Friendship and fun: what the Asian Cup means to fans

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Japan's Tandari Lee celebrates scoring the winning goal against Australia during the AFC Asian Cup final soccer match at Khalifa Stadium, in Doha, Qatar, Saturday Jan. 29, 2011. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung).

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It may have passed by largely unnoticed but the Preliminary Draw for the 2015 Asian Cup reminded us that Australia will soon host a high-profile international tournament.

The draw itself wasn’t overly significant to us as hosts but it was certainly significant to the 20 teams slotted into the five qualifying groups.

And how Australians react to hosting the Asian Cup will go a long way to determining what kind of a football country we are.

As far as I’m concerned we should be an open and inclusive one, as befitting our multicultural background and reputation as a friendly and welcoming society.

I say that having experienced some of the most fun in my life as the result of the generosity and hospitality of people in Asia.

A few years ago, I braved the bright lights of Tokyo to see American punk legends The Queers hit the stage.

I went with an Australian friend and to say we’d had a few drinks before the show is an understatement.

I might be a witty raconteur when I’ve had a few but even that’s not enough to aid my disgraceful Japanese language skills, so there was somewhat of an impasse when I handed our cabbie a scribbled address – in English – to get my friend and I across town.

Not only did our cabbie tolerate our inebriated state with good humour, he stopped the meter to get directions to the – literally – underground club.

And when it became clear neither of us had the first clue how to navigate the labyrinthine entrance, our cabbie made a point of walking us to the front door.

I remember that show vividly not just because of the diligence and determination of our taxi driver, but also because of the club owner who let us in despite the ‘sold out’ sign on the door and the hundreds of Japanese kids who, like me, wanted nothing more than to experience some classic punk rock.

That’s one of a myriad of examples of someone in Japan wanting me to see the best side of that country and its people.

Likewise, when my wife and I were guests at an FC Seoul game their press officer brought us hot English tea at half-time because he thought we might be suffering the chill of a crisp autumn day in the South Korean capital.

On a hot afternoon in Qatar a young Arab pulled over to give me a lift into the centre of town because, as he explained, my leather shoes were “too nice” to get dirty on the dusty streets of Doha.

He didn’t want any money for the trip – he was merely being hospitable.

It was the kind of hospitality I have experienced time and time again on my travels in Asia.

There’s a young bloke called Tom Seungmin Lee who sometimes posts comments on these columns and who recently moved to Sydney.

Last year at a Sydney FC game I gave his mobile number a call but he was obviously visiting friends and family back in Seoul – which is a shame because I wanted to buy him a drink.

Why shouldn’t I? I’ve had countless numbers of fans do the same thing for me in Asia.

When my wife visited Cambodia a few months ago it was Ben from Phnom Penh who shouted. What we all have in common is football.

It’s this common interest which is why Australians should be excited about the Asian Cup.

It doesn’t take much to learn more about the Asian game; a decent internet connection will suffice and we might even learn a thing or two about the region itself.

And what I’ve learned on my trips to Asia is that we’re all the same.

We all love football, we all love having fun and when we’re done watching our national teams in action, we should toast the Asian Cup for bringing us all together.

Mike Tuckerman is a Sydney-born journalist and lifelong football fan. After lengthy stints watching the beautiful game in Germany and Japan, he settled in Brisbane, and was a leading Roar football columnist from December 2008 to July 2014.
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