It’s technically not “sneaking in” if we paid first, then left, only to return through an unmarked gate amidst the crowd. Right? Never mind the very serious looking Thai police flanking the stadium. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and good seats for the big game of the year – Chiang Mai vs Thailand’s powerhouse team from a northeastern village over 1000 km away – surely qualified.
Udon never really meant to share his Sunday night with us, but talk of football, and the chance to be part of something truly local, was simply too good to pass up. Sports fever is contagious, so there we were – our Kanuk buddies Norm and Kelly-ann, Isabel, the 17 year old daughter of our inn-keepers, Udon and us – barreling towards the stadium, rocking out to the same techno-retro-remix we’d come to love a few days earlier. Somehow, it seemed normal that Udon kept hopping out at stoplights, carefully studying the car’s tires, presumably to insure that the overload of passengers stacked atop each other wasn’t more than the small cab’s suspension and faithful rubber could bear. Surely if entire families and a cage of chickens can share one moped, seven of us in a cab is relative luxury.
The stadium’s bright lights and frenzied cheers electrified the night air as we waded through the thousands of mopeds and bikes parked ten deep around the stadium’s perimeter, found tickets and squeezed through the gates. Penetrating the wall of fans at each stadium entry point, however, proved daunting. We climbed over barriers, jogged upstairs, then back down again; the action on the field just past this pulsating Thai mass, elusive and just beyond our grasp.
Then Norm spotted the beer. It was a silent partnership, a plan borne instantly between two sports fans – one Thai and one Canadian – speaking the global language of football, beer, and sheer determination. Just outside the gate, two Thai men struggled to lug their giant tub of iced beers into the stadium. Norm bolted and we followed. Grabbing one side of the tub, he shared the burden to their great relief and eager smiles. Now a pack of nine – plus a tub of beers – we circled the stadium on a mission. Cheered on by fans already inside the stadium – likely eyeing our cold beers – Udon scanned each perimeter gate, the Thai security, the crowds. Up ahead, he saw it. An unlocked, un-guarded gate . . . cheering fans inside the fence pushed it open and waved us in, welcoming us – or at least our cold beers – like rock stars.
Front row seats, a tub of cold beers, new Thai friends, and a pulsating frenzy of football euphoria rocking this packed 10,000-person stadium on a clear tropical night. Sacagawea and Dundee were wide-eyed with excitement, joining in as the crowd cheered wildly “CHIANG MAI! CHIANG MAI! CHIANG MAI!” We laughed as Isabel translated the rants, particularly those of an especially enthusiastic fan who kept taking his shirt off and yelling “I’ll send my dogs to your house!” each time the opposing team gained ground. Bad calls, we ranted; good saves, we screamed wildly, shots on goal, we jumped to our feet and cheered. When the lone goal of the evening, scored against Chiang Mai, broke through the net, we cried right along with our shirtless neighbor.
No language barrier here. At least for the night, we were in.