Shortly after arriving in Battambang we were challenged to a soccer match by the Battambang Ophthalmic Centre (BOC). From the indulgent smiles we shared, it was clear the same images flashed in each of our minds; a field of dirt, goals fashioned from makeshift materials and an opposition composed mostly of children. An easy, light-hearted match.
The bus pulled up at a full-sized, freshly-mown soccer pitch and we stumbled out of the bus with wide eyes. We watched in horror as grown men, clad in neat uniforms and cleats, each took precision shots at goal. They were warming up? Half of our team had never played a game of soccer in their lives! We sheepishly assumed our positions on field, looking at each other dubiously, decked out in oversized ‘2h Project Australia’ black t-shirts (gifted to us by Sarou from BOC).
What followed was a hilarious, mostly unskilful, game of soccer. Our Cambodian opposition delighted in our artless form, and openly laughed at some of our more woeful attempts at goal. However, carrying the heavy burden of Australian sporting pride, and under the impassioned tutelage of Super Coach Tony Innes, the 2h Team fought back bravely. Both sides claimed a few goals, and the match ended with a nail-biting penalty shootout – from which our team emerged victorious. By that stage, we were ready to collapse into a heap, our bodies unused to being exerted in such humidity.
After the game, our opponents grinned and clapped us on the back as we shook hands and posed for photos. By refusing to give up and laughing at ourselves along with the other team, it felt like we gained their admiration, and we certainly left the oval better friends for it. The best part, even if it was only for the hour or so the game lasted, our match had been a really fun escape from the norm. The ability to connect with people simply through a universal sport is priceless, and in the end, the score was unimportant.
(But just so it’s clear … we won)