My Recent Trip to Brunei and Kuala Lumpur

In April I took part in the Asia EPL Masters Football Tour in Brunei & Kuala Lumpur, which is a tour arranged following the success of the UK Masters Football series.

Masters football has been licensed by Football Focus Asia, who run the events under the banner of ‘Masters Football Asia’.

The last few years we have visited Macau, Vietnam, Brunei and Kuala Lumpur (KL) to play the events. The competitions are between Manchester United, Liverpool, an English Premier League ‘All Stars’ team and a Local Masters team.

I have been fortunate enough to be part of the Manchester United team for some time now, and I thought I would share with you a diary of the most recent trip – although the old adage, “What goes on tour, stays on tour” has been adopted to protect the innocent!

Wednesday 18th April:

I arrive at Heathrow Terminal 4 at 7.30am to meet Adam Craig from Masters Football, who has the unenviable job of rounding up all the players to check-in on time.

Check-in done, it’s off to grab a bit of breakfast with my old QPR team mate Kevin Gallen, along with Ian Pearce and Rufus Brevett – who are all playing for the EPL ‘All Stars’ team.

This is one of the best bits of the trip, catching up with the lads some you haven’t seen for years, the great stories start.

We’re ready to board our 14 hour flight to Brunei, via Dubai, on Royal Brunei Airways. The lads stock up with duty frees as it is a no alcohol flight and seven hours later we touch down in Dubai for a refuel. Whilst there I catch up with the Manchester United “Manager” for the event in KL, Viv Anderson.

We discuss our latest business ventures, with Viv about to launch a new football betting quiz game which will be available online and on gaming machines. I am looking forward to giving it a go!

Thursday 19th April:

After another 7 hour flight we arrive at Brunei International Airport. It’s 9.30am local time (2.30am UK time), and we are all looking rather worse for wear.

What makes it worse is that we all have to don Royal Brunei Airline T-shirts for a photo opportunity coming into the Airport terminal – I am hoping the photos don’t find their way over to the UK, as they are not a pretty sight!!

On leaving the terminal, somebody had turned the temperature up. We left a cool 5 degrees in London to arrive in a hot and humid 28 degrees in Brunei.

After a relatively short bus ride we arrive at the Empire Hotel & Country Club, set in a sprawling estate of some 180 hectares which is situated on the edge of the South China sea. An absolutely beautiful place, the country club part was bigger than most hotels I’ve stayed in and the roads and buggy paths around the resort cover some 22kms.

After a quick lunch it was off to our rooms to catch up on some zzz’s

At 7pm we all met in reception for a coach trip to a town centre hotel. Tonight it’s a gala dinner hosted by the event sponsors, B-Mobile.

Two players to each table, I was sat with my room partner, and fellow goalkeeper, Paul Jones along with guests of B-mobile. The people attending are very knowledgeable on the English Premiership, courtesy of the TV Channels ESPN & Star Sports, who seem to show almost continuous highlights and full games at 2.30am in the morning local time.

By far the two most popular clubs are Liverpool & Manchester United, and the Liverpool players were afforded an audience with the Crown Prince of Brunei prior to the event.

It was then back to the hotel for a private drink (Brunei is a no alcohol in public country) – we all needed it though, in order to sleep!

Friday 20th April:

Sleeping is a nightmare, it always takes time to adjust. I slept for a couple of hours until 2.30am and then tossed and turned for another 4 hours.

At 7am the sun wasn’t yet up. It was still a bit cloudy but warm, so I went on a 10 minute walk to the main building for a leisurely breakfast. Some of the die hard golfers amongst us were already there before their trip to the golf club which is situated within the country club part of the resort.

Some of the other players were to do some coaching with local children whilst the rest of us just relaxed.

I decided to check out the facilities, so swimming trunks in hand I walked to the country club. It had every conceivable amenity for the guests, a lovely indoor pool, badminton & squash courts, pool & snooker tables as well as an adjacent spa facilities.

I proceeded to plough up and down the pool hoping that I would feel more awake. That didn’t happen – however after a few minutes in the sauna and then a drop in the icy cold plunge pool my system finally woke up!

On leaving the club I am hit by the change of temperature, the sun was up and burning down, good luck to the boys still on the golf course! Jet lag was kicking in so it was a quiet afternoon in the rooms.

The evening was spent in the company of several members of the Royal Brunei family, along with 500 guests at the gala dinner to mark the following evening’s tournament.

Entertainment was laid on by local youngsters performing dance routines aka “ Brunei’s Got Talent “ and a Q&A with Andy Cole, Robbie Fowler and Frank LeBoeuf.

Saturday 21st April:

Awoke early, not sleeping well, no more than 4-5 hours and always interrupted!

The morning was spent in the pool, again trying to loosen up before then event in the evening, followed by a pre-match luncheon. I manage to grab an hours sleep whist watching more re-runs of the weeks Premiership games: I’ve watched more football on the telly in a couple of days in Brunei than I would watch in a month at home!

It’s then off to the Stadium for theBruneiMaster Football event.

It was not a good night for us losing by the odd goal to the Premier League ‘All Stars’, then by a bigger defeat to Liverpool. We did however follow this up by a comfortable win against the locals.

