Timewarp Thursday: Tales Of Footballmania, Part 1.

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I’ve decided it’s high time for me to share some of the hilarious/embarrassing/interesting things I have done out of sheer love for Football and make a series of posts about them.

Also, since World Cup 2014 is rapidly approaching, I shall start off with a story I shall call…

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Proof That Brazilians Hurt.

 It was 2002, the second World Cup of my (football-supporting) life. I was a student of architecture in a state university north of the capital. The good news? Football was starting to come into the country’s basketball-crazy consciousness (although the true Football Boom wouldn’t really occur until 8 years later). The bad news? Live television coverage of the World Cup was snatched from the country’s government-run channel and bought by a relatively-new cable TV provider, which happens to be a competitor of the cable TV company we have at home. In short, no live matches for me. Oh, the horror!

When the going gets tough, the tough get going. I made do with the delayed telecast of the matches, and sat in front of my PC during the matches, staring into the FIFA website’s live text commentary and obsessively pressing F5 on the keyboard. After which I’d go on a post-match posting binge on football forums I frequent. All using a measly dial-up internet connection, mind. Anyway, all was going well, as the Three Lions, managed by Sven Goran-Eriksson, captained by David Beckham and vice-captained by Michael Owen, sailed through to the Quarterfinals. Never mind that critics were calling their brand of football ‘boring’ and there weren’t as many goals being scored as expected. They were due to face the Brazilian squad next and that was all that matters.

I have to watch THAT match. I don’t care how, I just have to!

That’s the thought that kept playing in a loop in my head days prior to the match. This is going to be something special, I can feel it in my bones. There is no way in hell I can miss this. My friend PB and I did a little research and found that a certain pub will host a viewing party the day of the match. The only problem was that, as the World Cup was then hosted in Japan and Korea, the match would start in mid-afternoon, which cruelly coincides with the first day of our architectural design class that semester.

Now, all my life I’ve been a good and conscientious student. I’ve never cut classes during grade school and high school and have only missed classes in university due to illnesses. Also, missing the first day of an architectural design class in our university is just something that good students do not do, add to that the fact that we have no idea who our professor is—he/she could be an absolute pussycat or be the personification of a Kraken. PB and I decided to play it by ear and hold off on making the final decision on the day itself.

Meanwhile, I was then a member of a local internet football forum, and one time while I was bemoaning my dilemma on it, another member mentioned that he’ll be on that pub the day of the viewing party, and he gave me his mobile number in private and offered to send me live SMS updates if I wanted it. I took the offer gratefully—after all, I needed a Plan B.

June 21: I could barely remember what happened during the first half of that day—I attended classes in the morning, had lunch with friends, hung out with them for a bit. I do very clearly remember what I wore, though: Grey and black t-shirt, dark jeans, and my grey and maroon Pumas. I was struggling to not think about the match but at the same time, it was all I could ever think about.

Everything changed when the clock struck T-1 hour to the match. My friends and I were loitering outside our classroom, just making some idle chat, when I turned to PB and declared with the determination of a thousand Alexander the Greats, “I’m leaving NOW. To watch the match. If you decide to come with me, great, but if you decide to stay and attend the class, no hard feelings.” My friends gasped in surprise, and I saw PB’s face visibly pale. But she quickly recovered and said she was coming with me, so while running towards the stairs we shouted at our friends to cover for us in class. We were on our way! Wait for us, Engerland!

On a good day, that pub would have been an easy 20-minute cab ride away. However, it was a Friday and the traffic congestion was horrible. I can only stare at my watch in dismay as I saw the minutes pass by. We’ve completely missed kickoff. 20 minutes into the match and we’re still not moving. I was trying my absolute best to keep myself calm when my phone beeped (Nokia 3310, if you must know). I received a message from football forum guy, let’s just call him ‘winner’, that read, “England is 1-0 up. Your boy Michael Owen scored the goal.”  I let out a scream that nearly made both PB and the cab driver jump out of their skins.

PB: “What happened?!”

Me: “I am going to CRY!”

(NB: When I say I am going to cry, that’s just for dramatic purposes. I rarely cry and when I do, I give no warning of it.)

PB: “Why?!”

Me: “England is up, 1-0! OWEN SCORED!!”

*cue a fresh round of screams*

–Beckham and Mills celebrate with goalscorer Owen.

I proceeded to sing the praises of my favourite English footballer, saying how difficult it is to score against Brazil and that he was nursing an injury, so that made this goal even more special. I might as well have been speaking Swahili to the driver, because he just rolled his eyes and went back to staring at the Monster Friday City Traffic Jam ahead of us. Miraculously, we managed to arrive at the pub soon after, and I raced ahead of PB, already thinking of what beer I’ll order, opened the door and saw…it was jam-packed. Absolutely jam-packed.

