Cricket in Chittagong
My cricket-playing days began ‘properly’ shall we say at the age of 12. This basically means that I ditched the tennis ball and moved up to the real leather cricket ball and in the process soon became acutely aware of why cricketers wear so much padding. If I were to describe my cricket prowess I would say I’m a moderately fortuitous swing bowler and sporadically stubborn number eleven bat, learning (and unlearning!) all I needed to know about the game in the picturesque English village of Cockington, South Devon. It was during this time as part time scorer, part time bowler, and full time scone eater, that my love of the beautiful game of cricket took root.
The Devon D Division West (2nd XI) title winning medal from 1999 that now sits tucked away in a box at home, and a match saving 11 not out with the bat are proud moments in an otherwise unremarkable cricket playing life thus far. Nevertheless, my enthusiasm for the game remains undiminished and my international employment in recent years has led me onto the path of some fairly random cricket encounters, which include cameo appearances for Prague Cricket Club, the National University cricket team in Butare, Rwanda, as well as almost playing against the Suriname national team in Guyana…until rain stopped play.
Here in Bangladesh I spend a great deal of my free time exploring the country armed with a camera, and for the past few weeks I have been photographing (and occasionally joining in!) local cricket matches around the city and surrounding areas. The continued growth and rise of the Bangladesh national team (or ‘The Tigers’ as they are proudly known) has reignited the public’s interest and passion for the game, and recent one day series wins against South Africa, India, and Pakistan is a key reason for this.
No longer viewed as a minor or emerging force on the international cricket stage, Bangladesh now command real respect, and the England team that recently toured here found out exactly why.
The following photos were all captured in and around Chittagong and depict the love of a sport that continues to capture the imagination of many of the 160 million proud Bangladeshis, especially young players who dream of emulating their heroes.
All images: © John Stanlake
Photos from another great summer
Please do not be fooled by the title of this blog post. It is most certainly not a bold declaration of my deepest feelings, frustrated emotions, or innermost secrets. I am however, going to use this post to share a collection of photos, which captured some great moments during a summer spent between India and the UK in June and July of this year.
The summer began with a trip to Kolkata and then a few days spent in Gingia (a small town in Assam). The main purpose of the trip was to see old friends and hopefully catch some photos along the way. Here’s a few of those images.
The second part of the summer was spent back at home in the UK, and it began with an experience I had been awaiting with great anticipation for a very long time. Back in 2003 I discovered the music of Love (a 60s psychedelic band from LA) and in 2005 I saw them play live for the first time. Eleven years on they were back in the UK and I went to see them twice on consecutive nights. They were as tight as ever, and the highlight of the second night was meeting original band member and lead guitarist on their 1967 seminal album Forever Changes, Johnny Echols (below).
Here’s a video I recorded at one of the shows.
Your Mind And We Belong Together (Live from Frome Cheese & Grain – 30th June, 2016)
The rest of the images come mainly from some of my favourite places in Devon.
Marking 5 years
I like milestones. They provide a satisfying sense of accomplishment and achievement whilst ensuring the preservation of a little focus and direction.
This post is a celebration of one such milestone. April 9th, 2016 marked exactly 5 years since I first posted on this blog. It’s a pleasant feeling to know that despite the many twists and turns, the sporadic uprooting, the hellos and the goodbyes, and the often unplanned wanderings, I have still found time to regularly (well, kind of regularly) update and commit part of my energy and heart to this little project.
A project that began with the somewhat vague aim of recording my ramblings has now grown into a means by which to document a multitude of experiences that came along the way.
What this milestone also represents is that it is now a little over five years since I arrived in Bangladesh. When I think back to that time (March 2011), I really had no idea I would remain so long in this country, but I don’t regret it one bit. I arrived on a short term contract with a cautious ambition to perhaps extend that to a year. Five years on I’m still here aside from a one year sabbatical (of sorts) in Guyana.
Bangladesh has been good to me, and I am very grateful for that. I can’t really believe how quickly the five years have flown by, but in that time I’ve been lucky enough to explore this country a little and also travel to Nepal, India, Cambodia, Myanmar, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Laos, Bhutan, Thailand, and even back to Rwanda a couple of times.
