No, it’s not an ill-judged campaign by the English FA to try to appeal to Daily Mail readers, but the first public participation event at the Pushkar Camel Fair in Rajasthan, India.
After the opening ceremony and a beautifully colourful dance by local girls (I’ll do a full post on the festival later), a hastily put together team of “Foreigners” was assembled from the crowd and thrust onto the rather bumpy and sandy pitch. What I thought might be a nice 5-a-side kick about turned out to be a full 11-a-side game with subs, a ref, two assistant referees (or linesmen in old money), and in-play commentary over the PA system in the ground. Unusually for this sort of thing someone actually volunteered to go in goal and, after a bit of confusion about how many players we actually had and who was going to be substitutes, the game started.
I’d like to say that the “beautiful game” saw new heights, and that the crowd were wowed with the skill of all concerned, but the reality is that it was a scrappy affair with neither side really taking charge. Ultimately the difference came down to a few key incidents: a dodgy offside call late in the first half that could have seen the foreigners go 2-1 up; a shot which hit a mound in the sand and sent the ball ballooning over the foreigners’ goalkeeper; and the decision to play in Pushkar. The latter gave the locals a distinct advantage in knowing how to play on the powdery surface, being accustomed to the heat, and being able to breathe pure sand. At the final whistle the foreigners were coated in the stuff both inside and out as every tackle through up plumes of dust, and we had unfortunately managed to lose by 4 goals to 2. I believe the first Foreigners goal was scored by one of the French guys (we didn’t have time to learn names) and modesty prevents me from mentioning that I scored the second, which I did.
To the surprise of our team we then had a presentation ceremony where we were given a trophy and a certificate each, which was lovely. Then to the even greater surprise of our team we had photos, video and interviews with the press. As hastily nominated captain (I think because I talked to the guys about tactics and shouted more than anyone else on the pitch) I had my own press conference, which was nice. However, with a record of 1 cap, 1 defeat and 1 goal I am now officially announcing my retirement from international football. Sorry Gareth*
*Gareth Southgate, current England Football Manager