Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Spotlight on The Prince

When he's not scoring goals, defenders will try to keep him off the pitch and receiving treatment. Pic:
Everyone will have their eye on the progress of The Prince - Uche Prince Justine - as he starts life with his new club Phnom Penh Crown. Last season's top goalscorer and Golden Boot winner in the CPL, with 21 goals in 18 games and aged just 18 years old, the powerfully-built Nigerian-born striker looks set to rule the roost again this time around, with two goals in his team's 8-1 demolition of Wat Phnom on Saturday. And if truth be told, I reckon he had his foot slightly off the gas pedal against the club that gave him his Cambodian opportunity last term. He admitted in his post-match interview for the tv cameras that he felt sad to score against his former family. Crown, his new team, look destined to begin the season with a flourish, with their opening six games against what most will term the C-League's also-rans, and I fully expect six wins from those matches before they start facing some of the better line-ups. Whoever they play, The Prince showed he's a match for anyone last season and I don't expect this campaign to be any different. The photos here are from the camera of Nick Sells, who's a regular at most of the C-League matches throughout the season.
Another attempt by Wat Phnom to keep The Prince at bay. Pic:
The Prince turns Wat Phnom defender Nathan Nwaowu inside out. Pic:
Devastating on the pitch, he's a nice guy off it too, as he explains his sorrow scoring against his old team. Pic:

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Press talk

My remaining three match reports from the weekend's Metfone C-League matches appear in today's Phnom Penh Post. Read them online here.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Press talk

Today's back page of the Phnom Penh Post
The Phnom Penh Post sports pages were a bit restricted today so only my report from the opening game of the Metfone C-League season made it into print, covering half of the back page of today's edition. It concentrates on Phnom Penh Crown's victory. The rest of the weekend football should make it into tomorrow's paper, if there's space. Click here to read the article in full.

Don't put your shirt on it

The Naga jersey looks like all the others, except the colour
Is there a mutiny brewing in the ranks of the Metfone C-League teams after just one weekend of matches? It looks like someone has got a job lot on producing the team jerseys this season with each team wearing identically styled tops, except Preah Khan Reach. Obviously the colours aren't the same but the wet-look design, with chest numbers, the FFC logo on the sleeve and the Metfone banner on the back, are identical though at least two of the players complained to me that the shirt was too tight around the chest, and that it didn't have long sleeves (though why anyone would want long sleeves in 35 degrees in beyond me). Bucking the trend were Preah Khan, who wore their own Nike styled shirts, with sponsors logo, club badge and personalized trim. The new shirts don't carry the players names on the back either, which is a bummer for the media and spectators alike.
Preah Khan Reach, bucking the C-League shirt trend

Army to the double

There's no stopping the Army, with the Hun Sen Cup already in the bank. LtoR: Seiha, Oudom, Rady, Kumpheak, Borin, Borey; Vann Than, Virak, Piseth, Khemarin, Chhouern.
The National Defense Ministry, the Army to you and me, are on the crest of a wave. After winning the recent Hun Sen Cup competition, the all-Khmer team are determined to put a spoke in the wheels of the more-fancied Metfone C-League teams this year and began with a 2-1 win over historic foes Khemara Keila on Sunday. The game was as tight as a gnat's chuff (look it up, it's English slang) but the Army got their noses in front and did enough to keep out a Khemara team, under a new coach and with new faces in their line-up, but lacking any real goal threat. MND surprisingly left Nov Soseila on the bench and their two other tiny wingers produced the goods with 20 minutes on the clock. Suong Virak and Chhin Chhouern scored in quick succession, each supplying the other, and though Sophal Oudom gave Khemara a lifeline on the half hour, they didn't take it. MND sat on their lead, Khemara failed to penetrate and the second half was a goalless stalemate. The miss of the season, though Teab Vatanak is in the running with about five of them on Sunday, goes to Ek Vannak. The Khemara new boy rounded Samreth Seiha and couldn't fail to score but as he dallied, Rang Borin got back to deny him with a last-ditch tackle. Vannak is still holding his head in his hands, a day later.
On target for the Army, Chhin Chhouern
Khemara Keila, beaten 2-1 in their opening game of the season
Probably the best toss-up of the season so far, as national teammates Khim Borey (7) and Kuoch Sokumpheak admire the handiwork of referee Yien Kivatanak