Most importantly though I have been lucky enough to work in a job that has inspired me to grow and learn. I’ve been surrounded by some fantastic colleagues right from the start, and they have been a source of constant knowledge whilst encouraging me to change and develop my outlook on many, many things.
I have of course also been privileged to teach and work with students who have taught me far more than I have them.
As always with these short posts that mark a milestone, I prefer to let images tell the story, so here are a few which I think sum up just why that tentative first few months turned into five years and provided me with so many amazing adventures under this one sun.
All images © John Stanlake
Animal Welfare in Bangladesh
One of the most frustrating aspects of social media is the simple fact that stories about complete idiots are thrust directly in front of your face on an almost daily basis. Anyone who saw my Facebook page in the past week or so may have noticed one such story.
The news I’m referring to is surprisingly not about Donald Trump, Jeremy Hunt, or Sepp Blatter (although this trio are worthy contenders), but rather revolves around a group of people who epitomise the ignorance and disregard demonstrated so often by the human race to other creatures.
A dolphin plucked from the water and passed around like a trophy so that bronzed beachgoers of all ages could pose and take ‘selfies’ with it. Once the selfies were complete, the dolphin had inevitably died. Because you see, what these humans had so crucially forgotten, is that dolphins can’t survive for prolonged periods outside of water, and what those people now have on their cameras, or smart phones, or whatever they were using that day which caused them to lose all sense, is a selfie with a dolphin who died because of them.
It happened in Argentina, but this could be anywhere in the world, and the flagrant disregard for the life they passed around in their hands that day sums up the arrogance and sheer contempt we, humans, demonstrate on a daily basis.
It left me totally exasperated once again, as it seems there is not a week that passes without tales of sheer moronic stupidity claiming yet more animal lives. Whether it is a wealthy dentist shooting an innocent and treasured lion, Russian circuses forcing polar bears to dance, or puppies used for target practice, there is no limit to our cruelty and indifference.
However, despite all of this, there is hope, and I have witnessed a few examples here in Bangladesh.
Obhoyaronno is an animal welfare foundation formed in Dhaka in 2009 and has carried out some fantastic work mainly in the Bangladesh capital to rescue animals and educate the local population about animal welfare issues. The organisation has successfully campaigned to have dog culling in Dhaka cancelled, and they regularly carry out dog vaccination programs in the city. They have a large community now of like-minded people who will alert others about any cases of animal abuse or animals in trouble.
Dog Lovers of Bangladesh is an inspiring facebook page dedicated to, well…dogs of course. The members on that page never fail to amaze me with their dedication to the welfare of dogs here, and there are often emergency posts regarding an injured or distressed dog sighting. It is not uncommon for this to be followed by an immediate and robust response from other members of the group who mobilize and swiftly locate the dog, whilst doing all they can to source the care it needs. Other members often chip in with cash donations, and before you know it, a dog once destined to lie dying next to a busy road, has been scooped up and given the life-saving treatment it so gravely needed. The members of this group are caring, conscientious animal lovers who provide a reminder that all is not lost.
Finally, there is a group somewhat closer to home for which I have the utmost admiration; The Asian University for Women (AUW) Animal Welfare Club. Created just over two years ago, the club has grown steadily and in that time initiated a number of projects aimed at implementing clear strategies for improving the welfare of animals.
Photo credit: Dhrubo (Dhrubo Photography)
In truth due to the modest size of the club and its limited financial capacity, the focus has been on street dogs and cats. However, the lack of funds has been no deterrent to the club members, and driven by their passionate club president and founder, Mandy Mukhuti, they have already played a significant role in making tangible changes in the lives of many animals.
Since its inception in 2013, the club has visited primary schools to educate young children on how to treat animals. They have also initiated a daily feeding program, which entails collecting leftover food and feeding street dogs in the vicinity of the campus. The success of this is highlighted by the fact these dogs now know and recognise the members of the club when they come calling with their plastic container full of food!
Photo credit: Dhrubo (Dhrubo Photoography)
The club has also rescued several cats and dogs and successfully found homes for many of these animals. Finally, this past weekend they arguably reached the peak of their success thus far. Having spent a few months raising necessary funds, they teamed up with local veterinarians and students from other universities and set about successfully vaccinating two hundred dogs across the city in just a single weekend! It’s a remarkable achievement given the constraints they experience and a testament to their passion and commitment to such a worthwhile cause.
