Press Watch Special – How Swindon Town won the Asian Cup
Brendan Hobbs returns with his ‘Press Watch’ feature and looks at how the world coped with their first glimpses of Massimo Luongo and Yaser Kasim at the Asian Cup…
It normally takes something special to drag someone out of a well-earned retirement. Back in 1987 Sean Connery famously said that he only came out of retirement because he was offered a role in an Indiana Jones movie, anything else and he would’ve quite happily carried on tending his roses.
So when I found myself wandering up the path of a retirement home for tired, unfunny and self-indulgent articles I was well prepared.
I found Press Watch sat in his normal chair which fronted a set of wide patio doors, it afforded him a good view of the Swedish Girls’ Modelling College next door and it was for that reason alone he would fist fight “Twenty Years Since Wembley” for possession every morning.
After mumbled pleasantries and backstabbing comments of ‘you don’t visit any more’ I got down to business. I needed him back, for one last hurrah (yeah, I know – again) as suddenly our infamous club was back in the media spotlight and he was desperately needed to summarise all the gossipy news in one concise, droning article.
He refused point blank, I appealed to his emotional side but that did not work either. So I had to bring out the big guns. I unclasped the handcuffed briefcase from my wrist and slowly reached inside, not breaking eye contact for a moment. He regarded my dramatic pantomime performance with intrigue, “There’s nothing in there that will make me change my mind” he started, but he paused when I pulled out a buff coloured folder. “I mean, you used me regularly for weeks, then discarded me like a snot-filled tissue” but the protest was weak, his heart wasn’t in it, his real concentration never wandered from the folder.
I opened it, revealing the contents, a warm glow filled the room – waking up ‘Hall of Shame’ and ‘The Best I’ve Ever Seen’ in the process. He gazed open-mouthed – and at that moment I knew he was mine, he knew he was mine and like some drugged-up runaway he obediently got up and silently followed me out. My offer was that good he even left before the lunchtime bell of the modelling college had rung – leaving just a lonely chair and an untroubled box of Kleenex.
And now *FANFARE* he’s here! Bursting through the big theatre stage doors and confidently wading through the billowing dry ice, looking expertly groomed and resplendent in a bright red sequinned blazer. He lifts his arms and milks the audience applause, crammed as it is with famous celebrities like Judith Chalmers, Gary Wilmot, David Kid Jenson etc. Positively shining, the master at work, he clears his throat and begins – “Press Watch Special – How Swindon Town won the Asia Cup”
Beware, this article features heavy use of the term “third tier” so if you’re of a nervous disposition, or just get wound up by vague patronisation, look away now.
Also, for all those non-Swindon, band-wagonning football tourists looking for a full-on Luongo love-in you may leave disappointed, Swindon had two outstanding performers in Australia, both of which will get the full Press Watch treatment here, so let’s get down to business.
I, like most Swindon fans, were hoping for low-key performances from our dynamic duo, but we were to be left sorely disappointed, the Herald Sun started fleshing out nightmare scenarios early on.
“MASSIMO Luongo’s third-tier(!)English club are faced with an agonising call on whether to cash in on their talented young star or hang on in search of promotion” trumpeted the Melbourne-based daily, who then continued to speculate on the player’s value before stating that Wolves or Middlesbrough were likely destinations for the midfielder.
The Guardian were quickly on-board the Swindon Town juggernaut, managing to shoe-in a ‘third tier’ in the process, loudly claiming that ‘the Wiltshire side’ were ‘bossing’ the tournament. Town apparently were on the global football map for the first time since Eric Cantona stamped on John Moncur, good to know we’re only famous for being a doormat for an irritable French lager salesman.
The claim was made on the back of Luongo and Kasim both netting in their respective fixtures. Luongo nodding in against Kuwait and Yaser, like many men before him, slalomed through Jordan’s slack defence with ease. He also managed to bag the Man of the Match award in the process and his picture adorns the top of the article.
Mass admitted afterwards to the Sydney Morning Herald that for the first part of the game his performance was affected by nerves, obviously the second part wasn’t as he grabbed a goal and like Yaser, was awarded the Man of the Match gong.
Luongo scored with a fine header, not perhaps a skill he’s remembered for in Wiltshire, whereas Yaser’s effort was perhaps a bit more typical. I think Sam Morshead exclaimed on Twitter that it was Brighton all over again, and he’d be right.
