Saigon Raiders Club

“Sweet Forward Line – This song never sounded so true” – (to the tune of Sweet Caroline by Neil Diamond)

Another month and another tournament, Raiders set off for Phnom Pehn with the hopes of the Saigon Expat Community resting on their shoulders (except for those who support saints). Could they repeat the glory of the Spicy 7’s and bring back another trophy or would it end in glorious failure as in Bangkok?

Like England the Raiders were cruelly shorn of their Captain and top goal scorer in the week building up to the tournament. Schreiber withdrew the previous Sunday (citing lack of organisation before leaving for the World Cup), and Schaufler withdrew the following day due to personal reasons. Despite being rocked by the news the Raiders were upbeat about their prospects in this their first crack at the Bayon Cup.

So once again the Raiders set off for a tour with the bare minimum of playing and coaching staff. Inspirational psychological coach Tomlinson made the trip with the intention of actually making it to the ground and seeing the tournament this time out. However the following 18 hours would see his role in the team changed dramtically.

The team arrived in Phnom Penh in good spirits and about 13 minutes after arriving at the hotel the spirits started to flow, with Weston, as always at the fore with the Sambuca. 5 rounds of that and 40-50 beers later the raiders were well and truly hammered. Never let it be said that Raiders are not properly prepared for the big matches. Despite this excessive drinking everyone made it back to the hotel for at least some sleep and no one got themselves arrested or hospitalized which, if you have ever been on tour with potter and Weston, you will know is a cloud that hangs over the head of the organizers everytime.

Saturday morning brought the sight of a few rather unwell raiders to the breakfast buffet and once people had been woken up and ladies had been ejected from rooms the raiders got themselves together to make the short trip to the stadium. Planning was the key and everything ran like clockwork as our 3 tuks tusk were ready and waiting for us outside.

We found our stand at the stadium and tried to pull ourselves together for the first of 5 games we had to play. The draw had been kind to us the night before as our first scheduled match was not until 9.30. The first game of the day was 8am so that extra sleep probably made all the difference.

However Raiders had been dealt another major blow with the news that Sasha’s friend, who was apparently very good indeed, would not be making the trip after all. Raiders numbers had dropped from 16 to 12 in the space of a week with the news also filtering through that Jones would not be attending due to a family emergency. Tomlinson turned a shade whiter than he already was on hearing the news he was now going to have to play in every game, and Weston attempted to throw up.

So now the raiders took to the pitch with the largest and oldest team at the tournament. 3 players over the age of 40 and another 3 who were all on the wrong side of the 100kg mark as well as a few more who were well over the 6ft barrier. With little to decide in terms of starting 11 the raiders ran out for the first match (and pretty much every other match after that) as follows:

GK- Craig, LB – Justin, CB – Fraser, CB – Steve T, RB – Sam, LM – Weston, Cm – Jorge, CM – Will P, RM – Sascha, CF – Floyd, CF – Rolf.

So game 1 came and went, a solid 0-0 draw against one of the tournament favourites. A solid defensive display in which we rode our luck on numerous occasions, saved by the woodwork and Russell who was inspired form between the sticks. This was only marred by the rather unpleasant site of Weston finally managing to throw up at half time. Despite trying everything to get into the game the forwards were feeding of scraps as the Raiders couldn’t get the ball forward.

Game 2 – Another 0-0 draw. Against the only team who had less players than us and were actually combining this tournament with a stag weekend. Again lack of chances created meant the raiders had to settle for a second point of the afternoon and were falling of the pace.

Game 3 – Same again. 3 games and 3 points. A reasonable effort for the team but goals were needed to have any chance of qualifying for the semis.

Game 4 – the raiders were confident coming into this game as they were playing the team who had lost their first three games and were not looking like having any impact on the tournament. But the pace of the Cambodians added to the very high level of bias being shown towards the home teams meant that the Raiders goal was finally breached and a game that should have been won comfortably was lost 1-0. now 4 3 points from 4 games and with three games to go it would take an enormous effort to qualify as the remaining three games were against the defending champions, the tournament favourites and………………the Saints.

Game 5- Raiders attempted to pick themselves up from the shattering loss and energy levels were starting to drop after playing in the heat for so long. Paul Clapham (who had been used mostly as an impact sub) refused to come on for the final game and became the first man I have ever seen to actually have sunburn on his fingers as well as every other exposed bit of his body. So the tired raiders headed out for the game with the tournament favourites. Again it was the same old story as defending was the key and the players worked their socks off to keep the opposition at bay and hit them on the counter attack. And it worked, the long ball from craig was picked up by Weston who found floyd, who turned and scored a beautiful goal from the edge of the box. 1-0 nil to the raiders and after 2 hours of football finally our first goal and first 3 point haul.