Photo credit: Dhrubo (Dhrubo Photography)
I’ll leave you with a collection of images taken during my time here in Bangladesh, which show a number of the animal friends I’ve made. This family lived behind our building and the puppies provided hours of fun, yet immense stress! We managed to find homes for most of them, but a couple sadly fell victim to the unforgiving main road that lay just far too close for temptation.
At present I also regularly feed Tommy and Rocky who live on our road, and whilst this is just a very tiny act, I believe that the bewildered, yet intrigued gazes I receive as I sit feeding the dogs do go some way to showing people that these dogs are not angry beasts who should be avoided at all costs, but actually friendly animals who just need a bit of love and a friendly face.
Step by step we can make a difference, no matter how small that may be.
A new project
So I’d like to take the opportunity to use this somewhat older (hmmm, let’s say more ‘mature’) platform of communication to tell you about a new project I’ve started working on.
I say I, but it is in fact ‘we’ – my good friend Rich and I. We know each other from our days in Prague when we both completed the same TEFL course (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) and have remained good friends ever since.
Rich still lives and works in the Czech Republic in a town called Podebrady, and he came up with the idea of creating a Vlog (video log) in which we both contribute regular videos offering a little glimpse into our individual experiences in the Czech Republic and Bangladesh respectively.
The slight twist is that in doing so, we will set each other various challenges. We will also seek input from our viewers (who will hopefully exist!) and ask for suggestions for challenges they would like to see us complete, hence the name of the vlog – You Set The Scenes. Also, crucially, whoever receives the most thumbs up on youtube for their video wins the challenge.
*The name of the vlog is also a little nod to one of my favourite songs by one of my favourite bands.*
The main aims of this new project are as follows:
- For Rich and I to keep in touch!
- To hopefully offer viewers a little glimpse into what our lives are like as expats.
- To offer a positive look into the culture and environment of both Bangladesh and the Czech Republic.
- To motivate Rich and I to explore our locations further and hopefully create a richer personal understanding of our surroundings.
- To do things we may not have previously considered, which will no doubt at some points make us appear awkward and uncomfortable…perhaps much to the amusement of our viewers (again, if we have any)!
So that’s it really. I’m sure it will be a challenge at times, but also worthwhile, rewarding and fun. We both love exploring and getting away from the ‘tourist track’ and hope that this new vlog will reflect that.
Check out the trailer…
Our first challenge was to learn and recite a tongue twister in the native language of our countries. So I learned a tongue twister in Bangla, and Rich learned one in Czech. You can see how we got on below.
We hope you enjoy our future videos, and please comment below with any suggestions you would like us to try!
A previous photoblog updated with a number of new images…
The original post can be found here
In my previous blog I presented the photographic evidence of copious tea shop visits and interactions with the owners and clientele. During those photo walks I also captured a few images of people at work.
I found that it was quite fascinating to sit and photograph people going about their daily work and trades. I wanted to post this blog simply to present the images that reflect daily life here as I see it through my lens.
This is what I enjoy most about engaging in one of my favourite hobbies here in Chittagong. Through photography I extract so much joy from being able to view and explore this fascinating city and country and to view sights that perhaps seem ordinary or even mundane to one set of eyes, yet to others tell a story.
So, here are the results. Some of the photos were taken some months/years ago, but all are from Bangladesh. Also you may notice…
View original post 88 more words
A week in the beautiful kingdom of Bhutan
It’s shamefully embarrassing to admit this, but upon reflection I think I have reached the point where I’m travelling to countries that just a few years ago I knew little, or nothing about. My move to Bangladesh back in 2011 not only introduced me to this golden land, but given that my job is teaching students from 15 different countries, my eyes and ears have been exposed to each and every one of those countries in some way. I’m undoubtedly a lot richer for that.
A few weeks back I finally had the opportunity to visit one of those countries that had most intrigued me, and thanks to the assistance, amazing kindness and visa office doggedness of Dechen (a former student) I was on a plane to Paro and landing in Bhutan.
Bhutan is sandwiched in a somewhat intimidating position between India and China and is unique in its policy of measuring Gross National Happiness (GNH) rather than GDP. In effect, focus is placed more firmly upon the preservation of culture with a commitment to environmental conservation and sustainable development. Thus, it’s not the easiest of places to enter as a tourist or to roam freely once you are there. However, don’t let the bureaucracy deter you because quite frankly, it is stunning and so very endearing in many ways.
