AFL Asian Championships – Match Report

Smalley winning another tap against Cambodia

Smalley winning another tap against Cambodia

The Comp

The 2015 Asian Champs was hosted by Thailand in Bangkok, and for the first time the competition was split into two divisions.

Division A consisted of the strongest teams; Hong Kong, Singapore, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, Jakarta and Philippines. Although we were in the lower division B, there were no easy-beat teams. We would be up against favourites China, who infamously flogged us 62 points to 1 in last year’s Asian champs, and Bali, an island that in fact contains more Australians than Australia does these days, and whose team is young and fit and renowned for playing hard and partying hard. Also in our group was Cambodia, who have routinely beat us in every tournament for the last 5 years, Myanmar, who embarrassed us earlier this year in our own Vientiane Cup, and finally Macau, whom the Phants in fact have a 100% winning record against*. So in short most of the teams, as Chappy reminded us frequently during the day, would have already pencilled in a win against the Phants while perusing the draw before the games.

*only played them once, many years ago. Scraped home in a close game.

But Wait….

Unbeknownst to the competition, we had assembled an awesome lineup. This was touted to be the last competition with Captain and club president Chappy and Coach Quiggy. In addition, Tom, Jimmy, Beale, Muzza, and Scotty probably won’t be around next year. So it was requested – no, demanded – that everyone put aside for just one weekend their work and family responsibilities, and come to Bangkok for one last tournament, with or without permission. Shift crews were left leaderless at Sepon. Managers were left exposed as their exploited 2ICs took the weekend off. Meetings were cancelled. Contracts were lost to competitors. Wives were abandoned. Hysterical phone calls were received. Lawyers may even have been called. And Jimmy’s weekly report didn’t get finished. All in a final salute to Chappy and Quiggy, to pull on the pink skins just one more time and call themselves a Lao Phant.

And what pink skins they were. In a major cultural shift that would leave the Lao Elephant traditionalists spluttering into their beers, our old pink skins were gone. Our new shirts were a lighter (more masculine) pink, with grey tiger claw marks criss-crossing the front. The much beloved elephant was unchanged, shrunk down onto one pectoral. Chappy wasn’t done there, we had new Phants Pants, plus a set of warm up shirts, in addition to new polo shirts, both of which featured more black than pink. But in case there was anyone complaining about the lack of pink (not that anyone was), he also ordered a set of fluoro pink socks for everyone. Unfortunately the shipment of matching briefs (his and hers) didn’t make it in time. For the first time ever, we all wore matching kit before, during and after the games. For once we looked like a team and it wouldn’t have been possible without the generous support of the following people:

  • Biju and Dilip at Lao Ford City for the jumpers and polo tops. Thanks guys
  • Shaun ” shifty ” Edwards and his company RDCL Geotechnical Specialists for the new batch of Phants Pants. Shifty you Legend
  • Our Lao players Lucky and Sak for organising the warm up tops and a good friend of Chappys, the one and only Danni Dix for sourcing the pink socks.

We sent a strong message right from the start of the day with how we presented ourselves and it was great to see.

And we knew we had assembled the strongest Phants lineup possible. Our only major absentee was the last minute withdrawal of Braids, whose body finally fell apart after his superhuman efforts in Luang Prabang (he expects to be fit again by June 2019). But this was more than compensated by the addition of aquatic engineer Belly, HR executive Haydos (possibly recalled to Laos to hand out our retrenchment notices) and Smally, who, thanks to the supplements provided by Shifty, had grown several feet since he last played with us. Big Red was bigger than ever. Chappy was shaved and shiny. Chomsee was ripped. Udone was pumped. Shiftys hair looked awesome. Kells hammie was hanging in there. Langas was not hungover. And Jimmy and Neil were slighty less tubby than before.

Soi Cowboy

It was a surreal experience, assembling at the bus pick up point before sunrise outside Soi Cowboy, looking uncharacteristically fresh faced and perky for 5:00am, contrasting with the last of the clubbers and bar hoppers (and possibly some of the Bali boys) stumbling home through the darkened streets. The atmosphere on board the Phants bus on the way to the game was a mixture of trepidation (‘Oh god I hope I don’t break my head again’), cautious optimism (‘hmmm, we should be able to win a couple of games’), complete arrogance (‘were gonna flog em!’) and eagerness (‘can’t wait till it’s over and I can start drinking’).


