For a game that I don’t particularly understand the nuances of and which is disdained by by most of my closest friends, I have a soft spot in my heart for soccer. Perhaps it’s my amusing experience with MyFootballClub, or that I always appreciated the intensity of European football fans, but for whatever reason, I’ve seen a variety of soccer matches over the past two years, ranging from the sublime to the less so.
So it seemed only natural, at least to me, that when Tajik soccer powerhouse F.C. Regar TadAZ hosted the 2009 Asian Football Conference President’s Cup, I should organize a road trip out to Tursunzoda, about 50 km west of Dushanbe, to see Regar defend its Cup title.
The trip to Tursunzoda in the “Party Marshrutka” I rented definitely had a Cannonball Run-esque aspect, but, after asking directions a couple of times and circling a rotary featuring an enormous photo of Tajik President Rahmon holding a sheaf of wheat thrice, we made it to Stadium Metallurg 1st District in one piece. In fact, we got door-to-door service as the marshrutka drove all the way down to the front gate. Once there, we did an approximation of a tailgate: Baltika 3, Kracks, and a phalanx of befuddled Tajik paratroopers doesn’t exactly scream “The Grove,” but it worked for us.
After paying our 3 somoni (about 60 cents) for a ticket, our international crew headed towards Section 28, which was marked on our tickets and was behind one of the goals. But sometimes being a foreigner in Tajikistan has its benefits, and the militsya colonel acting as an usher directed to the VIP section that was just about at midfield. We settled in to seats that were remarkably new and watched Regar take the action to their opponent Dordoi-Dynamo of Naryn, Kyrgyzstan. Dordoi and Regar have a serious rivalry as they’ve faced off in three of the five President’s Cup finals with Regar winning both previous match-ups, including last year’s championship in Bishkek.
Regar pressed the action early on, and despite their terrible execution on set pieces, they scored on a lovely cross and header just seven minutes in. Most of the action in the first half stayed in Dordoi’s end, and that trend continued even after the half and the teams switching sides. As Regar continued to be on the offensive, the home crowd became increasingly lively.
After Regar added a second goal (which counted despite the fact that S____’s mom, who is visiting from England, said that never the ball crossed the goal line), they went into a defensive crouch, but one that worked against a Dordoi side that seemed lackluster from the get-go. After the final whistle, a pigpile of Regar players ensued, followed by official cup presentation ceremony. And one thing you have to give to soccer federations, they know how to stage a trophy presentation ceremony.
So, flush with the crowd enthusiasm from Regar’s victory and flushed from excessive beer and potato crisps, we piled back into the marshrutka for a harrowing, but enjoyable, ride home.