Naga win with comfort

Recently-installed Naga Corp coach Prak Sovannara declared himself "satisfied" with his team's first Metfone C-League win of the season. They always had too much for newcomers Prek Pra Keila and in left-footed midfield dynamo Joseph Oyewole, they had the weekend's best player on show. They also had new recruits, keeper Mak Theara - he of the dangerous scorpion kick fame - from Khemara and Kirivong's Samuel Oseika in the line-up. Up front they missed the punch of Sunday Okonkwo, who did so well for them last season. Instead Teab Vatanak lined up with Kob Isa and they'll need a stronger pairing if they want to recapture their league title this season. They led 3-0 at half-time against the new boys. Mat Phalla volleyed an own goal on 18 minutes and then Teab Vatanak scored a second, two minutes later. In truth he should've netted at least five goals before the interval but looks like a player devoid of confidence in front of goal, after a series of penalty disasters in the recent Hun Sen Cup. Sun Sovanrithy, wearing the skipper's armband this season instead of Om Thavrak, netted a penalty just before the break after Vatanak had fallen over with no-one near him and conned the referee. It was embarrassing.
With Naga in control, they increased their lead after the interval with a tap-in from Joseph Oyewole, who then headed against an upright. He dominated the game in midfield and will be a big player for Naga this season. We had some fun and games with ten minutes to go. Prek Pra keeper Yok Ary hurt his hand making a double save and swapped shirts with full-back Khin Voeun, as they'd already used their quota of substitutes. Five minutes later, Ary showed why he's a keeper and not a full-back with a clumsy challenge on Oyewole and Sun Sovanrithy despatched his 2nd spot-kick with ease. An easy day at the office for the league champions. Like their fellow newcomers Chhma Khmao the day before, it could be a long, hard season ahead for Prek Pra Keila.

Photos 1st, report to follow

Joseph Oyewole, Naga's outstanding midfield dynamo
Here's some pictures from the Naga Corp versus Prek Pra Keila Metfone C-League clash on Sunday. Naga ran out easy 5-0 winners. Report to follow.
Naga Corp, in all black, and determined to defend their league title; LtoR: Sovanrithy, Oyewole, Thavrak, Theara, Oseika, Chom; Sothy, Sambo, Chanthan, Isa, Vatanak.
C-League newboys Prek Pra Keila
Another in the series of 'greatest toss-ups ever seen'
Naga's new coach Prak Sovannara expresses his satisfaction at winning their 1st match to the local tv stations

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Naga and Army win

An advertising hoarding at the Olympic Stadium extolling the Metfone C-League
Sunday's Metfone C-League games didn't disappoint with Naga showing they are up for the defense of their 2009 league winners crown, with a 5-0 whitewash against newboys Prek Pra Keila. Sun Sovanrithy scored two penalties and MOTM Yemi Joseph Oyewole got the goal his performance deserved. Prek Pra Keila brought quite a few fans with them but it looks like a tough season ahead. The tightest game of the weekend, was the final match up between the Ministry of National Defense and Khemara Keila. These games are always evenly matched and after the Army went two goals ahead, Khemara fought back to make it 2-1 at the interval, and that's how it stayed. The first weekend of the season saw 24 goals scored in the 4 matches and if that sort of ratio is maintained, I'm going to need a big supply of biros to get through this season. Bring it on.