Game 1 – vs Cambodian Eagles

We started proceedings with the first game of the day, and the Cambodian Eagles had an air of cockiness about them – and a whiff of alcohol – they had clearly been partying hard the night before (such behaviour is rarely seen these days amongst the Lao Elephants). Chappy gave us about 15 motivational speeches, and team positions were sorted by Coach Quiggy and Assistant Coach Dudley. We had 7 on the bench, not bad for us, but this paled into insignificance compared to almost all the other teams, including Cambodia. Already drenched in sweat, the whistle blew at 7:30am and we were away!! Straight away Smally won the centre tap, and Chappy and Steve Brucey were soon dominating in the centre and driving it forward. Big Red for once was relieved of ruck duties and was having a ball playing at full forward. In the first half he took two strong marks, and could have lined up and slotted them, but instead nailed short passes to Smally, and then sensationally to Lucky to score his first ever goal representing his country. Cambodia were clearly stunned by this new look Lao team, but they weren’t laying down. They are a big team, but also have a great bunch of small and agile national players that can run rings around us, and proceeded to even the score up by half time.

It was a tight half of good quality footy, and it called for special words of inspiration from our captain to spur us on, and as we emerged from the half time huddle we all had a glint of steel in our eyes. Blair Bell got involved, not letting anything past him at half back, and linking seamlessly with Haydos and Chappy in the midfield. Everytime we got the ball and glanced up to offload there were pink skins running hard and in space. Chomsee was taking some good marks, working hard and running through tackles, and Ek was getting lots of the ball too. Within minutes Haydos kicked a couple of classy goals on the run, and we outscored them 3 goals to 1 in the second half, and finished with a good hard fought victory to raise our confidence, and get our first points on the board.

Lao Elephants 5:4 – 34pts to Cambodia Eagles 3:2 – 20pts

Goals to Haydos (2), Belly, Smally, Lucky


Game 2 – vs Macau Lightning

Although feeling confident, we weren’t getting carried away with ourselves, and stuck to the task at hand. Haydos and Belly got a couple of early goals. Smally was winning every tap, and covering lots of ground around the field. Chappy got an overly affectionate face rub in the dirt and got a bit feisty, and then took his revenge on the scoreboard, with two classy goals, including one brilliant snap from the boundary. Our midfield dominance, led by Chappy, Haydos and Belly was so complete that after a while we had the unfamiliar feeling of being a bit bored back in defence. Everytime it came down the pressure was defused by Toms giant right punch (I honestly can’t recall if he actually has a left arm or not), Kells strength, or Quiggys cool and calm decision making. In one memorable play Chomsee found space running towards goal, but obviously kicking it was too easy, so he tried to run through a few more players, got caught, handballed off to Ek, who fumbled it, regathered, ducked and weaved, ball came loose, and finally he soccered it through. There was a big sigh of relief as the two flags were waved, and we came from far

and wide to congratulate him on his first goal!. In the end we managed to keep them goalless, thanks largely to multiple goal-line marks by Handa. All the Lao guys shone, with Udon’s strength and marking in the middle, Chomsee’s hard running, Ek’s multiple goal assists, Lucky’s coolness, and Handa’s marking and long kicking.

Lao Elephants 9:4 – 58 pts to Macau 0:2 – 2 pts

Goals to Belly (2), Haydos (2), Chappy (2), Langas, Ek, Smally


Game 3 – vs Myanmar Fighting Cocks

Myanmar had just narrowly beaten favourites China and were looking strong. But our trunks were up and we could smell the sweet scent of revenge after our humiliating defeat to the Cocks earlier in the year. Early in the game Ek’s hard work was rewarded with another goal, and Brucey kicked a goal after a perfect long kick from Handa. The game was played at fast tempo back and forth, but every time the ball reached the centre Belly and Haydos had a habit of beating 2 or 3 opponents and driving it back into our attacking half. One long ball came in high, Big Red missed the mark, but Langas, belying his 6’4 stature swooped on the loose ball, broke a tackle, got caught in the next, chopped out a handball to Chappy who gathered the loose ball on the boundary with an assist from a Jimmy shepherd – he fired the handball back to Langas who was in about 35cm of space, and thoughts of Eddie Betts and bananas and happy endings crossed his mind, before deciding simply on nailing a dead straight kick through the middle from a tight angle. It was just pretty to watch, pleads of an early Langas retirement rang out from the Cocks and Bruce McAvaney himself gushed from the commentary box that it was some of the most “special” football to grace the stage of an Asian Championship in his living memory.