Bloody hell. Who knew there were that many football fans in my country? They were all packed in that pub in the middle of the afternoon. During a workday. I stopped a flustered waiter and asked him if we can squeeze in somewhere. He apologetically told me that every square inch of the pub has been occupied. However, he must have taken pity upon seeing my crushed expression because he suddenly backtracked and said there’s an outdoor space in the back where they’ve set up another TV, and if we go quickly enough, we might still find a space there. So off my friend and I went to the back and saw that yes, there was another TV there (a huge one, actually), but the sound and reception were horrendous. The lack of a roof and the mid-afternoon glare of the sun weren’t helping, either. I could barely recognize the players and we couldn’t even hear the commentary properly. Argh!

Just when we thought we had to make do with lemons, we spotted the pub’s back door. We opened it and huzzah—we found ourselves inside the pub with a clear view of at least two suspended TV screens! We could barely close the door behind us and we were squished against countless random strangers, but I didn’t care—I could hear the commentary and I could finally see the match. Hallelujah!

It wasn’t long before more people ‘discovered’ the pub’s back door, and since it was my friend and I who were leaning on it, we became worried that new influx of people would propel us further into the crush of the crowd, something we didn’t want. A tall, bespectacled guy next to me saw the rattling door and told me to go ahead and lock it, and that he’ll help us lean on it for good measure. I smiled at him gratefully and did what was told. The funny thing was, the people outside got so insistent that they started to aggressively rattle the doorknob, and in a few minutes, the knob fell off the door and crashed to the floor! PB and I couldn’t even giggle at that incident, we were that nervous.

On to the football: The first half finished all square–Brazil’s Rivaldo scored an equalizer but that didn’t dampen the spirits of the England fans. I estimated that a sizeable part of the pub crowd were England fans—mostly expats. Scoring the first goal was an important psychological boost—as in the song Vindaloo, “We’re Engerland, we’re gonna score one more than you!” This is make or break. This is THE World Cup. This is War.

The second half began and tensions started to rise. It wasn’t until THAT freak of a freekick by Ronaldinho entered the goal when I felt my stomach drop. Brazil led England 2-1 and the minutes were flying by. Rivaldo’s antics were the straw that broke the camel’s back, and even to my surprise, I let out a series of expletives and an almighty football rant that perhaps Joey Barton would have approved of. I even got a few claps and whistles from nearby expat fans. When I finished, I saw that the table next to me was filled with real Brazilian tourists. With flags and shirts on. And they were all staring at me as if I’ve gone mad. They looked a bit scared of me, too. One of them (a very respectable-looking guy in a suit), tried to make light of the situation by jokingly saying that he never expected to hear those things from someone who looks so ‘angelic’, and with a face as red as a tomato, I sheepishly replied that it’s nothing personal. This is Football, baby. You’ve got to have nerves (and ears) of steel.

I prayed to all benevolent entities and higher beings that would listen for England to score an equalizer, and possibly a winner, but my pleas all fell on deaf ears. The final whistle was like a bullet to my already bleeding heart. People streamed out of the pub in a flash and PB and I were left at the back with only empty beer bottles, plates, tables and chairs surrounding us. Wordlessly, I picked up the doorknob from the floor, put it back in the hole and exited the pub, still disbelieving of the nightmare result. My phone beeped and it was a message from ‘winner’ again, asking me if I’m still in the pub, and that he’ll treat me to a consolation beer if I wanted it. I thanked him but declined the offer, as I sure wasn’t in the mood to meet someone new. I’ve already spooked enough strangers that day, and I might just burst into tears if I had to discuss the just-concluded match with anyone. Outside, the local Brazil fans were in full celebratory mode, chanting, “Brazil! Braziiillll!!!” , “Ole! Ole! Ole!” and “We’re gonna be Champions!” at the top of their lungs. I wanted to stick my fingers up at them but decided against it. After all, I’d be doing the very same had England won.

PB and I sat at the sidewalk outside for a good half hour, just letting everything sink in. We were pulverized. No words needed to be exchanged. Our friend from uni, ATM, somehow managed to find us, said that our architectural design class was dismissed early and did we want to go catch a movie at the nearby mall?

The rest of the day went by in a blur—we had early dinner and watched a movie (The Sum of All Fears–I fell asleep during the first half and dreamt that England had won) and then went our separate ways home. I got off the cab a few blocks away from my house and walked the rest of the distance—I was that depressed.

The result may not have favoured the team I was rooting for, but I knew then in my heart that one measly setback would not deter the so-called Golden Generation in their quest to bring football back home. I believed in them, and that was everything I needed.

And my architectural design class? Our professor turned out to be a nice fellow, and I actually got a pretty good grade in that subject.

There would be many more football-related shenanigans to come, but this one stands out and remains as one of my favourites because amid the hurt, there were several silver linings that still shone through.

And that is why Football will always be The Beautiful Game.