Renowned stand-out news agency The Times of Oman described the goal as ‘magical’ (spot the ‘third tier’) and included a fantastic picture of Yas, looking defiant with a sprinkling of his usual Hollywood film star cool.
Sportsfan.com went with ‘stunning’ and carry a nice interview with the man himself, the Bangkok Post (the world’s window on Thailand) describe it as ‘wizardry’. The Guardian plump also for ‘magical’ and manage to sum up the Iraqi’s effort brilliantly:
“Kasim, who plays for Swindon Town in the third tier (ahem) of English football, scored the winner in the 77th minute with a touch of Messi-style magic and a little slice of luck”
Decide yourself as you can bask in the reflected glory of both goals here:
Full Yaser match highlights:
Kasim wasn’t to score again in the tournament, (apart from a penalty shoot-out strike), but the world of football would’ve imploded if this ‘knuckleball’ had found the net:
That fantastic effort (and what a save) came in a hard-fought encounter with local rivals Iran, Iraq eventually prevailed on penalties after a thrilling 3-3 game. As previously mentioned, Kasim netted in the shootout and also earned a penalty in regular time when he was hauled down by Iran’s Morteza Pouraliganji. In fact, you can read all of Iraq’s match reports here.
Meanwhile back in the Australian camp, Luongo seemed to have a taste for delivering a Man of the Match performances, bringing home another trophy for his mantelpiece whilst helping the Socceroos to crush the might of the United Arab Emirates. He didn’t manage to get on the scoresheet but provided both assists for the goals.
This time it was the turn of the Brisbane Times to gush over Luongo’s performance, at least they managed to acknowledge Swindon’s footballing status correctly.
Just as the Aussies were kangaroo-ing towards the final, Kasim’s journey was to come to an end in the Semi’s, with Iraq losing two nil to Korea. Yas was suspended for the game, read what you like into that.
For this article I did copious amounts of research on both Swindon players, unfortunately my Mesopotamian Arabic is not that great so I was somewhat limited for Kasim. The English language site Iraqi News carried an interesting article musing over the changing face of Iraqi football. It reflects how the home-grown domination of the national side is beginning to weaken, with plenty of talent now plying their trades outside of Iraq, obviously Yas gets a mention as does MLS starlet Justin Meram.
Luckily through the power of social media I was able to call on Baghdad based Graphic Designer Ali Abdulwahed (@ali3d2004 – well worth a follow) for his take on Yaser’s performances. He kindly sent me the following, and provided the translations.
To paraphrase, the articles state that he has had plenty of offers from several clubs in the Gulf region but has turned them down as he’s very happy with life at Swindon at the moment. It also mentions that he was the star turn in the Iran encounter and is one top performing midfielders in the tournament (more on that later).
The player piece includes quotes from the Iran and Osasuna star Javad Nekounam, saying that Yas was instrumental in the game. Apparently he cut out all the balls passed through the midfield and ‘prevented me from breathing in the game – a fighter player’. Now that all sounds a bit dramatic but I think we get the gist having witnessed similar performances from Kasim over the season.
As Iraq fell to Korea, Australia eased into the finals with that comprehensive win over the UAE, so how would the hosts fare under the pressure of an enthusiastic and expectant home crowd?
Most Town fans tuned in, hoping once more for a low-key Mass performance, with speculation already mounting over possible bids, a stellar performance in such an environment would only increase the pressure to sell further. So far Lee Power had swatted away several reported bids like a man being pestered by a persistent fly. But if that fly was to return and flit around with several millions pounds stuck to its feet (instead of the normal dog shite and general disease-ridden filth) then surely Power would begin to acquiesce?
I know of one Town fan who actually made it to the game, my fellow DRS season ticket holder Phil Allen (@chisieweirdo), who managed to get a ticket and was thoroughly encouraged by the familiarity of it all:
Unfortunately for us Mass did put in that stellar performance we were all fearing, scoring a fantastic goal to break the deadlock. He harried, carried and controlled the midfield, pinging rangey passes around and was tenacious in the tackle. It was as if he had a neon sign above his head saying “Yes, this guy plays in the THIRD TIER of English football, therefore you could buy him quite cheaply”. Well, yes I freely admit that would be one hell of a sign, NigelsNeons.com would’ve been kept in business for a year just on that one commission, but you get my drift.
