Bhutan, a tiny nation of 750,000 nestled between the cloud-topped peaks of the Himalayas, is best known for it’s government policy of measuring Gross National Happiness. It is perhaps unsurprising, therefore, that for those hardened by the reprobative goings on of professional football, Bhutan’s World Cup story so far is better than Prozac.
When I began contemplating this article it was with plans to write a satirical side-swipe at Bhutan, the world’s worst national team. It seemed an unmissable opportunity to laugh at the expense of a squad whose hopes are encapsulated by Lama Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, a football obsessed monk desperately attempting to contacting Arsene Wenger and Barcelona for coaching advice.
All that cynicism evaporated when Bhutan eked out a 1-0 victory over Sri Lanka as a result of a goal scored by Gyeltshen, fondly dubbed the ‘The Ronaldo of Bhutan’, in the dying seconds of the second leg of the 2018 World Cup qualifier.
Now I stand before you an unapologetic, fervent supporter of Bhutan. Don’t call me a glory hunter. Cut me open and I bleed orange and yellow.
The miraculous progression of the team, described by Rinpoche as “physically able”, is a far cry from 2000 when the national team were harrowed 20-0 by a rampant Kuwait.
Not even when a tune unknown to the Bhutanese was played in lieu of their national anthem could the spirits of the supporters filling the 30,000 stadium to capacity be dampened.
Many more fans given the day off work by employers encircled the ground hoping to bear witness to a win described by FIFA’s resident maleficent grump Sepp Blatter as “a wonderful, historic moment.”
Another historic moment was undoubtedly Bhutan’s first recorded Mexican wave which, despite a stuttering start, euphorically ripped around the stadium an emphatic 9 times.
The national sport of Bhutan may be archery but the last country on earth to connect to the internet has experienced a recent unprecedented groundswell of interest in football.
At the whistle, the Changlimithang Stadium saw perhaps its most exultant celebrations since playing host to the great pillow fight of November 2008 in celebration of the coronation of King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck.
For unbeaten Bhutan, the only way is up. Which is impressive given the altitude of the national stadium is 8688 feet.