Lao Elephants 5:7 – 37 to Myanmar 1:1 – 7

Goals to Ek, Langas, Belly, Haydos, Steve Bruce

Ek working hard

Ek working hard

Game 4 vs China Reds

We had just won 3 out of 3 games, and had already booked a spot in the Division 2 grand final, but our next game was against China, who despite throwing a game to Myanmar were still considered the team to beat. But we only had 30 minutes rest since our last game, and the sun was beating down in a cloudless sky. Some of our guys were not used to the heat, and Big Red was pinker than a Germans belly, despite pretty much continual sunscreen application. Kell had done his shoulder (and probably several groins and hammies). So we had a meeting to discuss easing off and keeping fit for the grand final…..

Of course not!!

We had a point to prove against China, and to the whole world (who were starting to take note) that we weren’t going to back down. They were a polished team, and featured tall and fit looking Chinese nationals who looked like they had been playing since juniors (not surprising since they have 1 billion to choose from), plus a bunch of tall mobile expats, and about 20 on the bench. They wanted us to play 12 a side, instead of the normal 14, and looking at their huge bench, we agreed. However that backfired on us, and the first half didn’t go our way. They scored an early goal, and the pressure was on our defence. Tom really stood up, and his mechanically enhanced hyper-extendable punching arm saved us numerous times. Kell and JR in defence were blanketing their opponents and we managed to stem the tide and halt their dominance. Langas got a goal back in the closing seconds of the first half, and we went into the break just 1 point down. But we were looking ragged, and Chappy realised that special words were called for at half time.

What was said in the half-time huddle will never be printed on paper as all are sworn to secrecy, but we emerged with new purpose and intensity, and a clear understanding about what the universe was all about. They started the second half strongly, and were soon another goal up. But the next 7 minutes 22 seconds belonged to Blair Bell. Not since Anthony Koutafides single handledly beat Geelong in the 1995 GF has one player dominated a game so completely. He ran through everyone brave enough to try and tackle him, and decided that simple marks were not enough, so started taking a succession of screamers. He converted one goal to get us back in it. After one mark in the centre he spotted Jimmy who had managed to shake his Crowley-like tagger (I get that in the big games), and nailed him with a 40m pass. Jimmy nearly played on about 7 times as every man and his dog lead into space (what? – you don’t trust me?), but it was all too much to think about, so instead he went back and took the kick and calmly slotted it from a tight angle, to put us ahead with minutes remaining. Our lead was short lived though as they replied quickly, and the intensity lifted another notch. They cleared the ball from their defence, but guess who was there….. the big blond fresh prince of Bell-Air – Belly launching himself airborne against a couple of opponents, got the first and 3rd and about the 7th touch, before he landed on the ground with ball somehow still in hand. Mark was paid and he coolly walked back and slotted the goal from 50m out, to put us 5 points up. The remaining minutes were about as intense as it gets, but finally the whistle blew, and the Chinese were devastated as we had just knocked them out of the competition.

Lao Elephants 4:1 – 25 to China 3:2 – 20

Goals to Belly 2, Jimmy, Langas


After that titanic effort we had a couple of hours to wait until our final. We used this time to reflect on our achievement, graze on burgers and energy supplements, send word back home to our loved ones (totally uninterested), check in with the family court lawyers if necessary, and gaze wistfully at the other teams who were able to sit back and have a beer. We were obviously proud of our progress to date as it had been a real team effort, even when our starting line-up was off the field we still had the depth to remain competitive. It felt like all of us were nailing the kicks, holding marks, and gathering cleanly. And in every game our second halves were stronger than our first, meaning we were outlasting the opposition.


Grand Final

Cambodia were to be our opponents, having closely beaten Bali in the deciding match. We were all feeling pretty good and fresh, and thankfully still at full strength with no serious injuries. We were nervous, but pumped as we lined up in our starting positions for bounce down, mentally prepared for the longer 15 minute halves. As happened previously, they started the better team, and early on a long kick came in from the middle, and somehow managed to bounce over Toms head for a goal without him getting his go-go gadget fist to it. Shifty, our big game player stepped up as he won a hard ball, scrambled through some tackles and wobbled the ball through the sticks to get us on the board. Chappy decided that Belly couldn’t get all the awards for the day and stepped up another notch, going in hard for everything, laying some serious tackles, and kicking a goal himself. Richo and Sandy Roberts in the commentary box were singing the praises of the hard-work and desperation of the midfield team of Chappy, Haydos, Udon and Brucey. But Cambodia are a strong professional team, and they came back again and again, and we went into half time 1 goal down.