1st day snippets

First moan of the new Metfone C-League season. Everyone had been told that the opening game would kick off at 2.30pm. Instead the football federation and the television company who are providing live match coverage and highlights this season, CTN, changed the start time at the last minute to 2.10pm, catching nearly everyone by surprise. Especially as the Khmer fans in general, like to wait until the last minute before they arrive. The FFC have simply got to be more organized and keep the local media appraised of such late decisions. CTN, who have replaced TVK, will show one game live each Saturday and then offer a highlights programme on Tuesday afternoons at 4.30pm. I saw Apsara and TVK cameras there too, so presumably they will be showing brief highlights as well.
The new sponsors of the Cambodian Premier League are obviously the Vietnam-based mobile telephone supplier Metfone in a sponsorship deal worth $1.5million over the next three years. The league champions will receive a cash prize of $15K and like last year, at the conclusion of the normal league season, instead of the best team for the previous five months rightfully earning the title of champions, we'll then have a Super 4 play-off in August to decide the top four league placings. Quite frankly it's not how I would run a league competition but on the other hand, the play-offs last year provided great excitement and generated extra revenue. The Crown manager Be Makara suggested to me yesterday that if the federation wants an end of season competition then it shouldn't decide the destination of the league title but instead provide a top-4 battle to decide which team should go forwards to the AFC Presidents Cup. But of course he would say that after Crown won the league competition last term but failed in the Super 4.
One new rule introduced yesterday was that each team can only play 3 foreign players in any one game. That means if they start the game with 3 foreigners, that's their limit and they cannot replace a foreigner with another import during the game. Last season, the rule was 3 foreigners at any time. The new rule smells fishy to me. A few of the teams have signed a raft of new imports but some of them are still awaiting visas and so will remain on the touchlines for the opening games.
Every team will carry the logo of the C-League's sponsor Metfone on the back of their shirts this season

Black cats prove lucky for PKR

PKR's hat-trick hero Khuon Laboravy (11) and his coach Rith Dikar after today's game
It was a case of the Black Cats from Chhma Khmao proving a lucky omen for Preah Khan Reach in this fixture from the opening weekend of the new Metfone C-League season. Though PKR put six past the Svay Rieng team without reply, the game never reached the heights of the afternoon's opening match and in a pretty dull encounter, the only bright spark was Khuon Laboravy's hat-trick. PKR and their new coach Rith Dikar will be more than happy with the result, especially as they lost new signing Anthony Nzekwest with a tweaked hamstring 20 minutes into the game, leaving a full complement of 22 Khmer-born players on the pitch. Laboravy netted his first in stoppage time before the interval, having earlier headed against the crossbar. Five minutes after the break, he added his second and a header brought up his hat-trick. Sam El Nasa scored twice and San Narith registered a rare goal. It was tough on the C-League's debutants but their defence was way too generous and will need to improve dramatically to keep out the best teams. It could be a long season for the Black Cats. For PKR, they will need to shore up their line-up with a couple of their foreign imports too, to put them on a par with the likes of Crown and Naga for this campaign.
A subdued PKR team that came alive as the game wore on. LtoR: Sophea, Nzekwest, Laboravy, Thuon, Kiri; Mony Udom, Raksmey, Narith, El Nasa, Chanrasmey, Saray.
The Black Cats of Chhma Khmao got a thumping from PKR on their C-League debut. They could be in for a long, hard season.
The latest offering in the 'greatest toss-ups of the season' competition, as the two captains stare each other out

Saturday, March 27, 2010

One-way traffic

Phnom Penh Crown in their new blue kit for the C-League's opening game. LtoR: Pheng, Sokngorn, Justine, Bunchhay, Saidu, Sopanha; Chea, Tiny, Sovanara, Mpoko, Sothearith.
Phnom Penh Crown, who finished top of the league competition last season and should've claimed the title but lost out in the Super 4 Play-offs, made their intentions perfectly obvious from the outset of the brand new Metfone C-League this afternoon. They scored within a minute of the kick-off, slaughtered Wat Phnom 8-1 and have a squad that will definitely be pushing for honours again this season. It still rankles with their manager Be Makara that they didn't win the league last season and that will be one of the driving forces behind their campaign this time around. They have strengthened their squad with a host of new faces, of which four started today's game, and they made mincemeat of the ineffectual Wat Phnom line-up. The capture of last season's Golden Boot winner, Uche Prince Justine, could be the icing on the cake though Sani Saidu at the back will present a big obstacle for any opposition attack to overcome. The Prince netted his first goal, against his former employers, with less than a minute on the clock. It was a tap-in but they all count, especially to settle the nerves in your first game for a new team. After that it was all plain-sailing for Crown. In the fifth minute Keo Chea, another debutant having played in Vietnam last season, scored and just to make it a hat-trick of goals from new boys, Sok Pheng added a third just before the interval. By then, Wat Phnom were down to ten men after Chhun Mesa had been shown a 2nd yellow by card-happy referee Yien Kivatanak, who managed to find six yellows and a red card in a game where none really existed. Crown should've scored more in the first half with Sok Pheng particularly wasteful, but with a 3-goal interval lead, they pressed on in the 2nd half and eventually registered a result, 8-1, that they'd threatened from the start. Ry Pharoeun reduced the deficit for Wat Phnom but it was short-lived before quick goals from Oscar Mpoko and Sun Sophanha opened up a chasm. Keo Sokngorn's diving header was a beauty, The Prince showed his strength by fending off two defenders for his second goal and then turned provider for the last goal by Chan Chhaya. One-way traffic with Crown throwing down the gauntlet to the rest of the C-League in the opening game of the new season.
Debutant Keo Chea, just 17 and newly signed from Kep
Wat Phnom's performance didn't reflect their eye-catching shirts
Referee Yien Kivatanak and today's 1st toss-up of the new season
Sok Pheng scored for Crown on his debut, after playing for Khemara in the Hun Sen Cup recently

