It was like a fairy tale for some of us. We are AirAsians from all walks of life some of whom are in the 40s and some in the early 20s. We rarely meet each other during work as some of us are either flying the plane, fixing it, making sure guests are happy, checking on their security and even running the entire company. We came from diverse background, creed and color, but when we played football we played as one, we are the AirAsia EPL champs of 2008. After the last penalty kick in August 2008, we lifted both the inaugural Rolls Royce and General Electric Cups. The team had to find out if we are truly a great team (not just jaguh kampong) if we played away from home against a formidable opponent. AirAsia X CEO then set out to arrange a friendly against the Gold Coast Airport in Coolangata, Queensland Australia.
After several weeks of preparation everyone was excited and for some it was their first time travelling abroad let alone holding an international passport. Azran had riled the opponents several days before the match by saying that the average Aussies don’t know much about the beautiful game of football or what they call it soccer. That got them going. They posted an article about the impending match in the local community bulletin and even secured the help of four A (Australian) league players for the game.
We took off from LCCT at 945pm on the 23rd January 2009 and landed in Coolangata 6 am local time the next day. By the time we checked in our hotel it was already 9am. We had couple of hours or rest before we went out for team lunch and pre-match briefing. The team spirit was high and camaraderie was even better. We couldn’t help it when we nicknamed one of our players the USD man. The joke was that he actually changed his Malaysian Ringgit to US dollar thinking that Australia’s currency was the US dollar. Nevertheless our focus was to win the match. Our hosts had send out invitations to the Palm Beach Club members to watch the game and even had their own “Pom Pom” girls to cheer for their team. They were about several dozen spectators mostly friends and families of the Gold Coast team.
We trooped off to the match venue at 2.45 pm and got straight into our warm-up routine. The locals were amazed by our professional attitude and remarked that we are fearsome lot and suspected we play football for living. The ref blew his whistle at 4 pm and the game started with most of the offence coming from the Gold Coast team. The pitch at Palm Beach Club was in superb condition but we are not allowed to play with ordinary football boots ie no studs. It’s like playing football with our shoe laces tied together. We were slipping and sliding all over the park.
They had a player who by all intend and purpose was to scare us with his height. He is about 6 foot 7 in and made our tallest player Roy (6 foot plus) looked like a dwarf. The other A league player, an aboriginal, a small guy who ran like a wind, dribbles with 2 quick feet and strong like a bull was terrorizing us the first 10 minutes of the game. But we were quick on the counter attack and Azran led from the front by heading the first goal for us. The GC team came back and score 2 quick goals in succession to lead after 20 minutes of play. Just before the first half break with Azran’s determination, dribbling past 2 defenders, he then let fly a 30 yards screamer to the top left hand post to equalize for us. That was the start of avalanche of goals by AirAsia X team.
Although we were handicapped by some dubious referee’s decision (shirt tugging and bear hugging by the opponents went unpunished) we played our natural game and had fun at the same time. There were many other heroes, Gafoor, Aloisus manned the defense expertly, Balu and Sugen fought for every ball in the middle of the park. Famy and Haiddi ran havoc against our opponent. At the end of the game the score was 11 – 6 and we won it by 5 goals margin. Haidi, James, Sugen, Famy also scored the goals for our victorious team. It sounds like rugby match scoreline, indeed it was almost like one when in one incident a burly GC player resorted to bulldoze Roy with a rugby tackle and left him clutching his face in pain for a couple of minutes, it all ended well and we knew it was fantastic game by both AirAsia X and Gold Coast team.
Both teams gave big round of applause to each other and we knew we made new friends after the match. Everyone adjourned to the clubhouse for after match dinner. We drank and ate together with our new found friends and we soon realized that the Gold Coast people are one of the friendliest people you can ever find. Azran brought some gifts for our host the chairman of Gold Coast Tourism, Paul Donovan who will be celebrating his 60th birthday. Coincidentally he was also the goalkeeper for the Gold Coast team when Azran scored his 2 goals.
We have not woken up yet from our beautiful dream but it was time to bid farewell to Coolangata. We had fond memories of this once in a lifetime trip and we are eternally grateful to Azran, AirAsia X for making our dreams come true.