The Gecko’s Revenge

After printing the wrong picture two issues ago, this was touted as the grudge match of the summer — at least by us anyway. Saigon Rugby Club vs. Word Magazine in an all-out paintball war. Jon Aspin was in the thick of the action for Word, and afterwards filed this report from a nearby safety bunker. Photos by Francis Xavier


The Game They Play in Heaven


When the 18th century poet Alexander Pope wrote those famous words; “To err is human; to forgive, divine”, we’re pretty sure he’d never had an incorrect photo of his village Quoits* team published in the 1712 Windsor Times**. Perhaps if he had, he might not have been so quick to forgive, and the course of literary history would be different. On the other hand, Alexander Pope was a hunchback with chronic tuberculosis; playing village Quoits might not have been his strong suit.


The point is, as reporters for Word, we hold ourselves to a high level of journalistic integrity***. Most things are researched, fact-checked**** and proofed to within an inch of their lives, but sometimes we are also like hunchbacks with brittle bones. We find stairs difficult. That and single-scull rowing — everything else is fine. We are irrefutably human, so we do ‘err’, and in our June issue this year, (Looking for Love, June 2015) we did exactly that, when a combination of dengue fever, an absent editor and a rookie mistake, all led us to printing the wrong photo. The wrong photo was in a Harry Hodge (conspicuously absent on this day) piece about the Saigon Geckos Rugby Club — who said we wouldn’t name names? Tasked with capturing the Geckos’ moment of Indochine Cup glory back in May, we printed a photo of the Hanoi Dragons instead. Go figure. One man’s pleasure is another man’s pain, and our friends in the capital loved it.


Passing the Buck


In search of some ‘divine forgiveness’ for our scandalous oversight, apologies were printed, emails were sent, and an investigation***** was launched. Internally there were a few heads in hands and a serious amount of buck-passing, but let’s face it, a whole lot of giggles too, before the idea of a grudge-match was born. Yes, Word would throw out the olive branch for a chance at what Pope and his cronies would probably call poetic justice — we would play a paintball match at Saigon Paintball in Ho Chi Minh City’s District 2.


Unsure of exactly what it would prove, or if it would even happen, when it did, I caught up with several of the combatants over ‘pre-war’ refreshments. I asked them about their strategy, team line-ups and their opinion of the standard of journalism here.




Gecko stalwart and this month’s front cover star Antoine Goupille, (sporting a very ‘on-trend’ black eye and pirate beard) was at first diplomatic about our goof. He quickly warmed to his task, though, especially when I asked him what he saw as our paintball weakness.


“Your whole team,” he replied, with what can only be described as Gallic understatement.


He then pointed out the difference between a gecko and a dragon graphically, drawing a picture in the air like a nursery school teacher — talk about things that would have been useful yesterday, Antoine.


This caused our within-earshot and previously dengue fever-struck photo editor, Kyle Phanroy to retort about our opposition, “They look like a bunch of p*******!”. Immediately making up for his diminutive stature with such a pugnacious remark, I’d never felt prouder of my colleague.


He then offered his own paltry excuse for the photo mix-up. “I was in hospital at the time, with four bags of saline solution getting pumped into my IV due to the dehydration — because that’s how I like to party man — so yeah, I really didn’t give a f***!”


Well said Kyle, paintball nirvana awaits you.




Minister of Fun and Happiness at the Geckos, Mr. Joe ‘Poetry in Motion’ Eastwood, had a few choice comments of his own. Unfortunately not many were printable, but among the rest was a strategy statement that was pretty succinct. “Head then balls,” he kept saying, drawing an imaginary line between his head and… you get it. This drew laughs from surrounding teammates, many of whom were already imbibing large quantities of ‘soda’, for what they described as ‘battlefield courage’. Clearly this was subterfuge, a ploy to numb the pain we were about to inflict, so the Word team took confidence from the Geckos early bravado — kind of.


 Looking for some inspiration before war, I interviewed my own editor, Nick Ross. Eyeing up the 15-strong squad of rugby players who had descended on the event, Nick looked worried, and not just about the price of paintballs. His next words were so English I laughed. What other race of people, who when faced with a sporting challenge so steep and daunting, would react with something like what Nick said next: “I think we might get whipped”. Not exactly the Churchill-esque battle cry I was looking for. Fellow Wordies Vu Ha Kim Vy and Rachel Cabakoff were equally realistic — if a little confused. Neither could work out if they were excited, scared, intimidated or happy. Let’s just settle on scared. There were a lot of emotions flying during the pre-game banter, as well as a lot of refreshments.


Fifth Tackle


In the end, it was pure chaos, and no one really knows what happened, least of all this reporter. As ‘captain’ of my team I was supposed to be showing leadership and shouting commands, but as the ‘bullets’ rained in on me, all of that went out of the window. I focused on not getting hurt, at least not too badly, so all I know is that a lot of paintballs got exploded, including a bunch all over me. Far be it from me to cry foul, but there was definitely some friendly fire in there too. More ‘soda’ got drunk, and I think we decided on a two games to one result for the Geckos, but that was much of a muchness. In the first game Word got pinned down and hammered, while in the next two we fared much better, and there was respect gained in fighting hard against a far superior opponent.


In between games and at the end of the day’s entertainment, it was clear that it had been a victory for sport — I had to get one cliché in here. Everyone who came had a great time, and while forgiveness was never really the issue, Word-Gecko relations have never been stronger than now. Notable performers were Vy, who earned a purple heart for taking one in the face during combat, and 11-year-old Caitlin who bravely took on the role of Word general in our last match-up. Meanwhile, Phil ‘Body and Temple’ Kelly was controversially accused by his own team mates of hiding out, and cherry-picking softer opponents ******.


Stay tuned next month, when we print the wrong photo of the entire Swedish royal family, and challenge them to a naked sauna-off in Stockholm’s most expensive spa.


Paintball Saigon is at 14-18 Street 11, An Phu, HCMC. They have a website, too — check them out at



* Medieval ‘hooky’
** Made up newspaper title but likely a ‘hoighty toighty’ gossip rag somewhere in London

*** This story is brought to you by Mr. Singh’s Curry House & Car Wash in District 2, HCMC. Hi Mum!
**** We pay hungry backpackers VND1,000 per Google search term

***** We all sat around and blamed Harry.

******Anyone in a yellow uniform.



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