"Once upon a time in the East"
"An Indonesian Tale (revised)"
By Paul Smith
Not for the first time in my life, I am living abroad and again dreaming of a final appearance. I too have had to 'keep my mind on the job' as thoughts of raised trophies constantly knock on my subconscious. Once a resident, sports journalist and student in the United States, I now find myself holding the education world of Indonesia together and teaching them the Queen's English.
Whether it was my yearning for some contact with the homeland or the knowledge we're only ninety minutes away from only our second final appearance in history (and no-one to share it with), I felt compelled to finally submit something if only for my former colleagues to ridicule. Previously unpublished works of literary genius have included 'Heider Helguson, striker or scapegoat - a tribute to Vialli's managerial incompetence' and 'An American Tale - notes from a hornet trapped in a world of hi-fives and hotdogs'. What fun it was back in the States arguing the merits of proper football over their, albeit mildly entertaining, thoroughly absurd form of FOOT-ball. Of course, as every English man should, I felt it my duty to don suitable apparel (well, shirt anyway - dressing yourself out in full kit tended towards a beating from the 'oh so mentally stable natives' of North Carolina) and take to the pitch to 'show these damn Yanks just what REAL football is'.
But I yearn for some normality out here. The Americans have a burning passion for anything competitive and I could while away hours watching any conceivable sport at any conceivable level. The only thing the Indonesians seem to compete in is who can eat, drive or get to sleep the fastest and if the sport doesn't involve a shuttle cock or a ping pong ball, 'they ain't interested'.
American Television and Internet access did a wonderful job of keeping me fully informed of the 'goings on' in the motherland. But as is suitably third world, it seems even the Internet connection adopts the same laidback Indonesian lifestyle, simply choosing to work if and when it desires. Where Fox Sports in the US would televise anything vaguely British in the world of football, Indonesia falls short.
Oh, sure ... I can stay up long past the Witching hour and lay my tired little eyes upon some Champions League action ... or even revel in the 'skill and finesse' that is the Bundesliga. I'll refrain from mentioning Indonesian football as technically I don't think it qualifies - for 'foot' read 'kick' and for 'ball' read 'head'! However, it is the mighty 'Ford, the GOAL-den boys, or as an Indonesian friend once called them after the briefest of glimpses of the Quarters, the 'funny team in yellow', I desperately need to see. Indeed government-run Indonesian TV won't hesitate in cancelling the news for an Italian lower league game...but when two First Division sides are in the Quarters, we don't even get a look in over an old and badly subtitled episode of 'MacGyver'!
Saying all this, I wouldn't trade my current life in for anything at the moment. I don't need to tell any of you that nothing can replace the feeling of walking down Occupation Road, entering the stadium and walking up and out into the Rookery to be greeted by that unforgettable surge of emotion, but I still get goose bumps just reading match reports and reliving the great moments of this campaign so far - be it Gayle's Herculean transformation in the centre of defence, Pennant's penetrating runs from the right, Cox's penalty misses and conversions and Smudger's too, to name but a few. I've lost count of the number of Helguson headers and still wonder at the number of superlatives used to illustrate his presence in the forward line - and then there's this Chopra fellow, where did he come from?
I was able to fly back for the Playoff final as the distance issue was breachable, thanks to a healthy income and a family connection in the airline industry. Unfortunately this time due to the cost of living over here my measly salary by Western standards would barely cover a match ticket, so a flight home was a little out of grasp. My only solace would have been the US Embassy's orders to evacuate all westerners from the country due to the war (something they like to do quite often apparently) that would have facilitated an all-expenses paid jolly up to Singapore and in turn a further flight to any destination of my choosing courtesy of my US owned company (Birmingham airport, I'm sure for the first time in its existence, actually seemed very appealing).
How ironic it should be that my once-adopted nation that I left previously for our last 'cup' appearance would have seemingly held my fate for my return this time. And how I have longed for this poor exiled fan to once again witness a final triumph and fulfil the first of just two lifetime desires (the other involving a certain international team and something called the 'World Cup').
Alas, it seems not to be, so I'll simply ask this....
To all eighteen thousand of you able to go to Villa Park, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE do me a favour and sing your hearts out for me and all the other Hornets stranded around the world as well as the team. We will be there very much in spirit if not in body - and if by chance anyone should find themselves traipsing through South East Asia on Sunday and in need of a viewing companion I can be found (kit and all, this time) sitting nervously at the bar in a random Indonesian drinking establishment (not easy to find in a Muslim country) in the small hours cheering on the 'funny team in yellow'.
Good luck, boys. Roll on Cardiff!