Published: October 17th 2008September 8th 2008
Uzbekistan. We had been planning this trip for so long and finally the time had come around. My mate Leigh met me in Riga the day before we were due to fly into Tashkent. We started to get pumped up about the thought of seeing the Socceroos start there World Cup qualification campaign in a couple of days time so instead of wasting this new found energy we had a massive night in the Old Town of Riga. We spent most of the night in a Russian nightclub where most of the local women looked like FHM models....welcome to Latvia.
A nasty hangover the following morning failed to wipe the smiles off our faces as we prepared for the outward journey. Lido was pretty much the first and only stop for the entire day: a traditional Latvian restaurant that served an all you can eat buffet. Considering also we had some time to kill and the weather was less than ideal it was a nice & cosy place to hang out for the afternoon. We both concurred it must have been the whisky drink that our English friend bought us last night that tipped us over the edge: i thought
it was a scotch & dry looking at the size of it but it turned out to be 150ml of Scotch on the rocks!!
It was at the restaurant that we ran into Mike and Josie. They too were booked on the same flight as us to Tashkent and had only recently come from our friendly win against the Dutch. A bit of banter was flying around the table and soon Leigh and I both realised Mike was one of the craziest fans we had ever met. The rest of the trip would only confirm this first thought.
After dwindling the afternoon away with a few pints (only one way to get rid of a hangover) we headed out to the airport for our flight to the promised land (Mike wouldn't stop singing about this every 5 minutes). At the airport we met a few other guys who were also on the flight. I had met Jason before in Thailand & Vietnam for the Asian Cup and here he was again. He has travelled close to 250,000kms to see Socceroos games over the years and am sure I will see him on many trips to come. Unfortunately his
bag got stolen whilst on the Greek Islands so all his kits and supporters flags were gone as well. Now he only had the clothes on his back and 6 pairs of underwear in his backpack. Nice. After a few more drinks at the airport we boarded the flight and strapped ourselves in for an adventure.
And that is exactly what it was. I personally didn't know anyone who had been to Uzbekistan before. Despite the history of being along the Old Silk Road I hadn't met anyone with a desire to travel there either. We were going to find out sooner or later what we had in store for us.
After getting through customs with a few quizical looks we headed into town and met up with the rest of the Aussie crew at the Poytaht Hotel. There was already around 30 of us there and the word on the street was that we would nudge 50 on game day. Was a relative good turnout considering the location and the difficulty that most people from Australia had getting there. Day 1 consisted of a tour of the city and a sumptuous feast at a local Uzbek restaurant.
Boarding the flight to Uzbekistan
We tried to get a picture as we landed in Tashkent but for some reason pulling your camera out in an Ex-Soviet airport is not the right thing to do.....
The tour showed us what Tashkent was really about: a bustling metropolis in the heart of Central Asia that had a deep and meaningful history. We visited the Telyashayakh Mosque which houses the Uthman Qur'an: thought to be the oldest Quran in the world. It is open to a bloody page where the Caliph (representative of Islam) Uthman was murdered whilst reading. It is written on gazelle skin and was written around 20 years after the death of Mohammad. On the rest of the tour we visited some local handicrafts markets, a statue commemorating the 1966 earthquake and the Chorsu Bazaar. The Uzbek food we ate for lunch was delicious with lots of bread, meat and rich flavoured dishes.
An early night was had on our part after a few drinks and some catching up on the world game with all the other qualifiers happening at the same time. The Foxsports crew came to the hotel and I got interviewed about the upcoming fixture so at least my family will be able to see me and know that I am safe. A few of the boys went out to a Russian nightclub and thought they were all doing
well with the ladies until they found out that they were all hookers. Some went home disappointed whilst a few went home a bit lighter on the wallet!!
Game day had arrived and we were all pumped for the 8pm kickoff: only a whole day to kill. Touring the markets in the morning, finding an ATM that worked and lazing around the pool were all high priority activities for the majority of people. The pre-match drinks were held in the fountain bar which is opposite the Uzbekistan Hotel where our bus would later take us along to the game. Since we had arrived the locals had been more than accomodating. They were all extremely friendly and in the matter of an hour I received an apple and 1000som (.80 US) for visiting their wonderful country. The party atmosphere with everyone decked out in their gear and the local Uzbeki people up for a good time meant everyone was fairly toasty before kickoff.
Our bus had a police escort to the ground and once we arrived we realised how much security had been put in place for the game. There were 3000 police officers and we had 300 police
The national vehicle of Uzbekistan. If you don't have one of these or a Daewoo you can't call yourself a local
surrounding our section of the ground. 50 Aussies walking into the arena full with 35,000 Uzbeki's was definitely a highlight of the trip. So was the 4 personal bodyguards we had when we wanted to go to the bathroom!!
Won't bore you too much with the game but we won 1-0 and everyone was ecstatic. The socceroos came over at the end of the game and threw their gear over the fence. Unfortunately I didn't catch anything but Leigh caught Harry Kewell's left boot. Lucky bastard. Got to sleep with it later on in the night so I can't really complain. The next stop was the Irish Pub (yes, even in Uzbekistan there is an Irish Pub) where we ripped up the night and were looked after by the police who were guarding us all night making sure there was no trouble untoward. Even when our skipper was still in the hotel bar at 7:30am in the morning his personal bodyguard was still there looking after him. Like I said, great hospitality.
On our final day we visited the Uzbekistan Football Federation offices and came away with some Uzbekistan scarves as souvenirs. We watched the local U/15 Pakhator
The Telyashayakh Mosque
This temple contains the Uthman Qur'an which is considered to the oldest Quran in the world. It is written on Gazelle skin and was published in 665AD which is around 23 years after the death of Mohammad.
team play and saw some talented young kids. A nice relaxing day was had and a few drinks with the locals was a perfect way to finish a great trip before flying out the next morning.
There are more photos below