaches! Everyone really!!
There are some amazing moments in life that bring tears to your eyes when you remember them and I can now add this to the album in my head of the moments in my life. To have given Joshua this amazing opportunity, to have had a special weekend, just me and him, the emotional rollercoaster that unfolded and then to see that medal round his neck and his team lift the cup and dancing around in happiness is something that I will never forget and I hope will stay with Joshua forever. I am so unspeakably proud of him.
Mother Nature had one more contribution to our weekend – our flight back to Hong Kong was delayed for 3 hours! Didn’t ‘dampen’ our spirits though!