A ragged bunch of mercenaries, battle-hardened warriors, drawn together from the far corners of the globe troop onto the field at the National University in Thu Duc District every Sunday in Saigon. A South African, a handful of British and Irish, Aussies, Scandinavians, Yanks and Europeans, all gleaming with the iridescent glow of sweat, toiling in the tropical heat or ubiquitous afternoon downpour, fighting for their pride, their fraternity, their band of brothers. Boots are laced up, shirts are pulled on and old war injuries strapped up as they enter the field of battle in high spirits. Staring down the opponents as the referee blows the battle horn. Commands and the call to arms are shouted from the stoic defence as speedy wingers and sharpshooting strikers take control, always against the odds, of a dire situation and slot goal after goal beyond the hapless and helpless opposition goalkeeper, and come out triumphant week after week.
Yes, it is the Saigon Raiders, the Saigon International Football League’s (once) premium football outfit.
Yes, that is one way to view these fine athletic specimens of sporting men. Another way would be looking at them as a dozen hungover, balding, aging expats chasing a round ball on a bumpy pitch in a foreign country, struggling with their weight and to keep their breakfast down. Haphazard defence tries to shore up errors from a midfield who have run half a sao (360m²) and couldn’t be bothered getting back to help their red-faced brothers. Strikers take potshots from 40 yards out and manage to put 2 metre tap-ins over the bar and blame it on poor passes. Arguments break out, either with themselves, their teammates, or the referee (oh, who would want to be a ref in a Raiders game!). Grown-ups act like children and stomp off, players fall over (dive) dramatically and howl in simulated pain, others try to decapitate the opposition with Cantona-esque flying kicks. A flurry of yellow and red cards are handed out, more shouting ensues. Litres of water are poured over simmering and steaming bodies amindst much coughing and spluttering. And that’s just the first half! Yes, the Raiders, languishing in mid-table of the SIFL for the past few seasons.
Yes, the Raiders! Oh, the multicultural team of my heart! How I love your fighting spirit, albeit sometimes amongst ourselves! How I love your witty banter and bold self-confidence! How I love our lack of aptitude and innate inability to score! Forward Raiders, as we sail our troubled ship towards the brighter tomorrow! May our crew steady the ship and trim the sail as we head towards the Arcadian shores of future pillage and success! I shall miss you (once I’m gone), Raiders of my heart.
A byword: If you’re interested in playing footy with the Raiders, as I’m sure you are after reading this glowing ode, let me know and I’ll hook you up!