Crown Prince

The Prince in the colours of his new team, celebrated a goalscoring debut this afternoon
Yes I know, it's the most obvious headline I could come up with and it didn't take me long did it. But you've got to hand it to the teenager, Uche Prince Justine, who scored his debut goal for his new team, Phnom Penh Crown, with less than a minute on the clock of his first game. It doesn't come much better than that. Well, it does, because he should've registered a hat-trick at least against Wat Phnom, finishing the game with two goals, as well as two assists and fluffing a couple of other chances he would normally gobble up. He also got booked for a tackle where he won the ball. The only problem facing Crown's team manager Be Makara, who I chatted to afterwards, is who to play up front with The Prince. As far as his new manager is concerned, The Prince will be the league's top scorer once again this season. He's that confident. The Prince is just 19 years old, he's built like a brick outhouse and he oozes as much confidence as his manager. In his post-match interview for CTN, he showed a sentimental side. "I felt bad, it was sad to score against my former team; it wasn't easy as they are like my brothers, my family. But I'm a professional footballer and I was pleased to score for my new club." And with Crown adding some real quality to their squad during the close season, I'm sure The Prince will flourish alongside his new teammates.

Be Makara is a very pleasant chap. We chatted as we watched the afternoon's second game, with the Crown team manager saying how pleased he was to begin the new league campaign with an 8-1 win. He extolled the virtues of his new acquisitions, with The Prince top of the list but he also enthused about lively winger Keo Chea, who also scored on his debut, after arriving a couple of weeks ago from Kep. Midfielder Friday Nwakuna has hopped over from Naga though didn't get a start today, as has striker Goodluck Cliff from Build Bright United. Sani Saidu, another from the powerfully-built foreigners stable, will undoubtedly form a rock-solid central defensive partnership with Tieng Ting, after joining Crown from Preah Khan Reach. Other newcomers include strikers Heng Sokly (Phuchung Neak) and Sok Pheng (Khemara), whilst left-winger Chan Rithy has finally moved to play his football in Thailand with Nakhon Phanom.
In front of the tv cameras after today's game are Phnom Penh Crown's coach Apisit Im Amphai and Uche Prince Justine (right)

Crown hit eight

The Prince is the center of attention from the tv cameras after his goalscoring debut for Crown today
Lots more details later but the Metfone C-League kicked off this afternoon and it took less than a minute for The Prince - aka Uche Prince Justine - to hit the back of the net for his new club, Phnom Penh Crown, against his old team, Wat Phnom, formerly known as Spark. Crown won at a canter, 8-1 with The Prince netting twice and the other six goals shared amongst half a dozen players. Wat Phnom were never in it. In the 2nd game, Preah Khan Reach made heavy weather of beating newboys Chhma Khmao, netting just one in the first half, but adding another 5 after the break, without reply. Khuon Laboravy claimed a hat-trick. Fifteen goals in two matches. My kinda football.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Now on sale

It's now available to buy from Monument Books on Norodom Boulevard, Phnom Penh, priced at just $15.50. So there's no excuse not to go out and buy a copy of Match Fixer, the excellent novel by Neil Humphreys, which exposes the underbelly of football and life in Singapore. You can read a review of the book by Cambodia's national football coach Scott O'Donell here. You owe it to yourself to get a copy. I'm thinking of penning a Cambodia version, would anyone read it, much less buy it?

