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Michael’s Travel Diary

Friday, 25 Apr 2008

Location: Southampton, England

MapG'Day everyone,

Well, it has been a pretty mad few weeks over here. I have been flat out trying to get things sorted out for the start of the football season again, and once again I seem to find myself with no time. I was hopeful that this year would be different in that sense, and while I am getting a bit more support from a few of the others in the team when it comes to running things, I am still hard pressed to find spare time most nights of the week.

I think a lot of it probably (OK, definitely) has to do with the first game being played in London. It was decided a while back (with mixed enthusiasm) to play the first round of the season in London as part of the ANZAC Challenge, a day where Aussie and Kiwis get together and beat up on each other on the sporting arena all in the name of the ANZAC spirit. Whilst I was keen to see how the day would go, and with reports of 800 participants in different sports (AFL, League, Union, 20/Twenty Cricket, Netball etc.) and 7000 people expected to attend on the day, it sounds like it should be a good atmosphere. Throw in the mix Aussie and Kiwi food stalls (I hoping for Dim Sim’s) and beers being sold (I'm craving a Boag's & Carlton Draught already, it's been a long while), plus music from back home being played, as well as Super 14's, NRL and a replay of the Collingwood vs. Essendon ANZAC Day clash being played on the big screen, and it seems a recipe for
success.

But as with all things, as it is our league's first trip to the ANZAC clash, there have been a million and one little obstacles to get around, not the least of which was the fact that the London Wasps Rugby Football Club have closed off a couple of the pitches to preserve them – the weather has been awful in the last couple weeks. It has resulted in our game changing start time on more than one occasion, having to use different pitches, and a host of other issues.

But being just 1 day away now, the team is revved up, and with a forecast of 20 degrees (the first in over half a year I dare say), it is all set to be a huge day - as long as we can all get there!

The match/day report will be up early next week, so stay tuned for that.

The other highlight of recent times has to be without a doubt the Southampton Titans foray into new sports. Having seen a flyer on a local bus for a 3-on-3 basketball tournament hosted by Southampton Uni I figured it could be a good laugh, and some of the guys from the team and I could win a few games. Let's just say that I hope the football season fares better than the 3-on- tournament.

Potter, an all round athlete (of sorts) from Albury (country boy, must be good), Stroudy (former A-grade at Bulleen) and Skinny Benny (Brisbane Bullets training camp Under 12 or something) teamed up with myself (umm, no real fitness or ability) and we went down to the stadium in Eastleigh about 15 minutes out of town by train.

The second we walked into the stadium, I knew we were in for a rough day. There were guys everywhere that not only dressed and talked the part of coming straight of the blacktop courts of Brooklyn, but they played it as well. The average height of the players on the day must have been 6' 2", and our tallest player was 6'1".

Here I am thinking a few college geeks would be our competition for the day, and I find out that Southampton Uni, Bournemouth Uni, and Chichester Uni all sent teams, and players had travelled from as far as Brighton and London to play. I couldn't really, and still can't, figure out the motivation behind it. A £15 entry fee per team, and the winners
cash prize of £100 didn't seem like enough of a financial incentive to travel so far, so clearly these guys just wanted to play and take bragging rights.

In any case, we lost the first game against Chichester Uni (or the Milford Crew as they called themselves) 23-0 (by 1’s) in just 7 minutes. Talk about embarrassing. We didn’t get a touch on the ball for 6 of those 7 minutes I reckon. I think it was after that match that they stipulated that the rest of the tournament would be played losers ball, rather than a possession game… juts to keep things a little closer.

Our second game was a forfeit, which would have been enough to put us into the final 16 knock-out stage in hindsight, and the third game was against The Ballers. And they could Ball. Despite me walking up to their 6’4” forward and asking him to ‘Go easy on us mate”, he replied in his best African American Brooklyn accent, “Nah, you go easy on us… Mate!” They opened the game with an alley-oop dunk that no-one saw coming, and has the 100 or so spectators going bananas. But they were cool, they put on a bit of a show, and we busted our asses stopping dunks, hustling to get a hand in the face of the 3-ball and generally trying to slow them down. The biggest roar of the day was when Benny scored our only bucket for the tournament, and the other team were even high fiving us! They thanked us for playing and putting such an effort, even though we ended up loosing 12-1. It would have been worse if 4 of their first 6 dunks hadn’t of hammered off the back of the rim.

We left the stadium then, heads somewhere between held high and hanging in embarrassment, and it wasn’t until later that we though with all of the teams forfeiting games on the day there was every chance we may have actually made the final 16… Ok, so there were only 18 teams that started the day! We later found out that The Ballers beat Chichester 7-6 in the knock-out stages before going on to win the tournament. So it would appear we had some stiff competition in the preliminary rounds.

Aside from the sporting endeavors, there’s not too much else to report. The last fortnight seems to have been an eternal goodbye party for Potter. Well, that and his birthday. In any case my travel buddy who’d head anywhere at the drop of a dime has been stiffed by the new HSMP Visa requirements and has to head home to apply for it. The result, the cost of the Visa goes from £750 to about £1500 when you include the airfares, but gets you three years work instead of just two now. Plus Potter is heading elsewhere when he returns, thinking Edinburgh which will give me a nice place to base myself for future Scotland tours. So this Saturday will be his last game for the Titans.

Next week Potter and I head out to Amsterdam for Queen’s Day on the Wednesday, The Netherland’s national holiday. I can just picture lots of orange filling the canals of Amsterdam, and am looking forward to it. I fly back on the Thursday, but Potter is sticking around till the weekend before flying to Heathrow and connecting back to Oz. Thursday night is the Matchbox20 concert in London, followed by what will be a VERY tough day at work on Friday, then a 3 day weekend to recover from a very busy week.

So stay tuned, things are getting busy again!