In this account of my brief stay in Bhutan, I will try to explain just why, based of course on personal experience, this kingdom of just 800,000 people made such an impression.
Here is an album with a selection of photos – Bhutan
Eastern Himalayan mountains, deep and dramatic valleys, winding rivers, dense forests, fertile pastures, and wide open plains all contribute to the breathtaking scenery that surrounds you. As the plane lands in Paro, it weaves between mountainous peaks and according to this article, only eight pilots are currently certified to land aircrafts there!
Preservation of culture
Bhutan is proud of its cultural heritage, and has taken strong measures to ensure not only its survival, but crucially its conservation and continued significance in everyday life. Television and internet is a surprisingly new feature of life in Bhutan having only been introduced (officially) in 1999. Tourism is limited and controlled, and national dress is a must at various locations including most workplaces. There is a gritty commitment to rejecting and actively fighting those external influences that can commonly be accused of eroding traditional culture in certain other countries that have welcomed tourism with open arms.
Road safety signs
On the beautiful winding and meandering main highway between Paro and Thimphu, which I imagine is one of Bhutan’s busiest, there are regular road safety signs that predominantly focus on reducing speed. They get their message across though in a quirky and sometimes cheeky fashion. I wasn’t able to capture any photos, but I did make a note of two in particular that stuck in my head…
“If you are married, divorce speed!”
“Be gentle on my curves”
On a more serious note though, it does appear that road safety is a huge priority in Bhutan with regular police checkpoints and from what I saw a diligent appreciation of the laws in place.
In Bhutan there are dogs….so many dogs. They are everywhere. On every street corner, under every bridge, asleep on every sidewalk and at night they serenade you until the early hours with huge canine choirs. They are also quite often big, furry things that generally add a level of happiness and warmth to an already happy and warm country!
There are bins. People use them.
There seems to be a genuine commitment to, and pride in keeping the country clean. It may seem a little patronizing to point this out, but from travelling and from experiences back home in the UK, I feel that many places (and people) have abandoned their responsibility to this simple and basic condition. The bins are also covered in motivational and encouraging messages, just in case you feel the inclination not to utilize them.
This was not much of a surprise. Whenever I travel I encounter genuinely kind and hospitable people. Bhutan was no different, and I had not expected it to be. Before I’d even begun the visa application process, my Bhutanese students and their families had offered all kinds of help and support, and once I landed in Bhutan that help and support became even more ubiquitous. From the man in the coffee shop who gave me a warm welcome each morning, to the friend of a friend who within thirty minutes of meeting me had paid for my dinner, it was a week full of unrelenting kindness. Special mentions must go to Dechen, Pema, Sonam, Yeshey, Kencho, Namgay, and to Roma and her family. These wonderful people made my stay in Bhutan even more perfect than it could have been.
In Bhutan it seems there are beautiful old buildings everywhere. In Thimphu many of the newer buildings also display the traditional style, which goes a long way to once again preserving the history and cultural heritage.
So, those are just a few aspects of my trip to Bhutan that stood out and made we wish I’d had significantly more time to really explore further. As with many of the places I’ve visited, I plan to return one day. I’m not sure when that will be, but hopefully sooner rather than later.
Oh, and in case you’re wondering, Tashi Delek is difficult to translate directly, but it is often taken to mean “blessings and good luck” and is used in Bhutan, but also parts of Nepal and northern India.
Here is a gallery of some further photos from my trip…
Before I begin this anecdotal blog, let me first say a very belated happy new year and all the best for 2015. Also, many apologies for the lack of updates over the past couple of months. The trials and tribulations of obtaining a new Bangladesh visa (which entailed a trip to India) in addition to end of term work pressure, locating homes for puppies, fun times in the UK over Christmas, and of course the usual lack of writing inspiration all conspired to keep me anywhere but on my blog.
However, inspiration always lurks ominously around a shadowy, unassuming corner, ready to pounce, and my recent decision to get a haircut proved to be all the inspiration I needed. I’ll set the scene for you if I may. The barber shop is directly across from my apartment building here on a narrow and often dim street in Chittagong. It’s a small, notably local establishment, and it seems to do ok for business. On the walls there are posters of ‘stylish’ men all with various levels of cutting edge/absurd hairstyles. One section is reserved for celebrities, who also offer an equitable level of absurdity.
