Ugygurs v the Rest of the World in Niye

The team in the dunes
The team in the wilderness

With a full five-a-side compliment of players, ably managed by Abdulwali, our Uyghur fixer, the team that helped Rock the Kashgar set off into the wilderness for five days of kickabout and competition down the Southern Silky Skills Route…

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We stop off en route to Niye for some refreshment and a kickabout.

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For two days we sat patiently as Aji gunned the minibus along desert highways which wound their way through beautiful oases and magnificent sandscapes. The dryness of the desert only served to exacerbate the team’s thirst for some footballing action…

Gersh contemplates the Void
Gersh contemplates the Void

A few games of keep-up in the blazing desert sun did nothing to quench the thirst for some competitive play, though the dunes did provide some entertaining amphitheatres in which to practice our teamwork with some impromptu training sessions. Eventually, however, we arrived at the little town of Niya (cue ‘so Niya, so far’ jests) as dusk was falling.

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Abdulwali captures the team’s silky keepie-uppie skills. Dune on!

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We realised that swift action would have to be taken if we were to play a game that evening, so without hesitation, we persuaded Aji to drive down the main street while we leaned out of the bus windows blowing whistles and calling passers-by to the local school for a game.

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The Taklamakan Allstars appear as “The Rest of the World” to take on a team of local Uyghurs.

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The Niya pitch
The Niya pitch

A trickle of players soon began to appear on foot and by bicycle as word spread, and a game began to look like more than a possibility. As Phil and Gersh organised the rocks for goalposts, Abdulwali set about organising the locals into a fighting force capable of taking on the best that Kashgar had to offer.

Abdulwali, the Uyghur Captain
Abdulwali, the Uyghur Captain

The locals started the game tentatively, giving the tourists too much space and too much time as the dust whipped up around the pitch. The Uyghur youngsters put up a brave defense, and many a forward move by the Allstars was thwarted by some excellent tackling at the crucial moments.

Gersh rues a missed opportunity
Gersh rues a missed opportunity

The Allstars gradually gained the upper hand with some stirling defensive work from the Boy Noble, who was always vigilant to swift Uyghur breakaways, covering the talented Uyghur forward’s incisive runs by guiding him into wide positions where the the threat was minimised…

Tim, the Boy Noble
Stirling defensive work from Tim, the Boy Noble

The Uyghurs were often repelled by a confident display of goalkeeping from Maayan, without whose brave blocking the score may have been more even than it eventually was, and whose forays into opposition territory always threatened to produce results.

Maayan, the Allstar's goalie
Maayan, the Israeli right foot general and this time, the Allstar’s goalie.

Although the Uyghurs scored four times, the pressure was relentless, and produced the goal of the trip so far. Being closed down rapidly on the right by three defenders, Phil looped the ball forward to a charging Gersh (a flash of white in his England shirt) and with a swift strike of his right foot he took the ball on the volley and guided it between flailing keeper and rock post. His flying momentum carried him smoothly through to his now famous Uyghur dance style celebration.

Gersh and Phil perform the traditional Uyghur goal celebration
Gersh and Phil perform the traditional Uyghur goal celebration

By now, dusk was giving way to dark, and there was no way back into the game for the Uyghurs, despite the best efforts of Abdulwali, who took up a more midfield role to try and release his star forward with some visionary passes.

The Uyghur's top scorer
The Uyghur’s top scorer

Eventually, when there was too little light to see the ball, a fierce wind blew in out of nowhere and put paid to the game. Players and onlookers alike scrambled for cover, as dust erased the footprints that the game had produced. Bravely, however, we all gathered in the darkness to record the event with a team photo in front of the trusty minibus headlights.

The Allstars and the Uyghurs caught in the headlights
The Allstars and the Uyghurs caught in the headlights

At the end of the day it was a game of one half, but with no half measures from either side. Much respect to all those who took part – and much respect to the ever present desert whose magnetic draw on us made the event a reality.

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We celebrate Tim’s birthday in the best restaurant in town.

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2000 miles across “the desert of no return”? Easy!

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Written by Chris and Phil.

Written by on Monday, May 13th, 2002

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