Naga hope for a happy marriage

As mentioned a few posts ago, Prak Sovannara (right) hasn't taken long in finding himself a new club after parting company with Preah Khan Reach recently. Naga Corp, last year's champions, have stepped in to offer him a 1-year contract as their new coach and the marriage will hopefully be a happy one. Sovannara is the best homegrown coach by a country mile and though his stint at PKR ended in tears, this new one should be right up his street. His first game in charge will be against newboys Prek Pra Keila on Sunday. Another new coach, Nigerian-born Solomon Demagudu, will also make his first appearance on Sunday when his new team, Khemara Keila take on the Army boys, fresh from their Hun Sen Cup success. Demagudu was previously at the helm of Phuchung Neak, but the Navy team were relegated from the Premier League at the close of last season. Let's hope he has more luck with Kuoch Sokumpheak and his teammates. And the new coach at Preah Khan Reach is Rith Dikar after their hopes of a foreign name petered out. The new Metfone C-League kicks off tomorrow, Saturday, at 2.30pm when Phnom Penh Crown meet Wat Phnom, with last season's top scorer Prince Justine aiming to begin his Crown career with a goal or three against his former employers.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Looking ahead

The new football season is almost upon us. This Saturday 27th March at 2.30pm, the brand new Metfone Cambodian League will kick-off with the moneybags of Phnom Penh Crown, complete with their hotshot new signing The Prince, facing up to Wat Phnom at the Olympic Stadium. The first three matches on the fixture list look like home wins for the stronger teams, namely Crown, Preah Khan and Naga but the Army boys could cause Khemara a few problems, especially with their tails up after clinching the Hun Sen Cup.

The opening weekend of matches looks like this:
Saturday 27 March
2.30pm Phnom Penh Crown versus Wat Phnom
4.30pm Preah Khan Reach versus Chhma Khmao
Sunday 28 March
2.30pm Naga Corp versus Prek Pra Keila
4.30pm National Defense Ministry versus Khemara Keila
On Wednesday 31 March, Kirivong will meet Build Bright (3.30pm).

Friday, March 19, 2010

The Prince is on the move

I'm in conversation with The Prince
The biggest transfer story of the new Cambodian Premier League season so far is the move from Spark FC to the moneybags of Phnom Penh Crown of last season's CPL top goalscorer, Uche Prince Justine. After the teenager's fantastic start to life in Cambodia last year, it was only a matter of time before 'The Prince' took his talents to a more prominent club, and they don't come more prominent or dominant than Crown. His first game for his new club next Saturday will be against his old club, now called Wat Phnom. Below, I've reprinted my interview with The Prince from the beginning of last September, just to bring you up to speed with the CPL's hotshot striker.

Talking with The Prince

Without doubt, the most exciting discovery of the current Cambodian Premier League season has been the prolific goalscorer and the CPL's leading marksman with 21 goals in 18 games, Uche Prince Justine of Spark FC. With his muscular physique, blistering pace over 20 yards and an ability to hit the ball hard, 'The Prince' has left many of his opponents trailing in his wake as he's taken the CPL by storm and all at the tender age of 18. He'll be 19 at the end of next month. His goals tally and his performances look even more impressive when you realise how young he still is. Justine arrived in Cambodia last November on a mission. "To play football in Nigeria you have to be very good and very strong. I was just a little boy and I needed to improve myself abroad before I return to play in my homeland. Many of my fellow countrymen do the same because its hard to get a contract with a professional Nigerian team. There are just so many players competing for a few places. Coming to Cambodia, signing my first professional contract, playing with Spark and scoring so many goals in my first season has been very good for me. I have learnt a lot and this will help me improve my game," he told me during our chat in the Olympic grandstand after he'd wrapped up his season with a hat-trick against Phnom Penh Crown.