Upon entering the shop you pass through a curtain and if you’re lucky, on the other side you’ll find a half naked man having oil rubbed into his back and in the middle of an evidently rigorous massage. If only one barber is working at that time, the rest of the long-haired men with tight shoulders wait patiently for the current customer’s knots to be worked out. This can take anywhere between 5 – 15 minutes, depending on the size of his shoulders and the severity of his knots of course.
On this particular day my luck was in (or out I suppose, depending on if you enjoy sitting through another man’s massage). My usual barber was stood outside and informed me the shop was currently empty, so taking opportunity of this, I entered. The television was on, and I was pleased to find that he was in the middle of watching Animal Planet and a fascinating documentary about monkeys. Jackpot. I settled into the chair and uttered the usual instruction of “medium please bhaiya.” He has cut my hair sufficient times now to know this means a classic short back and sides. A regulation haircut the fashion hungry men on the wall would no doubt scoff at. However, I’m a teacher and I already wear ‘gap yah’ bands on my wrist, so a radical haircut would be excessive and detract from the content of the class.
Things were going well. The scissors snipped at a productive and efficient speed, I enquired about his family, he asked me if I was married yet, and then we relaxed back into our shared mutual acknowledgment of the very evident language barrier. The monkeys on the television continued to display their humorous behaviour, and the documentary outlined their mischievous ways in the dusty city of Jaipur, India. Sufficient entertainment for one and all.
My barber’s colleague had re-entered the establishment by this point and was joined by another man who came and perched himself on the seat in the waiting area. He didn’t appear to want a cut, but was happy enough sheltering from the winter cold (comfortable temperature as I call it) outside, and his eyes were immediately glued to Animal Planet. The man had a sweater wrapped around his head and a heavy shawl around his shoulders. He’s largely irrelevant to the story, but I like the fact he seems to use the shop as a source of television. I presume this is the case as he uttered neither a single word to any of us, nor changed facial expression the entire time I was there.
Now, back to the tale. It was about at this time that events turned, and not for the better I should add. The cutting of the hair came to an efficient end. My barber performed a light trim of the beard, and as usual applied a razor to the lower back of the neck area to sharpen up the border. Great, well I’ll be off I presumed. A dangerous presumption it turned out as he proceeded to remove the lid from a small tub on the counter and placed a generous amount of an unmarked, bright green cream to his fingers. Without any word of warning he then applied this liberally across my face. I shut my eyes and cursed myself for not protesting sooner, but it was too late now. The green cream was there and he subsequently spent around five (it felt like twenty five…) minutes rubbing it vigorously over every area of my face. No nook or cranny was untouched. Now, I have a terrible habit of finding these types of procedure awkward, and when I feel awkward I tend to break out in uncontrollably awkward grins. This is precisely what occurred once the cream rubbing became too much.
Eventually he told me to bend towards the sink and washed off the cream. Relief abound, I again foolishly presumed the procedure was over. He made elaborate work of drying off my face and then kindly rubbed cologne over my freshly shaven neck. Well, I will at least walk out of here feeling quite refreshed and smelling good I thought.
I was mistaken about the walking out part. The fun had apparently only just begun. Once again without giving any indication or warning he sprayed water onto my hair and then proceeded to massage my head, twisting and pulling at my hair quite aggressivly and then pressing his fingers into my forehead and eye sockets. At that point I kind of wished I was one of those monkeys on the television at the temple in India. Freely jumping from wall to wall, stealing sandwiches and harassing tourists, but alas, I was sat here in a chair, a prisoner to this man’s grand ambitions of a full upper body massage. A massage that I had certainly not requested or envisaged only a few minutes prior.
He worked the face, and paid significant attention to my eyelids. Focus on the monkeys I thought. He stretched out my arms and clicked each of my fingers. Then he went for the sides of my torso and pressed and prodded. I squirmed due to the ticklish nature of the procedure, but he carried on regardless. By this point I’d gone. The situation was too much and my subtle grins stretched painfully to a resigned broad smile followed by very obvious laughter.
