I Thought Wrong: A Serious Game of Lao Soccer

“Yea, sure. It’s good. We meet here around five o’clock tomorrow.” Tom had been our guide on our our three day trek through the Lao wilderness. Now, he was agreeing to play soccer with us the next day. “I’ll tell my friends,” he added. “Awesome,” we thought. It would be nice to get out there and kick a soccer ball around. Just maybe, if we had enough people, we could get an actual game going. Ideally at least eight guys so that we could play 4 on 4. Now that would be awesome. It had been a few weeks since our last game in Ayutthaya and we were itching to get back out there.

The next day, five o’clock rolled around and we emerged from our guesthouse to find Tom waiting. We’d been unable to recruit anymore fellow travelers, but a few minutes later, three more of Tom’s friends showed up. “Not bad. We could get a fun little game going with this crew,” I thought. After a ten minute walk down the road, we emerge upon the field. It was dirt. Not unexpected by any means for a field in Asia, but it was also about 70 yards in length, had full size goals set up on either end and tall netting entirely surrounding it. It was a legit field. It also had a large drinking establishment to its left. This definitely wasn’t the public park I had imagined.

After a few minutes taking it all in, I realized a few more guys had begun to show up. I think our number was closer to ten or twelve now and still growing. Nice. One problem though. They all seemed to be pulling out and lacing up soccer cleats. Austin and I don’t have cleats. We’re living out of a backpack for months. We don’t have room for cleats. We each had on a pair of Vans, not really ideal for the soccer pitch. Up until this point, I had just gone barefoot whenever we went to kick the ball around. Too late now, looks like we were locked into this game cleats or no cleats.

“Loser buys beer,” Tom explained. This wasn’t a question. It was a statement. Now the nearby drinking establishment made more sense (I call it this instead of a bar because according to Tom, “bars” have roofs on them). It owned the field we were about to use and “Loser Buys Beer” was the only rule in order to use the field. They even provided a ref, whistle and all. Another point for Laos.

Game-time. Teams had been divided up, eight a side, and being proactive, I made sure our team was skins. While the weather in Northern Laos was cooler than down south, it still couldn’t be described as cool, and running around for the next hour was sure to bring on the perspiration. Next came the subtle attempts at intimidation while we warmed up, taking peeks at our competition. This was shaping up to be quite the game and we were not disappointed.

After 25 minutes, the ref blew his whistle sounding what I thought to be the end of the game. We’d done well, but not well enough. We’d lost by a point. To bad it wasn’t the end of the game though. That was just the half. I was panting pretty hard. I hadn’t run that much since I’d left home and most of the players had respectable skills. This wasn’t some little kick around. But even while I was running my butt off and sliding around from lack of traction, I was also loving it, lost in the flow of the game.

We regrouped for the second half and made a decision not to assist our opponents in future inebriation. This went mostly according to plan. Tom was actually a legitimate goalie and saved our butts a number of times. Austin and myself contributed a goal apiece and when the final whistle blew we found ourselves all tied up. I wasn’t sure what that meant as far as the beer buying, but after a lot of hand shacks and an invite to a wedding (They must’ve liked us), we headed over for a drink.

This post is continued in Lao Soccer Turned Shotgun Lessons