"When I arrived last year, I joined the Samnang Development Academy team here in Phnom Penh, who help and guide young men like me who want to play their football abroad, especially here in Cambodia. A friend of mine, who played here, told me that I could succeed in Cambodia and that's why I came. Samnang shared the same training pitch as Spark and after a couple of trial games, I signed on for Spark." It was a marriage between two newcomers to the CPL, as Spark had just been promoted. "I joined Spark as they were new to the league and so was I, so I wanted us to grow and learn together. And that's what has happened. We've all learned so much, we are no longer boys in the league and our experience will make us better next year. My aim was to make sure we were not relegated and my goals have helped us do that, so I am happy for the team and my teammates. It's not just me, the whole team have improved so much and helped me score so many goals." With his 21 league goals out of Spark's tally of 30, it's clear to see how much of an impact he's had, as Spark finished their season one place above the relegation zone. There was talk mid-term of him joining Phnom Penh Crown during the transfer window, but that didn't materialize and instead, he simply got on with doing what he does best, scoring goals. With their final game against Crown just completed, I asked Justine about a couple of opportunities that he'd had in the game when he elected to pass and not shoot. "Football is a team game and I truly believe that. We play as a team at Spark and if I think I have a 40% chance to score but someone else has a 60% chance, then I will pass. As I did in today's game. Of course I love to score goals but I also want my team to succeed, and that's very important to me, because they are my friends as well as my teammates." I am absolutely convinced that with a more selfish streak in him then Justine would've scored many more goals this season, and I'm sure that will come as he gets older and more experienced.

So where did he learn to play his football? "I was born in Imo State in southeast Nigeria. Like every boy in my country their dream is to play football. I played for the Arugo FC Academy, which is a nursery club for youngsters, up until I was fifteen. I was lucky to then join the Orashi Academy and did well. I scored two goals that helped them win the play-off to get into the National Amateur league when I was seventeen and just before I came here. But I was just a little boy in Nigeria and I wanted to succeed, so decided to try and do that in a different country and environment. I have been happy to do that in Cambodia." He's certainly proved himself in the CPL this season and he puts that down to confidence in his own ability and as a devout Christian, he gives thanks to God as well. As an Imolite abroad, he'll hope to follow the lead taken by the most famous Imo State son, Kanu Nwankwo, who starred for Ajax and Arsenal, as well as won the Olympic football gold medal with Nigeria. For now, Justine is happy with his progress and with the season coming to a close, thoughts will now turn to the next stage of his development and career. With such a fantastic first season in Cambodia, I'm sure his exploits will have alerted clubs around the region and Spark will face an almighty challenge in holding onto their rising teenage star.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Scott in S'pore

Cambodia's national team coach Scott O'Donell has been back to Singapore for the last few days to work on the ESPN STAR Sports channel as a pundit and analyst for the weekend's Barclays Premier League matches as well as teaming up with Andy Penders on the Tiger World of Football programme that aired tonight. Scott has been a member of ESPN's team of football pundits - which includes Paul Masefield, Shebby Singh, Jamie Reeves and Steve McMahon amongst others - for almost a decade covering the Premier League and also working for ESPN's SportsCenter Asia programme, all of which come from their studios in Singapore, one of Scott's former home cities.

Monday, March 15, 2010

The big kick-off

The new Cambodian professional football season will get underway on Saturday 27 March, and finish in August. There will be two games on the opening day and another two matches the following day, Sunday 28 March. With sponsorship already confirmed the new Metfone Cambodian League will comprise 10 teams with Post Tel and Phuchung Neak relegated from last season, and will be replaced by Prek Pra Keila and Chhma Khmao from Svay Rieng.
The opening weekend of matches will look like this:
Saturday 27 March
2.30pm Phnom Penh Crown v Wat Phnom
4.30pm Preah Khan Reach v Chhma Khmao
Sunday 28 March
2.30pm Naga Corpv Prek Pra Keila
4.30pm National Defense Ministry v Khemara Keila
On Wednesday 31 March, Kirivong will meet Build Bright (3.30pm).