He glanced at me in the mirror and we shared a knowing grin. I think it was finally at this point he realised and acknowledged my comedic discomfort, and I presume this prompted him to abandon the next stage of the process. Thankfully the bottle of massage oil stayed firmly on the counter and I was permitted to exit the chair and make my way to the door. This was however not before he’d charged me four times the usual price! We debated about this for a while and then came to an agreement, which included a categorical promise that next time I’d come solely for a haircut and entertaining television.
As I left the shop that evening I felt like I’d learned a valuable lesson. I’m still not entirely sure what that lesson is, but I learned it all the same. I bid my farewells to the barber, his colleague and the stranger, and as the door slid shut I heard the rampant screams of the monkeys from Jaipur continuing with their reign of terror at the temple….
Here are two photos (in no way related to the story in this blog) that I took here in Bangladesh, which do show a fairly typical barber shop.
Some weeks ago I contributed a post to the Asian University for Women’s Center for Teaching and Scholarships blog. It is a space for teachers and professors to reflect upon their experiences as educators. I thought I’d share this post on my personal blog also, as it seems like an appropriate time. The current school year has recently come to an end and I’m feeling proud of the students I taught this year, as they have now successfully graduated from the one year Access Academy course and will move on to the full undergraduate program in August.
One of the most rewarding aspects of this job is the influence you can have on the education of your students. It sounds obvious of course, but well-planned lessons, engaging subjects, and interactive instruction is the catalyst for an effective learning environment. There may be times when you reflect on a specific class you have taught, or a topic you have covered with your students, and wonder if they gained as much from it as you had hoped. However, overall your support, guidance, and enthusiasm have the ability to direct your students on the path to independent and inquisitive discovery both inside and outside of the classroom.
Personally though, I have become aware during the past five years of incredibly varied teaching roles that it’s not solely my students who (hopefully) have this opportunity. From preparing lessons, teaching classes, facilitating discussion, and, crucially, from listening to my own students, I too have learned so much, and in many ways it has significantly reignited my individual desire for learning.
Upon completion of my Masters Degree, and prior to embarking on my life as a teacher, I spent 18 months working in an office. The job was fine enough and helped to clear some mounting post-university debts whilst introducing me to the day to day responsibilities of paid employment. However, it led to a noticeable stagnation of my motivation to seek out new knowledge. This may very well have been a consequence of my own personal misguided path, but the nine to five routine left me demotivated in other aspects of my life, and whilst I didn’t recognise it at the time, I needed something to change.
In hindsight I did learn tangible lessons from my first ‘proper’ job. It clarified in my head that having progressed somewhat zombie-like straight from school to university, I now needed to explore beyond that particular bubble. At this point I didn’t really know quite where that would take me, but as I reflect on the places I’ve lived, worked, and visited since that fork in the road, I feel pretty satisfied with the choices I made.
It began with an important and life-changing decision to rectify the dissatisfaction of 18 months behind a computer screen, and it was at this juncture I travelled to Rwanda as a volunteer teacher in a rural secondary school. It was a challenging year, but also highly rewarding. One of the main reasons for this was my assignment to teach Entrepreneurship.
My initial reaction was to panic and focus entirely on the fact that I considered myself to be the least entrepreneurial person I knew, most probably due to my cautious and frugal nature; two qualities that no career entrepreneur would ever claim to possess. However, once I set about building a syllabus, seeking out resources, discussing ideas with my peers, and thinking logically about how I could best guide my expectant students, it became something of a new and exciting challenge.
Entrepreneurship requires a great deal of “out of the box” thinking – something many of my students were not accustomed to. Therefore, in order to teach the students before me, I had to learn, and I had to learn fast. I recall sleepless nights, confused faces, and undoubtedly one or two lesson plans that in hindsight may not have been the most effective. Yet, by the end of the year this experience had taken me back to the period prior to my office job. I was driven to learn once again.
At AUW this experience has been no different. Teaching ‘Interpreting Texts’ in the Access Academy has provided me with broad scope to develop a course that covers a range of topics and utilizes a variety of sources and authors. This past year we studied issues relating to identity and gender. We debated the merits of anthropological research and scrutinized the influence of modern media on our lives. We investigated how fear and stigma perpetuates the global HIV crisis, and we spent time reading about the intricacies of a divided Sudan. We read textbooks, journals, academic texts, editorials, blogs, and even found time to analyze the lyrics of Simon & Garfunkel, The Beatles, and The Kinks.
