Linked to Just One person from around the World at Cady Luck Leedy
We were spending a few days at the Floatel near Hellfire Pass on the River Kwai in Thailand, a peaceful sojourn in a place that was once hell for POWs of the Imperial Japanese Army during WWll. The Floatel was in a Mons village and we arrived there after a drive of about an hour from Kanchanaburi then another hour’s ride in a fast-moving longboat.
Our stay was memorable for many things, the novelty of our accommodation on a boat that swayed throughout the night as water buffaloes and elephants swam past, the noise from the monkeys in the trees around and the cold-water shower that came from a tank perched precariously on a wooden structure in our ‘bathroom’ – a curtained off partition in the bedroom where the outlet for the water was through the floorboards into the river.
But my memory of that time is of one person – the greatest football supporter I’ve ever met. It was January 24th, 1999, and Khun Lek, the waiter (who did all meals plus the bar), had to leave early that night because his team, Liverpool FC, was playing Manchester United FC. But this wasn’t just popping home to his house in the village. He was going to walk over two mountains to another valley, a lone walk that would take him approximately 5 hours with only the moon to light his way – and a head torch to help him catch some frogs as he walked! There was a satellite in the valley to which he was heading that was capable of receiving the programme and fans would gather there from miles around. After the game he would walk 5 hours back over the mountains to work
This was when I fully realised what football meant to the fans beyond Europe. The memory came back to me this week as UK fans protested against the hijacking of the game by the current owners of the top teams who are trying to cash in on this international support. These international fans, who don’t even speak the language of their favourite teams, be they Chelsea, Real Madrid, Juventas or Benfica, will do anything to watch a game: they have their favourite teams, they know each player and what position they play in, they know the managers, the coaches and the names of the stadia. (I gained Brownie points because I was able to add something to Khun Lek’s knowledge. I knew what The Kop stood for and the story fascinated him).
When he appeared, ready for his marathon walk, he was a sight to behold. It is cold on the mountains at night so over his clothes he wore a duvet and on his head he had a tightly bound scarf. Strapped around his forehead he had a torch to help guide his way but also, he told me, to catch some of the mountain frogs which were a delicacy in that part of the world. Underneath a striped tee shirt he wore his Liverpool strip and his Liverpool FC hat was in his backpack along with other paraphernalia for the game.
One meets many memorable characters on holiday but I can honestly say that Khun Lek was one of the most memorable – a happy, happy man and Liverpool’s No. 1 Fan – he told me so himself. And what was his hope for the future? To one day stand on The Kop and cheer his team. If I could grant his wish I would.
Photos above are of the Floatel and surroundings, a baby elephant foraging for food behind the kitchens, the accommodation, the bar, the local schoolroom (one room), a place for hanging out, and Mari and Thai friend Suchada at breakfast.