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home : community : community Friday, August 1, 2014

9/9/2010 Email this articlePrint this article 
Soccer: The Universal Language
Lao/Hmong Boys From Phonsavanh, Make History in The Gothia Cup, Sweden

By Mai Kou Xiong

The team members cheer while one of the boys kisses their Fair Play trophy. (Photo by Rob Lewis)
Laos is being represented for the first time at The Gothia Cup by Team EDS at Ullevi National Stadium in front of 55,000 people during the opening ceremony. (Photo by Per Friske)
English Development School

If a smile is classified as a universal language, then soccer should be as well. Soccer, known to most of the world as 'football', is capable of building friendship across the miles, opening up a world of endless possibilities, and bringing nations together. Nowhere is this better proven than by some local school boys from Phonsavanh, Xieng Khouang Province, Laos.

English Development School (EDS) is located in Phonsavanh, the most heavily bombed area during the Vietnam War. Craters in the Plain of Jars still serve as haunting reminders of this tragedy. EDS was founded by Monaphet, who died unexpectedly in May, just months before the team was due to travel abroad for the competition. He was their English teacher and their soccer coach. The vision of EDS was for youngsters to learn English so they would have a better chance competing in the job market, thus a chance at a brighter future. EDS has between 250 to 325 students ranging in age from 13 to 18 years old. Each class has approximately 40 to 50 students. Seventy percent of the student body is Hmong.

The Gothia Cup

The Gothia Cup, also known as "The World Cup" for youth soccer ages 12 -18, takes place each year in Sweden. The very first Gothia Cup was held in 1975 with teams mainly from Europe. By the third year, the United States participated, soon followed by South America, Asia and Africa. From its infancy stage, the Gothia Cup started with 200 teams from 7 nations. This year it took place from July 18-24 with more than 1,500 teams participating and over 4,500 matches played. Laos, making history by appearing in its first ever European tournament, was among the 70 nations to compete this year. The team was made up of 10 Laotian and 4 Hmong boys.

Team EDS competed against many strong teams from Scotland, Hungary, England, Sweden, the United States, Norway and Brazil, just to name a few. After a spectacular opening ceremony where the boys marched into Nya Ullevi Arena following their country's flag, the team played their first game against Orgryte (Sweden) with a win of 1-0. Next they had a 2-1win over the United States, with Nouad Phomlatee scoring both goals. They had an incredible win over the Scottish team after a 3-2 win in a penalty shootout. Team EDS then had a 0-0 tie with the strongest team, Lorenskogs IFO, a team of veritable giants from Norway. They followed this with a 5-0 win over Brazil. Through their many victories, they quickly made Swedish national headlines as well as back in Laos.

In the semi-final, they played against Paksi SE 2 of Hungary. Team EDS had a 1-0 lead in the game until the last ten minutes when the Hungarian team tied the score. With the 1-1 draw, the semi-final went to the penalty phase. The boys lost the penalties 2- 4.

Although they didn't win the semi-final game, Team EDS had the distinction of having made the final four play-off over 100s of other teams. They returned home knowing that they played skillfully and had an amazing experience in the Gothia Cup tournament. They played a total of nine games where they won six, drew one, and lost two with one of those to penalties. The boys played with great speed and skill amazing their audiences. They competed against and beat some of the best soccer teams in the world who towered over them and who had access to modern training facilities.

The highlight of their experience was being awarded the Fair Play trophy, the highest award given to any team. Dennis Andersson, Chairman of Gothia Cup, recognized the team for its good sportsmanship which was broadcast live on Swedish TV during the closing ceremony in front of 25,000 spectators. The Lao boys were the most respectful, well-behaved, skilled players - and were the most famous team at The Gothia Cup. Toulie Phommaxai stated, "We won the trophy and it surprised me. We didn't know we would get the Fair Play trophy and I am very happy about it."

Team EDS realized that it was not about the competition, but rather, being a part of something much bigger. What was more important was playing their best in their teacher's memory, representing Laos well and making history as the first team from Laos to be involved in something of such magnitude as The Gothia Cup.