One casualty of the season even before the league matches begin is Preah Khan Reach's former national team coach, Prak Sovannara. His team finished in 3rd place in the recent Hun Sen Cup tournament and that wasn't good enough for the PKR hierarchy. Third place was also PKR's finish in last season's league competition, though they had led the way for much of the campaign. The likelihood is that PKR will soon appoint a foreign coach to take over. As for Sovannara, he is the best qualified football coach in the country and should be back in work soon enough.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Match Fixer - book review

If you have any interest in Asian football at all, you must get a copy of Neil Humphreys' debut novel, Match Fixer. Even if you can't stand football - yes there are some people like that out there - but fancy a really good read immersed in the exotic Far East then Match Fixer will provide that too. Just treat the football as incidental. Humphreys has lived in Singapore, has worked in sports journalism and has put the two together to produce a riveting read, which will be on sale at Monument Books on Norodom Boulevard next week.
I thought that the best person to review Match Fixer would be someone who has played football in Australia and Singapore (as the lead character in the book did), who's worked in the media and who knows Asian football inside out. Step forward Scott O'Donell, the national football team coach of Cambodia, who kindly penned the following review after reading through Humphreys' new novel:

Match Fixer by Neil Humphreys

Neil Humphreys has taken me back in time with his latest offering, Match Fixer.

Having played and coached in Singapore, Match Fixer was something that I could obviously relate to. Humphreys' intimate knowledge of Singapore and in particular the S-League, is an entertaining and somewhat disconcerting view of life as a professional footballer through the eyes of failed West Ham Reserve team player Chris Osborne.

Having failed to make the grade at West Ham, Osborne ended up in Singapore via Australia to ply his trade in one of South East Asia’s newest football leagues. While enjoying success and being the new superstar of the S-League, Osborne gets entwined in a complex web of drugs, karaoke lounges and bookies.

It was his presence at a party of a well known foreign publisher that he found himself caught in a situation that proved very difficult to get out of. As you will discover, his honesty and unwillingness to co-operate with the bookies very nearly cost him his career.

The characters in Match Fixer are people all of us who have been involved in football anywhere in the world can relate to: Danny Spearman, the failed ex-pro from UK, Billy Addis, the expat journalist and Yati, the beautiful Sarong Party Girl. All of whom contribute to this fascinating tale of football and Singapore’s underworld.

While this piece of fiction is a must read for anyone looking for an entertaining and fascinating novel, anyone who has been involved in football in South East Asia whether as a spectator, a player or a coach will be able to relate to it.

Scott O'Donell

Monday, March 8, 2010

Press talk

My reports from the Hun Sen Cup matches played over the weekend are published in today's Phnom Penh Post. You can read them on-line here. Interesting to see that The Cambodia Daily had a photo from the match on their front page today with a quarter of a page report as well. They rarely cover sports or football, occasionally putting out a few lines when there's a big match. The PPP's coverage of local football in particular has mushroomed over the last couple of years and it would be good to have some friendly rivalry if the Daily can get their act together and make a better fist of their sports coverage.

From Nick's lense

The pain and the ecstacy. Crown's Heng Sokly hides his head whilst Chhin Chhoeurn celebrates the MND cup final win.
Nick Sells is the photographer about town. When he's not raving it up at the local expat night scene on Pontoon or suchlike, he can be found at the Olympic Stadium covering most of the football matches. His pictures appear regularly in the Phnom Penh Post. His website is here. Here's a few of his snaps from the weekend.
There's a look of disdain on the face of referee Khuon Virak as he delivers a red card to Preah Khan Reach's Sam El Nasa on Saturday
This is the moment that Thong Oudom's (in white) looping header won the cup for his Army outfit
MND skipper Khim Borey is a happy man after the final whistle
The face of concentration amongst the Army regulars drafted into Sunday's cup final crowd
The Phnom Penh Crown support in happier times
MND's national team winger Nov Soseila with his medal and some hanger-on!

Cup final photos

This is what it means to the Ministry of National Defense players
Goalkeeper Samreth Seiha receives his winners medal from Governor Kep Chuktema
The Army team line up before receiving their winners medals. Capt Khim Borey is carrying the flag.
A look at the main stand with the obvious presence of the military supporters
The Army coach and matchwinner Thong Oudom are interviewed by the television cameras
Army substitute and goalscorer Chhin Chhoeurn
At the final whistle, the MND players revel in their success
Another 'great toss up of our time' before the cup final
Khim Borey (7) leads out the Army team in white and blue in Sunday's cup final
This is the Hun Sen Cup. This is what all the fuss was about.