Each week I feel I learn just as much as my students, and of course lesson preparation and in class instruction account for the bulk of this. What should not be underestimated though, and is a factor that has become abundantly clear during my time at AUW thus far is the knowledge I gain from my students.
We’re from contrasting regions of the world and they have faced significantly different journeys to my own, so whenever we discuss a topic in class or they write a response, I am exposed to new thinking and new perspectives I may have otherwise failed to consider. The wonderful consequence of this is that unlike my previous non-teaching job, which at times left me feeling uninspired and lacking direction, I now have no option but to learn and grow as both a teacher and a person, and to strive to consider the world around me. It is thanks to this job and my inspiring students that I am able to experience these opportunities.
Reflections on the state of English football
With the opening stages of the 2014 football world cup well underway, thoughts once again turn to pride and prestige as many of us across the globe hope to witness our team get their hands on one of sport’s most sought after trophies. The media in England has no doubt been awash with confusing contradictions of expectant hope, yet inevitable resignation to disappointment and failure.
Retired players fill the BBC and ITV studios spouting clichés and stating the obvious (and if you’re poor old Phil Neville, boring the socks off viewers!), whilst certain tabloid newspapers call on football fans to summon that ‘bulldog spirit’ and wave the St George’s cross with pride and vigour. Baddiel and Skinner fill the airwaves, and we find ourselves staying up until the early hours to see how the clash between Iran vs. Nigeria ends.
I write this with a certain pomposity but also hypocrisy, as deep down I love this four week period. There is something magically compelling about the football world cup, and if truth be told, I have found myself googling facts about the Bosnia manager, statistics about Honduras’ previous world cup appearances, and the national anthem of Switzerland.
On Saturday evening I set my alarm for 3.45am so that I could wake to watch England’s opening game with Italy, which kicked off at 4.00am here in Bangladesh. Earlier that day I pinned my flag of St George to the bars on my small balcony, which overlooks the narrow street below, in anticipation for the chance to erase the memories of being sat in a cramped bar in Rwanda and witnessing England capitulate against Germany in 2010.
However, in the days leading up to the start of the tournament one question consumed my thoughts. It wasn’t who I supposed Roy Hodgson would select for the right back position, or which player would belt out the national anthem with the most exuberance. No, I was a little confused by the implications of a rapidly transformed Bangladesh.
Over the course of a few days prior to the opening game, the streets became a festival of colours with flags hanging from windows, painted on walls and pinned to car bonnets, and also commonly attached to rickshaws. As I looked around and began to notice more and more flags, it dawned on me that my red and white cross of England was quite unique.
Chittagong and Dhaka are overwhelmed by the distinctive blue and white of Argentina and the trademark yellow and green of Brazil. German flags also feature prominently, whilst Spain, Italy, Portugal and France have their fair share of fans. Yet, England is strikingly underrepresented. It may sound arrogant and presumptuous, but I have been left a little puzzled by this.
Having witnessed many enthusiastic responses to England’s cricket team from Bangladeshis, I assumed football would be no different. In a country where the English Premier League is so revered, and the replica shirts of England’s domestic teams dominate the markets, I couldn’t help but wonder just why the England national team doesn’t command a similar level of support. After reflecting upon this, and also having sought the views of friends and students, I have concluded that it represents something of a worrying indication of the state of English football.
The reasons offered by my Bangladeshi students and friends when I posed this question made a lot of sense. Football is unquestionably popular here, yet the national team is currently ranked 35th in Asia and 167th in the FIFA world rankings. Therefore realistically it seems unlikely at this point that a first ever World Cup finals appearance for Bangladesh is imminent, and so to engage with the big stage events such as the World Cup, people choose an adopted country to support.
As one of my students put it, “By supporting a team and hoisting their flag, we just want to be part of the greatest show on earth.” It is on these occasions that people get the chance to connect with the sport on a whole new level. So why do Argentina and Brazil dominate people’s affections here?