Slowly it began to dawn on us all that he could quite easily walk away with another Man of the Match award, maybe even Player of the Tournament – great for Mass, sad for us as his queue of possible suitors would now be stretching from Lee Powers office to the County Ground Hotel – at least his valuation would grow in the same way.
His performance provided very public proof of his total awesomeness and in the process he’s banished the possible scenario of Brentford roughly bending us over, unzipping their trousers and hissing “Well he’s unproven in the Championship” before offering us £50k and hefting one unromantically into our wrong ‘un.
The fact that we can still say (at time of typing) that we currently have the most valuable player of a recent major global tournament on our books is quite amazing and the kudos to Power and Cooper cannot be underestimated.
The Aussie press went wild for Luongo’s performance, several dailies all riffed on a similar theme – that given the right stage Massimo was bound to excel.
The Sydney Morning Herald went with “Player of the Asian Cup, Massimo Luongo, says all he needed was the right environment to shine”, they also reveal that Mass was the ‘hidden secret’ of Australian football and pleasingly they managed to cram a ‘third tier’ in there as well, because we haven’t had many of those for a while.
The Herald Sun joined in with the similar “Socceroos hero Massimo Luongo makes the most of his chance to shine …”
Australian ABC.net wade in with some meaty superlatives, saying the Sydney boy has been ‘catapulted’ into stardom like some sort of the medieval siege weapon. Swansea and Korea skipper Ki Sung-yeung was bewildered by it all, saying “He’s a good player, I didn’t know he played for Swindon, I think he can definitely play at a bigger club” presumably whilst firing up NigelsNeons.com on his iPhone.
And it wasn’t long before the pie-in-the-sky comparisons and future predictions started rolling in. Ex Socceroo Mark Bresciano dishes out some rather niche praise here in the Brisbane Times.
Closer to home The Daily Mail quote Socceroo’s boss Ange Postecoglou claiming Mass will be good enough to grace the Camp Nou at some point in the future. I hear that fella Messi is wanting out, so perhaps a swap deal could be arranged?
But why stop at the Catalan giants, why not go the whole hog and suggest that even the Santiago Bernabéu would be a more fitting platform for Mass to strut his stuff – well that’s exactly what FOURFOURTWO did.
Speaking of FOURFOURTWO, if you think you’ll never tire of Mass related articles, then please step this way and mind your head whilst ducking into total Luongo information nirvana, with FOURFOURTWO carrying an entire back catalogue of his articles. I’d say there’s about three lunchtimes worth right there.
To sum up, it was a fantastic tournament for both our midfielders, how good can be summed up with one graphic and it’s this:
And I feel Yousif Saeed (@YousifAlkhafajy), curator of the fabulous iraqi-players.com website, coalesced all our feelings so eloquently here:
And with that, the work of Press Watch is done – so I drop him back at the retirement home. He looks expectant, I smile wickedly and pull out the folder. I’m an honourable man so after a dramatic pause I hand it over, he claws at it manically, like a reforming heroine junky being given his methadone prescription by a chemist.
I walk away, leaving the sorry wretch scrambling around in the dirt with his £15 Bargain Booze voucher and a signed promise from one of Manchester Road’s skankiest prostitutes.
So remember kids, when there’s a smothering amount of STFC-related articles drowning you like a punitive tsunami, there is hope – and it comes in the form of a sad, hunched-up individual tugging furiously over stolen glimpses of Swedish college students.
Be safe, and always be newsworthy. (But preferably not killing-spree kinda newsworthy).
Here’s another Swindon Town fan that “managed to make it to the game” – not that hard as I live about 10 miles from the Stadium and bought my final ticket six months ago in eager anticipation of seeing Australia win and Massimo shine.
And shine he did – not only tackling like a terrier and scoring an absolute cracker but putting in a last ditch block to save a goal when it was 0-0.
It was a great tournament and a great time to be a Swindon Town fan down under – now everyone has heard about us (and I like to think I’ve done my bit, referring to how mighty we are in pretty much all of my communications for the past three months, including in a business article in BRW (Business Review Weekly).
And of course I took my Swindon shirt to the final and donned it periodically(alternating it with my Socceroos shirt) and swinging it wildly round my head when Massimo scored.
Great game, great tournament and two great Swindon players – still. Now for the Championship.