Experiencing Europe

The boys had never flown on an airplane, much less left Phonsavanh City. In a whirlwind tour, they flew out of Laos en route to Gothenburg, Sweden. Some of the things they found most intriguing were the escalators in Bangkok, which they called the "moving floor"; manipulating the in-flight entertainments available at their finger tips; a 120km/hr (approximately 75 mph) car ride; a train ride from Denmark to Gothenburg; a ferry ride through a strait; and topping it all off with thrilling roller coaster rides.

With Laos being a land-locked country, they never had the chance to see the ocean, but now they swam in the sea in Helsingborg, Sweden. "I have never seen the sea other than on TV. It is so big and salty", recalled Long Vang, Manophet's adopted son who took over the team after his father's death.

Long realized how small Laos is after seeing Sweden. From its economy to its educational system, Sweden's prosperity prompted him to question: "What can the team do to better Laos?" He concluded that education is the key to Laos' future if it wants to compete globally.

The team wasn't too impressed with hotdogs or hamburgers, although Xaipanya Sisomboun said he liked hamburgers. The food they missed most was sticky rice which was almost impossible to find in Sweden. When the local Lao and Thai communities heard about team EDS, they rolled up their sleeves and cooked meals for the boys the whole time they were there. The Lao and Thai communities quickly became fans of the team as well.

Friendships were established with players from other countries. They were very shy toward the European girls who showed much interest in them, but learned that it was alright for girls to be the first to greet the boys. It did not take long for the boys to come out of their shells. They quickly became the most sought after team at the tournament. Their soccer skills and ability to speak English made connecting with other players possible. Nouad Phomlatee, said in English, "We made many friends and we are still connected with them through emails."

Coach Chanthone Phomlaty who worked with Manophet in training the boys, felt that the team learned a great deal about soccer from their trip to Sweden. The teams exchanged skills and techniques. He was anxious about the success of team EDS due to the fact that other countries are able to provide their teams with proper equipment and good playing fields for practices. The EDS boys practiced in a soccer field where cattle regularly grazed. "Even though Laos is a small and poor country, the boys played soccer out of love," he shared proudly.

Supporters/Sponsorships

Many people played vital roles in the success of The EDS Laos Football Club. Gareth Carter, whose dream is to start a soccer academy in Laos, discovered Manophet and the soccer team while visiting The Plain of Jars in 2009. He was so inspired by Manophet who taught English in his private home and worked for Unexploded Ordnance (UXO) Lao. The two became good friends through their shared love of soccer. Gareth felt he had to do something for this country. "I want to create a legacy, create something lasting. If I didn't do something to help, my only reason was being lazy." He returned to Sweden and secured sponsorships from Sony Ericsson, Stena Line, and Adidas who provided uniforms for the boys.

Monaphet

Gareth did not learn about Manophet's death until he returned to Laos, bringing the sponsorship news. He wanted to make sure the boys' dream of playing in The Gothia Cup came true. Despite the death of their coach and beloved teacher, the boys were still determined to be the first team ever from Laos to participate.

Barbara and Dori Shomadi, founders of 'Give a Child a Choice', a non-profit organization that built pre-schools in poor rural areas of Laos, dedicated their time and effort in supporting the boys. Through the monetary support of her clients and Facebook friends, Barbara was able to help with some of the trip's expenses. "Manophet waited on tables at a restaurant during his lunch hour to save money for the team's trip", Barbara recalled. She too, was moved to do something great.

The Future of EDS Lao Football Club

Since the death of Manophet, his son Long Vang now runs the English school. They would like to go back to Sweden for another round of The Gothia Cup if they can secure sponsorship next year. The team's dream is to also come to America someday and play the game they love so much. Gareth would like to see one or more of these boys playing for the Lao national team someday. He is in the process of creating a documentary film featuring Laos and the team's success called "On Safer Ground" which will be released worldwide in early 2011. The trailer is now available at:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yQ811CazvSk.

Sources:

Mai Kou Xiong conducted personal interviews with Gareth Carter, the EDS Laos Football Club, Barbara and Dori Shomadi.


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