Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Covering the Premier League Asia Cup

Covering the Asia Cup
by rick olivares

I like the format of this Premier League Asia Trophy that features four squads. For one, fans can see four top football clubs compete instead of one team facing up against a national side of the home country. And second, it gives each team a little more time on ground rather than the frenetic pace of being in one country for a few days and they’re gone in a flash.

And this was a most enjoyable Asia Trophy coverage.

I can’t begin to tell you how exciting it was to be in a press conference with Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp. It isn’t my first though. I had that opportunity in Anfield last January 14, 2016 following a most memorable 3-3 draw with Arsenal. Joe Allen saved the day for the Reds with a late goal in stoppage time as the game was down to its last few seconds and the snow was falling all around. The dramatic finish and the weather conditions made even more surreal. That time, I was tongue tied and deferred to the British media. This time around in Hong Kong, I got to directly ask Klopp a question to which he answered most graciously.

In the pre-match pressers, there was Tony Pulis, Dutch football great Frank de Boer, Wes Morgan, Simon Mignolet, and gasp… well, even Jonny Evans.  And later on the pitch, you see players like Hal Robson-Kanu who scored one of the best goals of Euro 2016 with a Cruyff turn against three Belgian defenders for a Wales’ win. There were the Foxes who won the Premier League title two seasons ago.

I always admired Tony Pulis and how he builds small clubs who do not have the financial might of the bigger ones but they battle tooth and nail. I can imagine spending an afternoon with him talking football. I love the fact that he paid his respects to Hong Kong which holds a special place in his heart having played for Happy Valley early in his career and the money he earned there helped him get ready for his marriage.

As for the matches, the game between Leicester City and West Bromwich Albion went into a penalty shootout while Liverpool dusted off Crystal Palace, 2-nil to set up a finals with the former who they defeated 2-1 last Saturday evening. In both match days, the crowd was electric. I posted on social media that one these two nights, Hong Kong Stadium had turned into Anfield Far East.

I like the fact that Klopp told his players that the cheers and adulation they receive from the crowd and fans was because of what the former players did and how they paved the way for such a reaction. If they want to be the beneficiary of that too, then they must carve their names out on winners’ medals and trophies. That was a humbling statement.

The teams were in Hong Kong for a week and well, it made for a whole slew of activities and events. While it is always a concern for these long trips, it is a requirement for their corporate sponsors who shell out so much money to help the club with their operational expenses.

I have seen other clubs simply try to fulfill their end of the bargain and not show up. They are there physically but mentally you can see they aren’t. Years ago, a Korean crowd booed Barcelona not only for their boorish behavior but also for not sending their top players into the match when people paid a lot of money to watch. Even Leo Messi got booed. I even saw that with Liverpool a few years ago in Kuala Lumpur where they weren’t even smiling at all. I’d say that is because of the short in and out schedule of theirs.

Now this Asia tour for them, well, it was special. Unless they were faking their videos or pressers and interviews of which I think wasn’t the case. They obviously had a great time. Even in the post-Asia Trophy match game with Leicester City, Klopp bared that he flew in with not much expectations but he gushed over the support and hospitality. How many times did he say, “Thank you”?

I’ve seen Liverpool play 11 times across three continents. I came away happy to say that by sheer dumb luck, they have not lost any match where I was physically present. I am not saying I should be there for every game – unless I work for the club. It’s just a coincidence.

Said Mai Sangalang, Head of Corporate Affairs/Brand and Marketing: “Standard Chartered Bank’s sponsorship of the Liverpool FC dates back 2010 and we are pleased at how it connects with our clients and football fans around the world.  Liverpool FC is an iconic global brand with a long history and incredible following, a milestone we share with them. Standard Chartered Bank’s partnership with Liverpool FC also share the same commitment to give back to the community through our sustainability programmes and football clinics across our markets.  Through these, we get the opportunity to support communities and help children discover their abilities built on values and discipline.”

As always, I had fun. I’d really like to thank the Premier League and all the clubs; Liverpool of course; Standard Chartered with Mai Sangalang and Anne dela Torre who made this possible; and all the other regional journalists who I met and befriended along the way. Even June Mar Fajardo and Aerieal Patnongon who I got to hang out one evening in Tsim Sha Tsui (they were on a short vacation) – that was a bonus. It was a wonderful (in spite of the mostly inclement weather) five days in one of my favorite cities in the world where I got to watch my favorite football club in the world.

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