It will come as no surprise to anyone to hear that despite planning absolutely bugger all for my time in Dhaka, I still managed to suss out the goings-on in the local football scene for my visit to the city.
While I couldn’t find any information whatsoever on the 2020 season of the Bangladeshi Premier League (which apparently usually starts in January), I was able to decipher that the semi-finals of the Bangabandhu Gold Cup – a mini international tournament of sorts – would both be played while I was there. The first match was to be Palestine vs Seychelles, while the host nation Bangladesh would play Burundi the following evening.
Palestine vs Seychelles
Due to Dhaka having perhaps the most congested roads in the world – a 13km journey from my accommodation to the city centre took two hours by bus! – I was overly cautious and ended up arriving at the Bangabandhu National Stadium at 3.30pm for a 5pm kick off. Plenty of time to figure out the ticketing system and get a spot in the stands.
After a quick lap of the outside of the stadium, which is part of a complex housing hockey and handball stadiums as well, I realised neither of my concerns were necessary.
As is the case at Dalian games, there were a number of ticket ‘sellers’ milling about outside the stadium with big piles of tickets in their hands. After surprisingly parting with the official printed price of 50 taka (£0.45!) at the first time of asking, I arrived in the borderline empty stadium. It was an hour before kick off in a game between two visiting nations, I suppose.
In lieu of pie and peas there were plenty of people wandering around selling different bits and bobs. I played it safe with water and a bag of crisps, although throughout the game I was treated to a bag of nuts from one lad and a lentil, onion, cucumber and coriander and much more concoction by another fella, which I am informed is called ‘chotpoti’.
The crowd did grow and even livened up with a drum in the second half which was a bit of a surprise. As for the game, it was fairly end-to-end yet dull, and looked to be heading for penalties until Palestine won it with a delightful lob from a tight angle about 15 minutes from time. With my record of 0-0s I was fully expecting a stalemate so I was just glad to have seen a bloody goal!
Burundi vs Bangladesh
Armed with the knowledge gleaned from the previous night, I arrived much later and picked up a ticket straight away. I had been told by a fella the previous night that I could pay 10 taka (9p!!) with a bit of bartering, but I really couldn’t be bothered and paid face value – a whopping 45 pence!
Immediately it was clear that the locals were turning out in much larger numbers than the night before. The stands were awash with green and red-clad people cheering on their lads and there was even a bit of pre-match chanting!
The game got off to a lively start and Bangladesh edged it for me, which made it all the more surprising when Burundi grabbed two goals in quick succession on the stroke of half time. Perhaps more surprising than the score, however, was how the Burundi players celebrated their first goal!
I’m not sure whether it was heat of the moment, or just pure shithousery, but the decision to celebrate by dancing in the Bangladesh technical area would have been met by a ruckus in some quarters! Bangladesh manager Jamie Day must have been biting his tongue to say the least.
It was more of the same in the second half but Bangladesh just couldn’t do anything with the ball in front of goal. A late sucker-punch as the clock was winding down made it 3-0 and that was that. After looking up the world rankings after the game I was amazed to find that Burundi were ranked around 150 while Bangladesh were in the 200s. Judging by this match, the gap is much smaller than the numbers suggest.
All that was left was the clap the players off and take a motorbike Uber ride back to my accommodation. Easier said than done, as I was driven home by the Bangladeshi Ronnie Pickering (for those who have no idea who he is) who was mouthing off at just about everybody else on the road; that’s a lot of people.
At one point he even parked up in the middle of the road (reminder: Dhaka’s roads are some of the busiest in the world) to pick a fight with a guy who stepped off a bus in front of his bike. Terrified is not the word to describe my feelings as the traffic continued to weave around us while Ronnie tried to goad the fella into a scrap.
Somehow I made it back in one piece, although the same can’t be said for my fingernails. Just another day in Dhaka!