Mango Bay organisers had secured a new venue for this year’s tournament and apparently much improved. Two 45×30 pitches were marked out on a large grass pitch carved out of the jungle, and specially made regulation sized goals had been manufactured. A small restaurant attached to the ‘stadium’ provided lunch and refreshments, the teams were reduced to sitting in the undergrowth with the fire ants or under small plants to get out of the sun – the only oversight promised for next year was umbrellas and decent areas of shade.
With only 6 teams making it to the tournament the schedule was a punishing one under the island sun, with two groups of three and each team playing each other twice. Raiders, with the smallest squad at the tournament of nine players, were not phased when drawn against local team Mango Bay and ‘Blue Fantastic’, another Phu Quoc team made up of locals. Starting at 9.30am Raiders made light work of the red Mango Bay team who despite being a usually nimble and skilled Vietnamese team couldn’t quite cope with our physical presence and method of play. Raiders’ first goal came after a Hoff free kick was parried out by their goalkeeper only to find Nick Canning on hand to bury the rebound. Raiders’ second goal was a first ever in the turkey for Walton, whose positioning was perfect as she found space at the near post to touch home. A perfect 3 point start as the game finished 2-1, although a daunting prospect ahead with the sun beating down relentlessly and Raiders already succumbing to their first injury with Loeffler hurting his back.
Next up was the blues, who Raiders dispatched with ease 3-0. Hoff managed to scramble the ball home from inside the box after it bounced loose and Bennit notched his first two of the tournament. Hoff picked up a heavy knock on the only square inch of body where it mattered, the old left big toe injury flared up. Now Raiders were down to seven for the next game with Loeffler still struggling. Yes, a no-subs sweaty nightmare.
Next up was a rematch with the reds, a true test of endurance and determination. The seven on the pitch performed fantastically well. Walton was a constant menace in midfield and in a complete role reversal, SHE was the one playing like a man whereas they were the ones being upended by her no nonsense tackling. Reds were desperate for the victory, in danger of elimination and being the home team, also playing for their goalkeeper who tragically died two weeks earlier in a motorbike accident. Sympathy wasn’t too apparent however as the game got a little fruity. The ref gave an utterly incredible call giving them a corner when Angelo has quite clearly caught the ball inside his post. Of course, this led to the goal that won them the game. Unbelievably frustrating and when Colebrissi was fouled but struggled on to win the ball making minimal contact, their player went down like a sack of shit. Boy who cried wolf maybe, Canning tried to help him up and he remained limp and pathetic like he’d just fallen out of his wheelchair. Canning then returned him to the ground using gravity alone. Watching spectators were not so happy and Canning and one of the tournament organisers swapped handbags. Raiders had announced to everyone that this was a friendly tournament, up to a point. Jonesy had also taken one in the nuts during that game, desperately looking at the bench where Loeffler and Hoff could only shrug their shoulders. He soldiered on.
All was not lost however, as results conspired against the reds and Raiders with 6 points already in the bag sat atop the group with the other two teams on 4. A draw with the blues would see Raiders through in first, a loss in second. With the result really not important, and even some discussions with Blue at half time, Raiders ‘conspired’ to lose this game 1-0 (we wanted to draw but it didn’t work out). Given the amount of football and injuries on a very hot morning, we were allowed that one. Loeffler had managed to play a part in the late morning and incredibly managed to cause problems upfront despite barely being able to run. I think he’s a robot. No tournament would be complete without a Wik special and he provided the first with a DDT, the first I’ve seen on a football pitch and very subtlety executed as is his speciality.
Hoff and Loeffler worked on their injuries over the lunch break through application of oils and creams, swallowing of tablets and massage, and possibly in the case of Loeffler by discreetly changing a circuit board, and attempted to get themselves back in the tournament. The semi was to be against another Vietnamese local team, Enterprise, with cramp-inducing 15 min halves.
With two subs back in play Raiders were once again able to rotate but still fell 1-0 behind. Then Colebrissi won Raiders a penalty by launching himself head first at a ball up for grabs floating over the penalty spot and ending upside down with someone elses shorts on his head. Bennit dispatched the spot clinically and 1-1 it stayed and the dreaded penalties. 5 penalties would be taken. Raiders kick first and Loeffler stepped up with a great shot to the keepers left who guessed the right way but couldn’t keep it out. Angelo casually stepped up to save their first one, I think he was humming the Italian national anthem. Routine stop from our solid-as-oak keeper. Bennit switched direction for his second penalty of the game and put Raiders 2-1 up, a well placed Enterprise shot made it 2-2. Hoff stepped up and partly buried his Bangkok demons by scoring, subsequently Curvetta made another great save, this time whilst inspecting his fingernails as he went down. It was down to Canning to put Raiders in the final and he emphatically did just that.
The final was against a team made up of French/international friends of Phu Quoc/HCMC with a Vietnamese compliment. After a tight first half where the opposition perhaps looked the better team it was 0-0. The opposition had a goalkeeper the size of a small car, and we all agreed they couldn’t be allowed to win the tournament with Jabba the Hut’s earthly replica between the sticks. Every single Raider was giving it everything after a very long day but things didn’t go to plan when we went 1-0 down. After a few minutes when Raiders were on the ropes Floyd found space to equalise, Raiders back in it. And then it all happened in a blur, 3 goals in less than 5 minutes. First Hoff beat his man in midfield and sent a low shot angled to the keepers left – saveable but a combination of 120 kilos of flesh trying to get down and a bumpy pitch, the ball found its way in. If that was slightly fortuitous then Loefflers goal was entirely out of talent – a volley that rifled in leaving the keeper motionless. Seconds later it was 4 as Loeffler got a head on one of our thousands of high balls played into the box, and finally it worked. Opposition laboured in the remaining minutes and pulled a goal back but of course, the game was already won. Wik added another beauty to his collection enraging a man-bull named Mike in the process.
I must say it was a tremendous achievement considering the opposition who throughout the day were no pushovers, considering the heat, considering we had the smallest squad and suffered injuries through the day…we still managed to come from behind in the semi and the final. Canning, Colebrissi, Wik and Jones providing a formidable presence in defence with Walton, Jones, Hoff, Bennit and Loeffler making up the rest, and of course Curvetta who was unrivalled in his goalkeeping. Each and every player contributed to Raiders bringing home the 2011 Mango Bay Cup to Bar Five for the rest of the team. Curvetta was honoured later as ‘Player of the Tournament’ and rightly so. Walton picked up sexiest player of the tournament, although Curvetta nearly won that too.
Viva Raiders, thanks to everyone who took part including the WAGS for constant ice tea refreshment and video camera footage, it was an honour.
Squad and scorers: