The Absolutely Awesome, Fantastic, I-May-Just-Run-Out-of-Words Football Adventure in Kuala Lumpur (Part 3)

They say all good things must come to an end.

However, some things must end with a bang.

On my final full day at Kuala Lumpur, I woke up way too early (hardly got any sleep due to sheer excitement!), got ready for checking out, and donned my red Liverpool shirt. The plan was to be at the stadium early, as all tickets to the match were sold out. Of course, there’s a bit of comfort in knowing you’ve got guaranteed seats, but given how Bukit Jalil was pretty much far from the city center and the trains were going to be the primary mode of transportation, it was better to be there much, much earlier.

And boy, was it a fiesta at Bukit Jalil. As early as 2 p.m., there was already a sea of red in the area surrounding the stadium, complete with large banners that dressed up the place, even more stalls selling food, drinks, and merchandise, the non-stop blaring of horns, and even louder retro music.

Amidst the maddening crowd, we found space to pose with our banners and scarves, as well as finding time to buy some souvenir items. I got a Bart Simpson shirt, wherein Bart was wearing a “We 8 Mancs” Liverpool kit and pissing on Manchester United. Throughout the steps leading to and around the various entrance points, banners were unfurling and horns were blaring. There were the fans that seemed to have consumed several pints of beer already, a fan that had a broken leg but was still gamely in line, and the littlest of kids decked in their Liverpool kits.

As we (Mich, Leo, Leah, Rex, Johann, Ryan, Rick, and I) were seated separately (and Rick and Ryan had media passes), we eventually parted ways. Mich and I were seated at the second tier, behind the commentators, and almost right smack at the center of the stadium, giving us a good view of how it transformed into a sea of red in a span of a few hours.

Pretty soon, the big screen inside the stadium showed the team arriving, and they didn’t waste any time to get onto the pitch and soak in the atmosphere. Who enjoyed the most? I’d say it was Dirk Kuyt. He looked pretty relaxed on the bench, with even one legged propped up. “You’ll Never Walk Alone” was interspersed with both American and Malaysian pop tunes in the hours leading to kick off. At one point, the stadium was only half-filled, yet the words to “You’ll Never Walk Alone” was reverberating throughout.

Soon enough, the team began their warm up. I was alternating between taking shots of Daniel Agger stretching (quite fascinating, actually), Jay Spearing (I’m still guessing his height to this day) and taking photos of the crowd—the banners, the scarves, the shirts, and just how Bukit Jalil was dominantly red (Rajagopal’s request to wear blue in support of the Malaysia NT fell on deaf ears).

Before we knew it, it was already 5:45 p.m. Liverpool started with Jamie Carragher, Brad Jones, Raul Meireles, Daniel Agger, Conor Coady, John Flanagan, Jack Robinson, Charlie Adam, Jay Spearing, Joe Cole, and Andy Carroll.

Joe Cole was only somewhat impressive during training. When it’s an actual match, oh lord, he is the dead end when it comes to attacking. Raul and Carroll seemed sluggish to me. Charlie Adam was impressive in the first half—apart from scoring the first goal of the match off a penalty kick, he did seem like the general among 11 men. Malaysia, however, equalized toward the end of the first half from a brilliant free kick. Boy, the drumbeats of the NT’s boosters sure were loud and clear—and they had a simple, fierce cheer to boot.

The second half was definitely much better, with David N’gog scoring a pair of goals for Liverpool in a span of one minute (all together now: He’s alive!). However, someone should tell Jonjo Shelvey that he’s not the next Steven Gerrard—I have no idea what the hell was up with his free kicks. Martin Kelly was not having the best of days either.

Maxi Rodriguez would soon get on the scoreboard himself, off another pass from Insua (who also assisted N’gog’s first goal). Malaysia would soon respond with two quick goals, off defensive lapses from Liverpool. Following that, Maxi scored another goal off a cross from Dirk Kuyt (quality human being right there), who scored the final goal for Liverpool himself. It was definitely the midfield that made the difference in the second half—Kuyt was his usual hardworking self and Alberto Aquilani (the stadium announcer pronounced his name as “Aqualini”) was just silky smooth in his passing.