So day one ended with 6 points from 5 games and the outside chance of still qualifying for the semis.

The night was the quietest Raiders tour night ever seen by this writer and dinner and about 2 beers was the most anyone could manage. Curfew was never in any danger of being breached as everyone was home and in bed before 11 exhausted from the day of football. Floyd even managed to create a bed for himself and fall asleep at the restaurant. Hardly the stuff of previous tours, but when everyone had to play every minute of every game then it was hardly surprising. And of course there was the small matter of the remaining group games the following day.

Sunday saw a rather less hungover team all make it to breakfast and ready for the days games, all but Potter who didn’t manage to wake up, but after finding his room he was there shortly afterwards to get ready for kick off.

Game 1 – against defending champions Hanoi drink team. A game against a team who had not conceded a goal so far in the tournament and had won all their games convincingly. But you can never count out the underdogs who went out and gave everything they had to try and get the desperately needed win. And win they did – they took everything that the Drink Team could throw at them and hit them on the counter attack, a wickedly deflected gaol gave the raiders the lead with 5 minutes to go and the remaining 5 minutes saw the raiders have an informal competition to see who could kick the ball the furthest out of the stadium to run the clock down.
The final whistle went and the riader clung on for another 3 points. Meaning only one thing – Beat the Saints and we are through and they go out.

Game 2 – Saigon Saints. Both teams new what was at stake – who ever won was through and sending the other team crashing out. Level on points and goal difference the raiders needed the win as saints had scored more goals over the course of the group games. No incentive was needed for this game but a reminder of 8 years of hurt against the most arrogant team in a league which includes 2 French teams was another reason to go out and kick lumps out of them. The raiders rode their luck in the first half and only some fine saves by the ever dependable craig in his last games for the club kept the scoreline at 0-0 at the break. But things were about to get worse. Sascha again pulled his hamstring and meant he couldn’t continue, the Rolf got himself sent off for violent conduct. Luckily the referee also sent of the Saints player which meant it was 10 vs 10 for the remaining minutes. Disaster struck with 5 mins gone in the second half as the Saints substitutes who were put on because of their speed took advantage of the tired legs and created an opening which went past 3 defenders and the unsighted craig to hit the back of the net. 1-0 saints with 7 mins to go. It was going to take everything to get the win now but we were not done yet. The game opened up more and Weston, playing without a hangover for the first time in a raiders shirt, went past two defenders before shooting into the top corner to level the scores at 1-1. chances came and went but it ended in a draw. The closest the raiders have been to beating saints in quite some time and considering the squad differences every player could walk off the pitch with their head held high as they had done everything to try and win.

So out of the semis on Goal scored all that was left was to play for the 5th place spot. The team we were due to face in the semis declined to play as due to their stag night commitments had not been to bed. So straight through to the final to meet the team we lost to in the group stages – Ezycom. The final was one of the most shocking display of bias and favoritism I have ever witnessed and the smile on the face of the referee when they scored said it all. Raiders had 2 stonewall penalties turned down as Colebressi was fouled on the edge of the area and Hepburn was pushed in the back going for a header a mere 5yards from the ref. the game ended 2-0 to Ezycom.
So that was it – finished 4th equal in the group stages, cheated out of 5th by the referee and ended up finishing 6th. However we pinched the 5th p[lace trophy and have plans afoot to change it to 4th equal.

All in all a very enjoyable tournament and the raiders can be proud of the way they battled over the course of the 2 days. In the end it came down to exhaustion as most were dead on their feet in the closing minutes of the final game.

I would recommend this tournament to be done again next year but as always our lack of players is our downfall. Bangkok, Phu Quoc and now Phnom Penh has seen the squads decimated by players pulling out in the weeks building up and as always the team is down to the bare bones before the tournament even kicks off. It is certainly disappointing to see Saints and the like turn up with 15 players when they can’t even get 10 to go to training and yet we are struggling to keep the numbers down below 30 at training and cant even bring a substitute to a tournament. Sadly in this case it is a shame because, as in Bangkok, a few more players and we could have won it. Realistically if we cant get 15 for the tournaments in the future there is little point in going as exhaustion will mean that we will never win.

However a highly enjoyable trip and a big thank you to everyone who played their hearts out. We can be justifiably proud of our achievements over the weekend.


(oh in case anyone is wondering the outcome of the final – Saints lost on penalties hehe)

Become a Saigon Raider

Become a Saigon Raider