Football Tour to Malaysia 2011

This summer 20 footballers from Eton enjoyed a quite remarkable 2 weeks in Malaysia. As guests of the Sultan and Sultanah of Pahang and the Malaysian FA, we were looked after very well throughout the duration of the tour. From the opening Futsal tournament to the final airport transfer, it’s hard to imagine a more exhilarating trip. The group realised how fortunate we were and tried beyond all expectations to rise to the occasion. An extra-time win in the final of the Futsal tournament set the ball rolling and gave the boys confidence they could compete in the heat and humidity against very skilful and nimble opponents. Then followed multiple training sessions at the headquarters of the Malaysian FA where we tried to set out some principles for the 11-a-side game. A few days later, a daunting atmosphere at the Petaling Jaya stadium in Kuala Lumpur greeted our arrival for the opening match against Malaysia U16s. Less than a minute into the game we fell behind after an error strewn opening… at that moment a flash of realisation hit, and we all wondered if might be in real trouble on this tour…! Fortunately we quickly regained composure and played a very patient game, not expending too much energy and waiting for our chance to strike. The tactic paid off and towards the end of the game Henri Ashe-Taylor equalised. Game drawn and the Eton entourage breathed a sigh of relief that we weren’t actually out of our depth, in fact the longer the game had gone on, the stronger we looked. The second match in the same stadium two days later marked further progress. This time there was no shaky opening, in fact we took the lead against Malaysia U17s with a superbly taken goal by Bertie Collins. Unfortunately we conceded very quickly and a number of chances then fell to both sides for the remainder of the match but none were converted and a 1-1 draw seemed to be a fair result. Whilst in Kuala Lumpur during this first week we made a number of excursions to visit famous sites such as the Petronas twin towers, Merdeka Square, the Batu caves, Chinatown and the Menara KL tower. Such opportunities, along with the many friendly people we met along the way, gave us a small insight into the heady mixture of culture, tradition and aspiration that makes Malaysia an intoxicating and vibrant 21st century country.

On to Kuantan, the capital of Pahang, for the second leg of the tour and a tangible shift in mood (almost akin to culture shock), as we moved from the air-conditioned, cosmopolitan, high-rise environment of KL, to the heat, earthiness and visceral beauty of the coast, for a couple of rest days before gearing up for matches against Pahang State. During this time we joined the Hari Raya feast celebrations which mark the end of Ramadan, as we were invited to vast open-house parties at the Sultan’s palace, the Crown Prince’s house and the First Minister’s residence – not bad for a day-off! Training resumed in earnest as we realised there was a possible chance of complacency creeping in, having on paper already played the two hardest matches of the tour. Any such thoughts quickly evaporated on arrival at the Darul Makmur stadium in Kuantan, to take on Pahang State U17s, as hundreds of locals were already filling out the stands before we even arrived! A strange game, and a disjointed performance in searing heat, saw us come through worthy 2-1 winners, with goals from Ferdy Campbell and Bertie Collins. The conditions were really tough but we coped admirably. One final training session and spirits were high for the final match against Pahang State U18s with the chance of remaining unbeaten on tour dangling in front of us. Once we had rode our luck somewhat and worked out how to keep their danger-men relatively quiet there was only going to be one winner. We looked acclimatised and ready to control proceedings. A goal in each half, first from Ali Lyon and second from Johnny Marion, saw off a competitive and determined Pahang side and a 2-0 win sparked deserved celebrations on and off the pitch.

Captain Jo Morris deservedly won Player of the Tour for his commanding displays and Bertie Collins picked up the trophy for Tour Highlight for his wonderful finish against the Malaysian U17 team. This was very much a team effort though and, to a man, everyone stepped up to the plate with real bravery and distinction.

This tour gave us a wonderful chance of learning how to adapt in demanding conditions. Touring is always very much about adapting to a whole host of factors away from home, and as an educational and sporting experience is hard to beat! On behalf of the whole Eton tour party, I would like to thank the Sultan and Sultanah of Pahang, their wonderful staff, and the Malaysian FA, for their consummate care and attention to detail that made this particular tour so special.

Andy Jennings, September 2011