Why I Like Football

This is a photo of a particularly representative monument in Ashgabat, the capital of Turkmenistan, taken in the pissing rain. I visited it last year with Mum on our tour of Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. This was shortly after England’s embarrassingly short crack at the World Cup.

Ashgabat is a weird place. More or less everything is covered in a layer of white marble, like a hotel bathroom, and it’s a wide, spread-out, modern city with a 10pm curfew for locals that lends it a particularly haunted atmosphere after dark. The place is stuffed full of these Monuments to the People’s Something Or Other, all laid out in massive, well-tended parks. We went on an afternoon speed-tour of the highlights of the city, though we were both sad and glad to see that the gigantic rotating statue of Turkmenbashi was being dismantled while we were there (glad for political reasons; sad for reasons of kitsch).

As we progressed around the Ministry of Gas building (shaped like a cigarette lighter) and the Ministry of Publishing building, out of which all Turkmen publications emerge (shaped, naturally, like a book), it began to rain in a light, steady, drenching sort of way. The time we spent out of the car gawping at the sights grew ever shorter, much to the amusement of our driver, who until then had regarded us indifferently. When we got back in the car again after a particularly short once-over of the Monument to Eternal Happiness (or whatever) he grinned and said something weather related to our┬álovely guide. He asked the guide a few questions about us, and my appalling knowledge of Russian just about picked out things like ‘English – from London – mother and daughter’. We found out that our driver used to play football for the Turkmenistan national team. He said something else, and our guide, who was translating, turned with a half-apologetic look. “He wants to tell you that the Lampard goal was definitely in.”

Damn straight, we said, and as the car swished through the empty marble city we began a conversation about the pros and cons of electronic refereeing, all translated by our bemused guide, who didn’t seem that interested in the subject.

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