Sunday, 25 June 2017

The other final

Bhutan and Montserrat Island; what these two places could share in common?
 
Bhutan is a small independent country (one of the few in Asia that has never been a colony) in the middle of the Himalayas, between India and Tibet. It is an odd country; only 700,000 people living in several valleys on the south side of the eastern Himalayas.



Unlike Tibet and Mustang (see post), as Bhutan is located at the south side of the Himalayan range, Monsoons have no impediment to release liters and liters of rain every year over Bhutan. This makes bhutanese scenery remember the Alps, so yes, you'll easily hear everywhere that "Bhutan is Himalayas' Switzerland". But today, this won't be the main topic...




For me, the main curiosity of Bhutan is the strange system of government they have, and what this has meant in its recent history:

Until the early twentieth century, Bhutan was a country of quarrelsomes. Warlords were not only fighting eachothers in ongoing civil wars but, from time to time, they felt brave enough to attack India's British colonial Army. Every time Bhutanese challenged the Brits, they ended up losing, beaten and forced to pay a tribute to her Most Gracious Majesty... until they stopped paying, grabbed swords again, and got defeated in a testosterone never ending cycle.




At the beginning of the twentieth century, a "Ponlop" one of the country's warlords, was able to defeat his rivals, he befriended the British and proclaimed himself king of the country. Thus, Ugyen Wangchuk was proclaimed Druk Gyalpo, meaning "Dragon King". You will see the dragon ("Druk") is an omnipresent motto in Bhutan. It was said that the highest mountains of the country were the dwelling of the Thunder Dragon, so they ended calling their country "Druk Yul"; the "Land of the Thunder Dragon. "
 

Wangchuk family continued to reign and, during the 70s, King Jigme Singye Wangchuk began a modernization of the country based on, what he liked to call, the GNH (Gross National Happiness) instead of GDP (Gross Domestic Product). The GNH concept is based on promoting the happiness of the population over the typical economic growth. A real 70's hippie-style concept. At the same time, they enacted laws to limit cultural Western influence and thus promoting Bhutan's traditions and way of life.


Indeed, the influence of King Jigme Singye Wangchuk's guidelines marked the character of modern Bhutan: the quality of life is quite correct considering it's a 3rd world country and it doesn't correspond at all with country's position in the GDP ranking. It is also curious how these rules ensured the maintenance of Bhutanese culture and traditions. For example, public administration workers are required to always wear the bhutanese traditional dress!

Men's socks reaching the knee is a British colonial influence imported from India


Nowadays King, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuk and his father, King Jigme Singye Wangchuk

Now let's forget the Himalayas and focus on the island of Montserrat: This island is located along the eastern Caribbean. It is an English colony, with about the size of Formentera (the smallest and less known of the Balearic Islands) with only 5,000 inhabitants. It's a paradise island, lush and green but has a major drawback:




In 1995, after centuries of inactivity, the Soufriere Hills volcano erupted. The activity of the volcano, although it has declined in recent years, has not stopped and has obliged the southern half of the island to be abandoned. The capital's airport, port and many other island's key places have been moved up north. Obviously, the economy of Montserrat, closely linked to tourism, has been greatly affected. Meanwhile, many residents of the island (should them be called "Montserratians"?) have emigrated to the colony metropole: United Kingdom.



One of the main Montserrat Island's economic activities maybe still remain in the memories of pop and rock enthusiasts, especially those of my generation. During the 80s, one of the most famous music producers in UK, George Martin (known as the "fifth Beatle") set up a recording studio, the AIR Studios on the island of Montserrat. 80's bands such as Dire Straits, The Police, The Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd recorded their albums on the island of Montserrat. If you still keep British artists vinyl albums from the 80's, look at the credits. In many of them, you will find:"Recorded at AIR Studios, Montserrat."

Dire Straits in Montserrat, while recording Brothers in Arms album

So what ties a small Buddhist kingdom in the Himalayas and a Caribbean island? And no, it's not  (only) men wearing high socks!

Answer is football. More specifically an exceptional match. An all-or-nothing final game. Bhutan and the Island of Montserrat face to face in a historical match to decide which was ...

...the Worst National Team of the World!

In 2002, the World Cup was held in Korea and Japan. In this edition, Dutch National Team failed to qualify for the Cup so, sad and frustrated, Matthijs de Jongh, a Dutch documentaries producer, decided to organize a match between the two teams ranked last in the FIFA ranking. At that time, the 202th position was occupied by Bhutan and Montserrat was the last one, ranked 203th. De Jongh got in touch with both national federations and, together with a Japanese film producer, organized the match.



Both countries welcomed the match with unbridled fervor. Due to the Soufrière volcano still creating some problems, it was decided that the match would be held at the Changlimithang Stadium, in Thimpu, Bhutan's capital. Both teams trained hard for months. Until then, neither team had not won an official match ever. In fact, Montserrat had never won even an unofficial match. In the case of Bhutan, they had been able to win a friendly match: they had won the powerful (not officially recognized) Tibet National Team (if you don't know anything about football, this was irony!). So, both teams had a ludicrous curriculum.

Bhutanese National Team

Montserrat's National Team

I wouldn't say I am a big football fan, but I must admit that football, if well managed, can have a unique capacity to unite, inspire and create incredible bonds. And that's what happened because of this match, so called "the other final" and held a few hours before, some thousands of kilometers away, Brazil and Germany played 2002 World Cup Finals.




The match ended with a clear victory for the Bhutanese: 4-0. It should be said that, because of food poisoning, Montserrat had seven losses. However, Bhutan dominated the match from beginning to end. This confrontation allowed bhutanese striker Wangay Dorji, to become Bhutan's all-time best player. That night he scored three goals; together with the two goals scored the following year against Guam National Team, made him become the leading scorer in the history of Bhutan Team, with a global mark of... five goals! This is an incredible feature if you consider that the Bhutan standings show, nowadays, a gloomy 31 goals scored versus 220 goals received in 5 wins, 4 draws and 51 defeats in Team's history).




The game ended with the delivery of a very original trophy: a cup that was divided into two equal parts, one for each team. Despite the defeat, Montserratians (?) fought until the last minute, and ended the match very proud about themselves and how they had played. Moreover, the whole experience and the warm and friendly hosting in Bhutan, would be long time remembered in Montserrat.


Wangay Dorji (10) Bhutan's top scorer and Charles Thompson (2), Montserrat's captain.

Since that "final" was played, both teams have improved a lot. This year, Montserrat is ranked 178th (of 209 members) in Fifa ranking. Bhutan, has reached 166th position!

If you would like to watch the documentary "The Other Final", you'll find it easily on Youtube.

The passion for football ended up joining two countries located more than 14.000km from each other. Apparently they had nothing (except long socks!) in common but a ball can do miracles!




1 comment:

  1. To be completely honest, I have forgot Bhutan existed until now.

    ReplyDelete