It was just sheer joy when the final score read 3 – 6 in favor of Liverpool, and the stadium was just going wild. This is the first time I’ve seen a match where the crowd was equally cheering both sides, and there was just a general state of euphoria as the match ended. Flares were lit, and “You’ll Never Walk Alone” was heard loud and clear—it gave me the chills!

It still amazes me how we managed to file out of the stadium amid 80,000 fans. As fans were basking in the joy of the game, you could hear people still singing “You’ll Never Walk Alone”. When we managed to get onboard the train out of Bukit Jalil, we were standing in front of a guy wearing a Manchester United shirt—and yes, he looked like he wanted to melt. He did get some good-natured teasing from Liverpool fans in the cabin. On the other cabin, we could still hear other fans chanting “Li-ver-pool”. What one match does to the collective happiness of tens of thousands of fans—and yes, even to the collective happiness of a nation that loves football.

Photobucket
Photobucket
Photobucket
Photobucket
Photobucket
Photobucket
Photobucket
Photobucket
Photobucket
Photobucket
Photobucket
Photobucket

On the flight back to Manila, I started reflecting about the last five days and how much this trip meant to me. I know I do have a flair for the dramatic, but believe me when I say that this adventure was beyond anything that I had expected. I made friends along the way, saw a team I like and a team that I absolutely love, and created a story that I will probably be telling years from now. I made initial plans for this trip several months ago, with the thought that I needed to get out for a while, embark on an adventure after my mom passed away.

I haven’t mentioned this yet, but in several stages of the trip, I keep noticing a white butterfly—at the stadium, both during training and matches, and heck, even at the A&W at Bukit Bintang. A white butterfly was something I had always associated with my mom. Amid all the madness I got myself into the last five days, I knew my mom was sharing this adventure with me.

Yes, it did make me realize that no matter where I go, I can always take comfort in the knowledge that I will never walk alone.

The Absolutely Awesome, Fantastic, I-May-Just-Run-Out-of-Words Football Adventure in Kuala Lumpur (Part 2)

Admittedly, I was more looking forward to the Liverpool leg of this trip, and if the Arsenal leg of the trip was any indication, I had a pretty damn good feeling about the next few days.

14 July 2011

The day started off with Mich, Icang, and I meeting up at Pavilion Mall, whose Bukit Bintang entrance was dressed up as the Shankly Gates. Upon entering the mall, the red carpet leads to the atrium, where a gigantic Liverpool shirt hangs. Along the way, on the carpet reads the years when Liverpool won all of its titles. On the pillars on the sides were Liverpool banners (my absolute favorite: “The best 80s revival this year”, together with a photo of King Kenny).

Follow the steps down below, and an arch with the “This is Anfield” sign welcomes visitors into the atrium, which had: a press con table with Steven Gerrard and Raul Meireles; a FIFA station; a faux locker room (lord knows I wanted to steal the Pepe Reina shirt, but that was too obvious); a face painting area; a goal; numerous cardboard standees; and a center counter that was giving away “signed” posters and Liverpool Standard Chartered car stickers.

I can tell you now that any Liverpool fan would feel like it was being inside the candy store when we were kids.

After going through everything that “Anfield” at the Pavilion Mall had to offer, we did a bit of shopping (of course, ladies never leave Kuala Lumpur without purchasing at least a pair of Vincci shoes). Sometime at about 3 p.m., as we were heading out of the mall, we noticed a line of security men at the entrance. We asked one security man what was happening and he said, “Phil Thompson is coming.” A stern-looking lady (who appeared to be one of the organizers) turned to us and said, “No, not Phil Thompson, it’s Ian Rush coming.” Holy… we were freaking out. This was the man who owns the record for Liverpool’s highest number of first team goals, including the highest number of FA Cup and League Cup goals—and he was coming any moment now!

True enough, a black vehicle pulls up on the driveway, and out comes Ian Rush. There was a mad dash of people scrambling to get near him, while I stood on his way to get a few photos—until someone shoved me out of the way. Mich, meanwhile, extended her hand from the side and warmly greeted him, “HI!” (Ian said, “Hi!” back.)

And training hasn’t even started yet!

Mich and I joined up with Leo to go to Liverpool’s training at Bukit Jalil Stadium. We initially got good places at the center… until several tall Indian men stood in front of us and then decided to stand up on the plastic chairs, thereby effectively blocking our view. The crowd was really swelling in our area, and yes, I can confirm there were more people in Liverpool’s training than in Arsenal’s.

