The Lao Elephants Australian Rules Football Club is the greatest sporting team in the entire world, probably the universe. Built on the age old principle of men wearing pink guernseys with tight grey shorts in tropical countries, it is not an exaggeration to suggest that the formation of the Elephants ranks with man’s arrival on the moon, the discovery of penicillin, and the penning of the album ‘Appetite For Destruction’ as one of the human race’s most glorious achievements.
The history of the sport of AFL in the Lao PDR is a mixture of drama, passion, heroic ambition, nudity, betrayal, more nudity, courage, occasional forays into the sporting arena, yet more nudity, and downright awesomeness.
The Laotian Monarchs were the dominant force in Asian Football pre-1975. Revolutionary leader and future President of the nation Kaisone Phomvihane led the charge at first as a nuggety back pocket during the glorious 1952 – 1961 streak of SEA games titles, and then as one of the most effective and ruthless administrators the game has ever seen. Kaisone’s defection from Australian Rules to Petanque in 1975 is generally viewed as the darkest moment in the history of the sport in the country. The abject rejection and banning of the sport by the revolution caused many in the football mad southern provinces of Attapeu, Champasak, and Sekong to take their footy underground, the consequences of which were devastating due to the lack of air down there.
The discovery of the Elephant in 1986 turned both the scientific community and Laotian sport on its head. To hail the discovery of these 5 tonne probiscidea, the Revolutionary party immediately launched the New Economic Mechanism and once again legalized the playing of Australian Rules football in the PDR. This victory for the sport was however short-lived. Veteran Party cadres, believing that footy was a bit girly sent hundreds of young players off to the re-education camps of Houaphanh where even the mention of the word ‘Jakovich’ resulted in one hundred lashes followed by 100 hours straight of forced petanque. This torture was too much to bear for some, but the dream of once again drop punting from 50 helped many brave souls through the long, cold nights.
A pre-condition of Lao’s entry into ASEAN in 1997 was that all Australian Rules players be released from detention. No country lobbied harder for this than football crazy Myanmar who joined the regional bloc in the same year. While the rest of Asia begged the altruistic Burmese to join ASEAN, the one conditionality of the Junta was the release of all remaining footy players in Lao. The Junta (big Saints fans) stated categorically that ‘the detention of young men in Laos with the ability to kick accurately on both feet is an international travesty and a breach of human rights’. Burma’s lead role in the release of the 1959 SEA Games championship side from their petanque inspired nightmare led many in the international community to cry for a nobel peace prize for President Than Shwe.
Following a decade of relative quiet, in 2007 the dark past of the world’s greatest game in the People’s Democratic Republic was finally put to rest. In May of that year, five men with a vision of themselves plus between 5 and 11 more men wearing pink jumpers chasing pigskin around a field of sand in dense South-East Asian tropical heat met in front Asia’s one true architectural masterpiece Don Chan Palace on a day that would change not only their fates, but the fate of the nation. Don Chan Palace, the club’s birthplace, now a UNESCO world heritage site, is widely regarded as the most sacred sight on planet earth. It is on this spot that the Lao Elephants were formed on May 26th (possibly the 27th) 2007.
Since their formation the Elephants have gone from strength to strength, to relative weakness, back to strength, then to super strength at which point they were able to win their first game on their 7th attempt. Now 11 matches into history the ledger stands at 5 – 6, with recent form as good as any in the Asia Pacific region (with the exception of the Peruvian Conquistadores who haven’t lost a game since 1563).
One awesome history
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