Once more, in the half time huddle the memories of last great victorious Asian elephant stomp-ede back in Indochina cup 2008 were recalled, and words were spoken that can never be revealed. Fists were clenched, backs were slapped, hair was tousled, and trunks were stroked – we all knew what we had to do, and it was time to lift to a new level. Cambodia again came out swinging. A few minutes in their full-forward was awarded a soft free kick 20m out directly in front, but shanked the kick out-of-bounds on the full. The Phants then rebounded the ball quickly through the half back with Chappy on the end of a nice pass forward of the wing. Looking up he sights the Phants forwards Langas and Big Red and demands a lead. But by this stage the big guys up front were shot and possibly in melt down. Langas replies with hand signals not seen since the 1975 CIA evacuation of Long Chieng to just fire off a Chappy bomb. In something reminiscent of a bull elephant mating manoeuvre the unfortunate Cambodian defender was duly mounted, Langas dukes went up and for maybe the first time all day the ball held firm in his mits during the long journey back to the ground. After missing a few shots in the first half (Langas claiming indigestion due to burger overloading) the pressure was on. Heeding some of the words from Chappy’s half time address he took his time, rolled the ball to ground, pulled up the socks, took a few deep breaths, finally dismounted the defender, and kicked truly to put the Phants back in front. Our trunks were up to win the cup! The Eagles had landed, and their heads dropped. True to form, our strong second halves continued. Smally and Blair marked everything that came their way. Haydos got in the act with some long kicks into the forward line, then kicked the goal of the day from a boundary line snap. Jimmy judged a long kick from Smally better than the pack and marked 30m out, and again slotted a major (won’t mention the clanger miss earlier though!). Shifty took a strong grab and sent one through the posts, but it was controversially called back as a behind but it didn’t matter as the party had already begun. Although they never gave up and every contest was tight, in a superhuman effort we managed three goals and kept them scoreless in the second half.

And we could finally (after another quick lesson) sing the song……

Grand final Lao Elephants 5:6 – 36 to Cambodia 3:0 – 18

Goals to Shifty, Langas, Jimmy, Haydos and Chappy

End of the day, start of a new era…

Triumphant Lao Elephants

Triumphant Lao Elephants

It was a surreal experience, and to be honest a new experience for most of us to win a footy championship, and it took a while (and several beers) before it really sunk in. Loved ones were called (still not interested), and social media erupted with news of our victory, and I believe Facebook Thailand servers crashed as the accolades flowed in from all over the world. So then we could relax, unwind, peel off the gear and watch the rest of the games, including the Division 1 final which Hong Kong won (again). Actually the Lao boys had one more game to play, East Asia (China and Philippines) vs rest of Indochina. Although our guys played and starred, the Chinese guys in particular were too strong and they won by a narrow margin.

The presentations were made as the sun was sinking and the beers were flowing. We also managed a creditable 2nd to Macau in the boat racing, thanks to our team of Shifty, Mariano, JR, Tom, Quiggy, and Beale, though debate rages and some say we actually won. Congratulations to Ek and Handa for making the All Asian team, and in a massive achievement, but not really surprisingly, Blair Bell won the player of the tournament, again the first time for a Lao Elephant player. Chappy also won player of our final, for his hard work, quality disposals and desperation around the ground. As we received the cup we gave the crowd another rendition of the Phants song, getting slightly more fluent with practice. Once the cup was in Chappys hands he was not letting it go, except of course to pass it around for the celebratory communal sculling of a beer, cider and jagermeister cocktail!

Big thanks to the Thailand boys and AFL Asia for organising another great event. Also thanks to Beale and Mariano for tirelessly running cool water in the heat all day (almost as impressive as Shiftys dwarves in Manila), to Dudley for helping Quiggy with the coaching – it was a real asset to have a non-playing coach assisting – and to the supporters who came along and took photos, updated Facebook, and cheered madly all day. And thanks most of all to Quiggy and Chappy for all their efforts, time, and expense in organising us both off and on the field – it is a huge job and we all greatly appreciate it.

But something tells me this won’t be the last tournament they will play for the Lao Elephants…….

And finally a big mention to Sophie, Jock and the team at Sticky Fingers. You really are amazing and the support you have shown and continue to show us is fantastic.

Also Rod Cox and the team at IIMS for everything they have done for the club and contributed to make the champs a success.

Many thanks to all of our sponsors, IFF, MMG, VIS, Front Wheel Industries, Lao Ford City, RDCL Geotechnical specialists, and Beer Lao and also to our Sister club in Australia – the mighty Wanneroo Amateur Football Club who will again host two Lao players next year.

All photos courtesy Rob Brewer from  www.ardmawrphotography,

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