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Bugiel: 'It’s a different world out there'


Wednesday 11 October 2017
FGR Media


Omar with the Lebanon squad in North Korea

For the modern day footballer their phone is rarely too far away from outstretch of a hand, whether it be to post their latest activities on Snapchat, check the news on Twitter, or add a filter to a picture on Instagram.

However, for Forest Green Rovers forward Omar Bugiel, he had to deal with life without his trusted companion on one of football’s more bizarre away trips.

Having joined Rovers in January this year from non-league side Worthing, it wasn’t long before the German-born player was catching the eye of the national coaches from his father’s country of birth, Lebanon.

In May he earned his first international call up for an Asian Cup qualifier with Malaysia and despite not featuring, it was on the flight home that he was told by the head coach to expect to be involved with the squad for the next game, an away tie with Korea DPR.

With Omar engulfed in pre-season training with Mark Cooper’s side preparing for the club’s first season in the Football League, there was little time for the 23-year-old to think about his impending trip until he boarded the plane.

“I wasn’t really that worried about it because my mind was on Forest Green,” he said.

“The pre-season had started and the first few games going on but as soon as I got on that plane to Abu Dhabi, that’s when it hit me.

“When you look at the news with what is going on out there at the present time, it’s a bit of a shock but I was pretty sure we were going to be looked after as we were there under FIFA.”

It was a trip that he would never forget and an insight into a culture he had never come close to experiencing before.

Each morning Omar and the rest of his teammates were given an unusual wakeup call, with the national anthem streaming into his hotel room on the 30th floor from the streets lined with people below.

With no WiFi and a choice between Russia Today and the local propaganda news channel to pick from for entertainment, Omar found himself getting to know more about his new teammates over games of cards.

Even trips out of the hotel had to be supervised and officials from both FIFA and the North Korean football federation monitoring their use of cameras, but it was something that Omar was more than happy obeying.

“I actually really enjoyed it,” he explained.

“It’s not often you get the chance to go to a place like North Korea.

“It was a massive culture shock if I am being honest.

“We went to the capital Pyongyang, which was brilliant and very clean.

“As soon as we got there we got told there wasn’t any WIFI and my main worry was not being able to get in contact with my family, I got about five missed calls from my mum when I got back to Beijing.

“It’s a different world out there. They still live with no internet.

“It was brilliant though. It was a different culture to embrace and without internet, you spend more time with you teammates and do things with them.

“We were guests there and had to respect their rules and their culture.”

Omar was an unused substitute in the game, which ended in a 2-2 draw but it was the unique atmosphere in the national stadium, which has a large picture of Kim Jong-Un towering ominously above it, which struck the young footballer.

“The stadium had a capacity of 30,000 people I think and it was a bit of a shock because everyone was wearing the same clothes,” he added.

“They were in white shirts and everywhere you looked, they were all uniform.

“The fans were great and they supported their team well and even clapped us at the end because we earned a draw out there.

“It was a very friendly country and we didn’t have any problems or abuse.”

Omar missed out on the chance of re-joining his Lebanese teammates this week for the home qualifier with Korea DPR to focus on Forest Green, however, he hopes to be back involved with the national team, who sit top of group B, when they travel to Hong Kong in November, before their final group game at home to Malaysia next March.

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Last updated: Sat 21 Oct 2017 17:10 pm