We waited for the team to appear before deciding to change seats. We then positioned ourselves behind one of the goals, which was not crowded and still offered a good view. The team did their drills and put on a good show for training. And how can anyone not notice Jay Spearing? He looks like a little kid (literally) playing with the big guys! You can’t also miss Andy Carroll because of his size. However, the loudest cheers were definitely reserved for Jamie Carragher and Dirk Kuyt.

After the training, we waited for the team’s bus, and yes, we got Spearing waving at us like a mechanical Chinese cat (cue in all the baby Spearo jokes). We met up with Rick and Coach Ariel after and got the Malaysian hawker street experience (oddly enough, there was a Chaang beer banner with Mikel Arteta nearby).

What did I tell you? The Liverpool leg of this trip was off to a great start.

15 July 2011

The Meet & Greet session with a few Liverpool players was scheduled at 3 p.m., and judging from the reception at the training session, we were betting that there would be a lot of fans present. We knew from the previous day that the ground floor would be cordoned off to accommodate just the members of the media, so we knew exactly where to position ourselves. After a quick lunch, we stationed ourselves at the floor above, where the only bench was, overlooking “Anfield”. Rick was able to get into the area reserved for media only and was able to get a bunch of Liverpool goodies—including that red and white umbrella (which he refuses to use, haha).

As predicted, the crowd swelled soon enough. Once the program began shortly before 3 p.m., we unfurled the “Mabuhay LFC” banner that Imon made.  It seemed to be quite an inspired choice, given that it was the most visible and legible banner brought by fans, and it did get a lot of attention (so this is what a pseudo-celebrity feels like—strangers taking photos of your banner and you hamming it up at every camera trained in your direction). We were all floored when the host began acknowledging the fans, starting with fans from the Philippines! The four of us were cheering wildly, and it was rather heartwarming that the Malaysians clapped for us.

While waiting for the players to arrive, there was also an old Chinese man that was shouting how quiet it was, and as a response, the organizers began playing “You’ll Never Walk Alone”. It may just be a crowd of 3,000, but man, even as small as that, I got goosebumps from hearing the song.

Pretty soon, Steve Clarke, Jamie Carragher, Raul Meireles, Andy Carroll, Christian Poulsen, Sotirios Kyrgiakos, and John Flanagan appeared. They stayed for 30 minutes, with Carra looking pretty tired and Raul pretty much looking like he was the one enjoying the most. Poulsen took footage with his iPhone (I was thinking, if we didn’t get on LFC TV, at least we’re on Poulsen’s phone). The team unveiled the new LFC Standard Chartered debit card, took a few questions, and a few lucky fans got to have their stuff signed.

What stood out most for me was that Raul nudged Soto, pointed at our banner, and waved at us. Wowowowowowow!

As if the day couldn’t get any better, when Leo got back to his hotel, he immediately checked LFC TV, and yes, we were included in their video of the Meet & Greet!

How else can you top this experience?!

The Absolutely Awesome, Fantastic, I-May-Just-Run-Out-of-Words Football Adventure in Kuala Lumpur (Part 1)

There are a few things I believe in when it comes to traveling:

  • Return visits to places must always tell a different story.
  • Research, research, research. Time cannot be wasted on the wrong kind of getting lost.
  • Capture everything possible.

Last Tuesday, 12 July 2011, I embarked on what was probably one of the best trips I’ve ever had—a trip to Kuala Lumpur to see Arsenal and Liverpool take on the Malaysian national team. To try and sum it all up seems to be a tad difficult for now, so let me just try to recapture everything that was.

12 July 2011

The Cebu Pacific flight from Manila to KL, not at an ungodly hour of 10 a.m., was surprisingly smooth. Never mind the fact that the person seated in front of me was snoring loudly. Then again, that’s why I got an iPod and a Kindle.

After figuring out my way around LCCT and settling in my hotel, including an overpriced Subway lunch, I made my way to Bukit Jalil Stadium. Somehow, I figured out I needed to take two trains from my hotel and that it would take me nearly an hour to get there.

