By Alyson Hazlewood
I must confess, that when asked to report on the special New Year’s Eve football match between the
plucky New Life team and the village elders team, I wasn’t at all sure how I was going to do it justice. I’ve never watched a football match in my life and have zero interest in competitive sports, so this felt like somewhat of a challenge. However, I couldn’t have been more wrong. This was genuinely one of the most exciting, boisterous and enjoyable experiences I’ve had at New Life thus far.
This annual sporting spectacle is the culmination of a weekly Sunday football match between New Lifer’s and the village children. Long-term volunteer and team captain Sander explains; “We typically leave in the afternoon when the sun has cooled enough to play. This being Thailand, there is no set schedule. Rather just the presence of a team of Westerners winding their way through the village, soccer ball in tow, is enough notice that we’re ready for a match.
As we walk, local children smile and wave, then dart off on their bicycles to let the older kids know we are on our way. By the time we reach the schoolyard a short distance from our foundation, they will be ready and waiting. Soon after we begin warming up on the pitch, more locals arrive on their motorbikes sporting kit from their favourite British or Chiang Rai football teams. The language barrier is insignificant on the pitch, the main focus is having fun, while building ‘esprit de corps’.
We play until it gets dark and rarely keep score. For us, it’s much more than a football match – it’s cementing the strong bond we’ve built with this small village that has so graciously allowed a bunch of foreigners to live right in the middle of their hamlet. There is a strong symbiosis in place. We give weekly English lessons at their small school, and it’s been wonderful watching the children grow and gain in confidence. Villagers work with us at our foundation, and we in turn support the local economy, helping with fund raising for the Buddhist temple and school. Then on Sundays, we do what communities do all over the world – play football together.”
This year we had special New Life team shirts printed up for the occasion, and the villagers that work at the foundation liked them so much, we decided to print up another batch as gifts.
In this photo, the traditional Thai money tree that New Life created to contribute to the hiring of a new Kindergarten teacher, is being led through the village by procession to be offered at the match.
Settling under a marquee for shade, we watched as each player from both teams introduced themselves and their home nation before convivially shaking hands and listening for the whistle. But make no mistake, this match is taken quite seriously by both sides, a palpable air of competition and focus is present each year.
As we perched on the edge of our seats, laughing at the good natured tackles and loudly cheering on our team – I was struck by just how much fervour it provoked in the most commonly disinterested of spectators (namely, me). Many of us discussed that having such strong bonds with the players generated a significant feeling of warmth and pride in their efforts. For the first time ever I can understand why people get so hooked on football! Although a shame that we couldn’t understand the Thai match commentary broadcast over the tannoy, the delivery was certainly frenzied and excitement-inducing!
After a sweat-soaked 90 minutes of high energy sportsmanship, several disallowed goals, some comedy tackles and highly impressive technical skills from residents Nico and Alex, the score was 3:1 for New Life United. Then, post-match, each year the villagers generously invite the whole of New Life to a party in the school grounds to enjoy a home cooked feast, music and dancing. Truly a wonderful experience and one that I won’t forget.
Aly Hazlewood is a Writer, Beauty Editor and Make Up Artist from London, currently exploring new ways of living and being. She blogs at http://www.