Well, everyone likes a winner. It’s the reason the sight of a Manchester City shirt has become far more common in the past year or so here in Bangladesh. It also explains why I receive blank looks when I tell people I support Plymouth Argyle. Brazil have lifted the World Cup five times and Argentina are a consistent performer. Germany and Italy also both have a reputation for success when it matters, and the emergence of the Spanish flag is no coincidence given their consecutive triumphs at the 2010 World Cup and 2012 European Championships.
Naturally many people here don’t remember, or are unaware of Geoff Hurst’s hatrick at Wembley in 1966, or our countless penalty heartaches, and thus we (England) have built a reputation of being distinctly average.
The style of football is also important. The samba skills of South America are a major factor. There is passion and art, with crisp, short, sharp passing, mazy runs, cheeky dinks and thunderous shots on goal. This is what people want to see when they tune in to see the stars of the world stage. They don’t want to spend 90 minutes witnessing teams hoofing a football 80 yards, or scoring and then positioning all ten players behind the ball. People want to see pace and skill and this is why Bangladeshis have taken South American teams to their hearts.
The continent is home to two of football’s biggest legends – Messrs Pele and Maradona. Their fame is felt here in Bangladesh too, and as one friend explained in reference to the ‘Hand of God,’
“Some Bangladeshis have a crazy kind of infatuation with him. His cocaine induced antics plus his blatant disregard for the laws of the game and some serious skills too, won millions of hearts.”
Maradona’s legacy clearly lives on, but in addition Argentina and the world (including Bangladesh) now have a new legend to worship – Lionel Messi. Undoubtedly close to cementing himself into football folklore, Messi has given people here even more reason to back the Argentinians.
England have fallen behind in the global popularity stakes. We just don’t have a genuine global star anymore; a player that excites fans across the globe and creates anticipation and expectation when the ball is at his feet. Argentina has Messi, Brazil has Neymar, Portugal has Ronaldo, Uruguay has Suarez, Italy has Pirlo, Spain has Iniesta, and the Dutch have Van Persie. We have Rooney. As much as we may want to believe otherwise, Rooney is not a global superstar. David Beckham is the last player to represent the England national team who captured the imagination of fans right across the globe, and even then I’m inclined to say it wasn’t solely due to his performances on the pitch.
“The English Premier League is the best in the world.”
These are the words that echo through the corridors of the FA Headquarters in London as executives pat themselves on the back whilst watching the global sponsorship deals roll in. TV broadcasting contracts have completely changed the face of English football, yet as I walked the streets of Chittagong and Dhaka this past week, it became apparent in my mind at least that this has had little effect on our national team.
The Premier League is, and consistently has been a veritable feast of footballing talent. Drogba, Henry, Bergkamp, Vieira, Van Nistelrooy, Suarez, Zola, Toure, Torres, Silva, Aguero, etc, etc. As spectators we have been thoroughly spoilt. Yet, where are the home grown players stamping their authority on the international scene? The Premier League is undoubtedly a phenomenal importer of global talent, but when it comes to exports we are a long way behind. In my mind this is reflected in our performances at international level, and thus, as a result we lack success, we lack entertainment, and we lack appeal.
Am I denying the English Premier League has revolutionised the game of football for the better in many ways? No. And has it pushed the limits and the levels of performance from players and teams to a new level? In many ways, Yes. However, somehow in England, where many of us follow our domestic and national teams avidly, we have been left behind. We need to find a way to catch up, and we need to catch up fast.
Do I want the England flag to be flown all across Bangladesh during the next cup? No, I don’t, for many reasons, and some of which are more obvious than others. That’s not the point of this blog post. I would just like our FA to recognise and acknowledge that whilst the Premier League is of course a mechanism for so much development, it is also imposing a stranglehold on the development of our young home grown talent that if not loosened will be felt for many years to come.
I’m posting this just hours before England’s crucial group clash with Uruguay, and therefore by the time you read it the national team will either be preparing for the next crucial encounter (against Costa Rica), or we will be lamenting another disappointing exit from a major tournament. I would really love the England team to shine in this world cup and to make me reconsider everything I’ve just written, and I would love to be able to support a team that entertains, inspires, and captures the imagination of football fans right across the world.
However, as Bangladesh has shown me, unless we change our game right from the grassroots and start focussing on more than simply how much money our top teams can make, we will continue to slip down the international ladder.
Enjoy the rest of the tournament!