(Here’s the thing: I love taking trains. I think it’s an interesting way to immerse oneself in a cosmopolitan city. I was in KL several years back and wasn’t able to experience that part of their public transport system. Now that I had all the time in my hands, I could explore the city in a more efficient manner at a lesser cost.)

By the time I got to Hang Tuah station, I noticed that there was a group of people in their Arsenal shirts. I told myself that I must be going the right direction then. Just follow the (dominantly) red, white, and yellow shirts.

Let me tell you something about Bukit Jalil Stadium. When I stepped out of the train, there was a bevy of flags and tents leading to the entrance, where stalls sold shirts, the local street fare, several interesting drinks, and a smorgasbord of souvenir items of Arsenal and the Malaysian team. Of course, the downside of being alone is not being able to squeal with delight at this sight.

It was past 5 p.m., so I headed straight to the ticket counters to claim my Arsenal and Liverpool tickets, which had training passes to boot. After submitting my passport and other papers, I headed straight inside the stadium to get a good seat, as the Malaysian team was already nearing the end of their training. (I did have a bit of a scare, though, when I realized my departure card, which was tucked in my passport, was missing. I rushed back to the ticket counter, and thank god the girl who gave me my tickets set it aside. Whew, that was a close call.)

After settling at a seat with a much better view, I was silently psyching myself up that I would see Arsenal in a few minutes. Lo and behold, my friend Migs walks down the stairs. Apparently, he’d been looking for some other person when he saw me—of all places, at a packed portion of the stadium. Well, at least it’s better to know someone in the crowd.

Arsene Wenger and his assistants were the first to come out, followed by the goalkeepers, and one by one, the team started entering the pitch. Allow me to have a fangirl moment and say that I wanted to scream and squeal and jump like a lunatic when Samir Nasri came into view. If my favorite Gunner can’t make it (Cesc Fabregas, I’m looking at you—don’t you dare move to Barcelona yet), then my second favorite will do. The team did their laps around the pitch, some ball work, a practice match (where my favorite young French-Algerian impressed with his speed), and shooting practice (where the woodwork beat Robin van Persie big time).

Ah, the first live encounter with an EPL team—it’s seems all too surreal. Post-training, I joined some Gooners from the Philippines (Migs, Gab, Janina, and Jerome) for some grub at Lot 10.

This trip sure is off to a great start.

13 July 2011

The first day of a trip can always set the tone for the rest of the days. The adventure continued when I met Mich and Icang at Suria KLCC, where we had a good, spicy lunch at Signatures (yes, cheapskates love mall food courts). Since the match between Malaysia and Arsenal would start at 8:45 p.m., we could afford to look around—the highlights of which were posing with store displays at Adidas (with Steven Gerrard) and Nike (with Cesc Fabregas).

Since the two girls had to go back and check in their hotel at 2 p.m., we parted ways to get ready for the match. We met up at 4 p.m., with me donning a Cesc Fabregas shirt (yes, Cesc, like I said, don’t leave Arsenal just yet) and Monica rushing to get a ticket to her first-ever football game.

Gunnersaurus Rex joined the trip to Asia and greeted the crowd shortly before kick-off.  Thomas Vermaelen wore the captain’s armband, starting together with Szczesny (god, I can never get the spelling of his name right), Miyaichi, Ramsey, Chamakh, Gibbs, Koscielny, Jenkinson, Wilshere, Song, and Walcott.

Early into the game, Aaron Ramsey (god bless his leg and the St. Michael tattoo on it) scored a penalty for Arsenal, after Jack Wilshere was tripped in the penalty area. Azza also assisted in Theo Walcott’s goal to bring the score 2-0 at the half. The energy of the crowd somewhat dropped in the second half, but that all changed when Robin van Persie, Samir Nasri, Bacary Sagna, and Andrey Arshavin were brought in. Nasri showed flashes of brilliance (shut up, I’m not biased—Samir, don’t effin’ go to ManUtd, OK?), while Carlos Vela scored Arsenal’s third goal and Tomas Rosicky the fourth.

We also waited for Arsenal’s bus to come out of the stadium, and the short of it is that I saw Arsene Wenger and Bacary Sagna wave at us.

As the match ended pretty late, we made a mad dash to the train to catch the last trip. That was quite an experience being packed in a sea of… sweat. Capped the night with an A&W root beer float. I deserve it.