Created on 25-05-2008 at 00:00 AM
Practical jokes have long been a feature of any touring group, and the Bayern party in Asia is no exception. On the flight from Bali to Kolkata, the city formerly known as Calcutta, the victims were the seven-strong Under-19 contingent, the perpetrators were Mark van Bommel and Christian Lell, and the gag involved toothpaste. Laughter rang out in the Bayern charter plane, perfectly reflecting the camaraderie and high spirits in the squad after three days on the paradise island of Bali.
”You’ll have your dream holiday on Bali. We were only there for three days, but we’ve all recuperated brilliantly,” commented Michael Rensing, after switching off with the rest of the party in a mixture of tennis, beach volleyball, football tennis, golf and life by the side of the pool. “We were in a superb hotel and just relaxed, and the weather played its part too – we’ve had a terrific few days,“ confirmed Andreas Ottl.
With slight feelings of regret, the Bayern party assembled on Sunday morning ready to depart the “Island of the Gods“. After a six-hour flight, the plane touched down at 12.10 pm local time (8.40 am CET) in the 15-million inhabitant metropolis of Kolkata, nicknamed “City of Joy“. The travelling group from Bavaria were soon to find out why, as the citizens of the West Bengal state capital in the east of India greeted their visitors with an unexpectedly tumultuous reception.
A couple of dozen airport staff snapped away with the cameras in their mobiles as the players and staff deplaned, before the entire team was presented with bouquets and began dealing with literally hundreds of requests for autographs and snapshots across the day. “The scenes at the airport tell us just how enthusiastic the fans are here. We can expect the next level up from Jakarta,” Ottl said on his way through the arrivals hall.
Friendly on Tuesday
Some 30 photographers were at the airport, 20 TV crews and 100 reporters attended an initial news conference at the team hotel, and countless fans followed the team in a state approaching rapture for the rest of the day. “We knew India was passionate about football in general and Bayern in particular,” Uli Hoeneß observed. The general manager was recalling the reception afforded the Bayern reserves when they contested a tournament in Kolkata in November and December 2005.
Two and a half years later, Germany’s leading club has returned with its Bundesliga team. The highlight of the visit is Tuesday’s friendly against Mohun Bagan Athletic AC, the oldest organised club in Asia (14.45 CET, live in German on n-tv, highlights with English commentary on FCB.tv) in front of a vast crowd likely to be close to the 120,000 capacity at the Salt Lake Stadium. The party will undertake a programme of social projects in advance of the match.
Curious about India
The first of these took the players and officials to a Kolkata Police youth tournament just a few hours after their arrival. After that, the squad enjoyed a boat trip down the Hooghly River, an estuary branch of the Ganges delta, gaining a first impression of the city and the local way of life. “The players are very curious about India. Most of them have never been here before,” commented Hoeneß.
FCB Partner Lufthansa invited the party to dinner at a renowned local restaurant in the evening, after which the players and officials fell exhausted into their beds. With the players assigned single rooms on this occasion, there was little danger of any more toothpaste japes – for the time being.