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 –Brazil’s Ronaldo commiserates with Beckham and Owen post-match.

That MotoGP Magic.

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I have a confession to make: Last week, I didn’t want to watch the 1st Argentine MotoGP.

I cannot really explain why. I was updated of the free practice and qualifying times through Twitter, but I just felt no zest, no sense of urgency nor excitement to actually watch the races. It was strange. Why was this happening?

So I made a “deal” with the MotoGP gods: If our home telly was free during the races, then I’d watch; if it wasn’t, then I’ll just (maybe) catch the repeat. As it turned out, the TV was free, and I did get to watch all three classes. In the end, I’m glad I did, because they all reminded me of why I am a MotoGP fan.

You see, I never expected to fall in love with MotoGP—but I totally and unequivocally did.

Many moons ago, I used to fume and seethe whenever I catch the MotoGP races on TV, mainly because they happened to be broadcast on the same channel as the Football and therefore, I cannot wait for them to be over and done with so I can watch my precious matches. While I was already an avid fan of F1 for many years, during that time I just cannot understand the fuss about motorbike racing.

“What is so fantastic about this stuff?” I’d wonder.

“Surely, driving a racecar is so much cooler and more exciting.”

I shrugged and thought to myself that I would never become a fan of motorbike racing. Four wheels all the way, baby!

However, I ended up eating a huge slice of humble pie. All thanks to a certain wee rider named Dani Pedrosa.

It was simply through serendipity that I got to know him: One day, I was flicking through the cable sports channels when I chanced upon a segment of a programme (I couldn’t even remember the name of it now) where the presenters were gushing about a certain Spanish motorbike racer named Dani Pedrosa. “He’s such a precocious rider! The next big thing in MotoGP!”, they excitedly proclaimed.  Long story short, I decided to see for myself what they were exalting and checked out a 250cc race one weekend on TV. I was nothing short of gobsmacked. Pedrosa rode the bike like he stole it and schooled the entire grid like nobody’s business. Boy, was he worth the hype and more. I finally saw with my own eyes what the big deal was. I dove headfirst into MotoGP Fandom and never looked back.

I followed Pedrosa into the MotoGP premier class in 2006. I was already aware of the legend of Valentino Rossi way before that but I only cared about supporting wee Dani. It was a curious sort of season, with Dani registering some notable records and yes, very nearly destroying his teammate’s championship hopes by that controversial move in Estoril. Going into more details on what I have experienced would be incredibly long, but yes, eight years, 4 teammates, numerous injuries and 3 different engines later—I’m still here, a full-fledged, ride-or-die Pedrosa fan.

Even the lower classes (previously the 125cc and 250cc classes, now known as Moto3 and Moto2) are nothing to be scoffed at, as the likes of Jorge Lorenzo, Casey Stoner, Dani Pedrosa and reigning Champion Marc Marquez are all distinguished alumni and some of the best battles and on-track scraps can be found there. If you want a glimpse of true grit and balls-to-the-wall action, check out Moto3 and Moto2. That’s where the future stars of premier class racing is honing their craft and you shall not be disappointed.

MotoGP has the drama (Rider rivalries! Team bickerings! Tyre issues!), the comedy (Rider bloopers! Awkward interviews! Behind the scenes shenanigans!), the art (They’re more than bikes, they’re sculptures! Look at the way they ride the bikes like it’s a dance!), the science (Just look at them lean angles!) and more. I’ve watched pure genius on track, questionable moves, wince-inducing crashes and even some deaths. There’s a certain passion in motorbike fans that’s just distinct from racecar fans–It’s infectious, delightful and all-consuming. See for yourself how packed and well-attended the MotoGP races are. You just never know what you’ll get to see and experience that day. And that’s where the magic lies.

F1 may be my First Motorsport Love, but MotoGP stole my heart in ways that are difficult to express.

Asking me to choose between F1 and MotoGP is like asking a mother to pick a favourite child. If F1 is the “cool” child, the one who’s always trying to reinvent itself, then MotoGP is the “devil-may-care, badass, wild child”. Perhaps this F1 vs MotoGP thing should be reserved for another article altogether. All I can say for now is that I’m just glad there’s enough capacity in my heart to love both racing series at the same time.

I have been to a few F1 races already but I have yet to go to my first-ever MotoGP race. I am determined to make it happen soon. Also, I’m still holding out hope that I would be able to learn how to ride a motorcycle and be able to own one.  See how much this series has infiltrated my life already?

So, what happened pre-Argentine MotoGP? That was merely a blip. It was me, not MotoGP that needed a reboot/attitude adjustment. My sincere apologies for ever doubting you, MotoGP.

This unlikely love story has a long way to go yet, and I’m quite excited to see how it will continue to develop. Here’s to unexpected loves and the thrill of unpredictability.

And if you’re still a non-believer, then just watch a race, give it a try and let its magic work on you. You’re welcome.

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