Overall, we scored plenty of goals but conceded too easily!

The Final was a close affair with the ‘All Stars’ coming out on top. The presentations were made by the Crown Prince of Brunei in his Hawaiian shirt – ala “Magnum P.I.” !!

We returned to the hotel at midnight, cases packed and ready in preparation for another early start.

Sunday 22nd April:

Struggle to get to sleep, never easy at the best of times after games, but finally drift off then wake-up to the 6am alarm call!

We grab a quick breakfast before boarding the coach to the airport for a 2.5hr flight to Kuala Lumpur, courtesy of ‘Air Asia’ – the airline owned by QPR’s Chairman Tony Fernandes.

On arriving in KL we then had a 45 minute drive, passing the Sepang racing circuit which had hosted the Formula One guys the week before, to the Hilton Double Tree Hotel.

On entering the city we saw the pass the magnificent Kuala LumpurTower and head towards the PetronasTwinTowers – our hotel just a stones throw from there.

A quick lunch is followed by R&R in our rooms for an hour, before we were back on the coach for a trip to the stadium.

With the outside temperature topping 30 degrees, we sat in small marquees signing autographs for the many Manchester United and Liverpool fans. Someone even had a photo of a trip I was on with the United boys to Gibraltar some 18 months ago.

On the pitch (or should I say carpet) we had a better evening. We lost narrowly to Liverpool in our first game, and then held the ‘All Stars’ to a hard-fought draw. In our final game against the Malaysian Masters we needed to win by 8 clear goals to go through to the final and face Liverpool. This we managed to do quite comfortably.

So to the big final against Liverpool, with Robbie Fowler needing to score one more goal to smash the Masters record for most goals in an event.  Suffice to say he beat me very early!

The game was very tight, and was played at a good pace, especially considering the amount of football we had played in the last 24 hours, and the amount of travelling we had done.

The final whistle blew at 4-4, and so to penalties. Paul Jones saved David May’s first penalty, unfortunately I wasn’t able to return the favour and we lost 5-4.

All in all, a good but very tiring 2 days of football. There were some great goals from the aforementioned Robbie Fowler (who could still do a great job for somebody), Andy Cole and an unstoppable volley from the former Celtic star Regi Blinker.

It was now time to relax & enjoy the next few days in KL, so back to the hotel for a few drinks.

Monday 23rd April:

A special day, not only St Georges Day, but also my 45th Birthday! (I managed to keep the fact quiet for most of the day)

After another restless night the rigours of the last few days were beginning to come to the fore with the painkillers and anti inflammatory starting to wear off.

I felt more like 75 not 45 this morning, every part of my body ached. I am getting too old to keep diving around on concrete/wooden floors, unfortunately the brain still thinks I’m 20, but my body certainly says otherwise.

I must say that although I ached I was protected by serious damage by some kit supplied by Reusch. I had a tight fitting under jersey which had padding on the elbows, shoulders and obliques, along with padded bottoms which had Kevlar coating on the padding (these proved fantastic as a previous year I wore some other brand which ripped on the knee after the first dive and I really badly bruised my knee). To help supplement them I had underneath some Kevlar coated elbow and knee pads which were absolute life savers and enabled me to dive around without serious damage.

After breakfast a lounger by the outdoor pool had my name on it.  With the iPod in my ears, I put on some relaxing soul and R&B, and that is me not moving for the foreseeable future!

The evening was spent initially attending a signing session followed by the gala dinner, with the usual format. Fortunately in KL, alcohol is allowed, so we managed a few drinks to help as a pain killer for the aches and pains.

Upon hearing it was my birthday, the boys decided we would sample the late-night bars of KL, and it was several hours later before we returned (sorry – can’t remember the details!)

Tuesday 24th April:

What was left of the morning was free. The golfers had already gone off early to play a round at one of the many courses, the rest of us went to do a bit of shopping down the infamous Petaling Street – home to the many market stalls selling top name brands! Some of the boys who hadn’t been to KL before visited the KL tower and the PetronasTowers, along with the many shopping malls in the Bukit Bintang district – ideal for electronics bargains.

Late afternoon it was mine and Frank LeBoeuf’s turn to go and do some coaching with local youngsters. For us it was the Malaysian Youth Academy, where there were about 40 under-16’s to take. Frank set up a few drills for the out field players and I took the 4 goalkeepers. After about 40 minutes we brought them together to play two full size games.

We returned to the hotel just in time to change and board the coach to a CitiGolf Event in central KL, these are golf simulators situated in a unit in a multi-storey shopping centre. The players and guests battled it out on three screens to get nearest the pin and longest drive.

With food, drink and prizes a good night was had by all, with the most coveted prize being a black & white photo of Andy Ritchie in his prime (with hair!)

Wednesday 25th April:

After a lazy morning, an early lunch, then on the coach for the return trip to the airport and our long travel back to the UK. We eventually arrive three hours late into Heathrow, on Thursday 26th at 9am local time.

These trips are very enjoyable. It’s great to meet up with old friends and team mates, play some good football, have nice food & drink and visit fascinating parts of the world. Unfortunately I can’t attend the next trip in May (to Bangkok & Indonesia) due to prior commitments, I just hope I can make the trip to Singapore in October.

See some of the tournament action below…