To the future children I may or may not have,
Here is the story of how I finally met my favourite football player of all time*, Mr. Michael James Owen.
(*Before anything else, allow me to state my long-standing belief that I AM his biggest fan in the Philippines. From the time he broke out as a young Liverpool star up to his last English Premier League match with Stoke City, I was there for him. I accepted everything, the highs, the lows, questionable professional decisions and all. No, seriously, I challenge anyone to find a bigger Michael Owen fan in my country. You won’t.)
One nondescript May evening, I was lounging in bed, lazily browsing the web on my mobile phone when I chanced upon an article on Facebook announcing that Michael Owen was coming to Singapore in June for a football-related event hosted by the shopping mall Wisma Atria. To say that my pulse quickened and my breathing became shallow would be an understatement: Singapore is merely 3 hours away from where I live. My schedule was pretty much clear for that weekend. Carpe bloody diem. I have to go. I shan’t forgive myself if I dare missed this opportunity.
After going on Viber and freaking out to my closest childhood friends about it, I started researching flight schedules and accommodations. Just when I thought that I was going to have to make the trip alone, one of my bestest friends, HM, confirmed that she was willing to tag along (I need reinforcement just in case I faint or do something embarrassing). Hooray! We got our flights and hotels booked in a flash, so all I had to do was wait.
And wait I did. My birthday came and went, World Cup 2014 got underway, and suddenly it was just a few days before that big trip.
Apart from my childhood friends, nobody really knew that I was making that trip to see Michael Owen. I told my family that I was going to Singapore for a post-birthday holiday and to see my friend J and her family there. Weird as it may sound, I didn’t want to jinx anything just in case I don’t end up seeing MO. Yeah, I’m superstitious like that. Looking back, I’ve realized that from the moment I decided I was going on that trip, everything seemed to fall into place. It’s as if the universe really did conspire with me to make good things happen. And for that, I am eternally grateful.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
We arrived on a Friday, went around the Bugis area, and then returned to the hotel late at night, exhausted but full of excitement for the weekend ahead. I kept checking his Twitter account @themichaelowen but there was no trace there that he was coming to Singapore. Where was he?! A small part of me was getting worried, especially since I haven’t even scoped out the venue and the event was hours away. A bigger part of me though was super Zen, and it kept assuring the worried part that everything will be alright. Ommmm….
Saturday came and it was only when HM and I were having lunch that nerves started to kick in. Hard. My stomach was in absolute knots. In just a few hours, I may or may not see and meet Michael Owen, just the main reason for this trip. My worries from the night before were obliterated as we came closer to Wisma Atria: It was Footballmania over there! There’s no way you would miss him—Michael Owen was plastered everywhere! We couldn’t resist doing the touristy thing and proceeded to take photos with every MO advert we saw, as well as the giant foosball table right smack along Orchard Road. I needed to distract myself, things were starting to get real.
We came inside and saw that the event setup was already in place. We were a couple of hours early but we headed down to the atrium anyway to check it out. I asked a girl from the registration desk how the event would play out, and more important, would MO be able to meet the public? She patiently explained to me that the priority for the meet and greet would be in the order of: Fan Club members, the competition winners and those who spent a certain amount of money in the mall. If Michael has enough time, the rest of the public would be allowed to join the queue. Challenge accepted, then. I didn’t want to risk it so I promptly told the girl that I was willing to wait and that I would start the public queue, which was met by a surprised laugh and a “Good luck!”. Just watch the expert in action, girl.
It wasn’t long before people started noticing the event area, and more and more people started joining the public queue. We could only look on in jealousy at all the people wielding the “magic tickets” that allowed them access to the priority queues, but generally, we were all in a hopeful mood that we’d be let in. The line may be long but it was not overwhelmingly long. MO wouldn’t leave us hanging, would he?!
There were Liverpool fans, Manchester United fans, England fans, Newcastle fans and even fans of different worldwide clubs and nations in the queue. Fans young and old alike all wore the same expressions on their faces: I am so fricking excited to see Michael Owen. Even fathers were sacrificing having their children join them (1 person per ticket only, la) and sending them off to their mums instead just to have the chance to meet that footballer that lit up their TV screens as a youngster.
After what seemed like an eternity, the event host finally announced his arrival. With astounding speed and precision, everyone raised their mobile phones and cameras, eager to capture the moment. And there I was, still as a statue, ready and yet so very unprepared.
Michael Owen came out on stage. I felt everything and nothing at the same time. It was surreal. The very player that got me hooked on football and the one I watched and followed for nearly two bloody decades was standing mere meters away. That smile. That accent. Heaven help me.
They proceeded with the penalty shootout simulator game, the presentation of Michael’s signed Euro 2004 England Shirt to the Singapore Community Chest and the mini Q&A portion* that covered his return to Singapore after more than a decade, the Premier League, World Cup, and of course, the controversial player Luis Suarez.
But hang on, just when everything was going quite smoothly, a lady of a certain age from our part of the queue suddenly went up to the front (near the barrier) and confronted the two young organizers standing guard nearby. At first. she was only asking when they will allow the rest of the public to meet Michael, and when she wasn’t given a definite answer, she proceeded to go ballistic on them and went on an almighty rant about how long she’s been standing there and waiting to meet him. To make things juicier, she made them call their manager and also gave the poor woman quite a dressing down in front of a bemused/disbelieving crowd. Whoa, lady. Calm down. My friend and I have been standing in line longer than she was and yet we wouldn’t have dreamed of complaining or raising hell. Anyway, I suppose I just have to give her props for her passion and eagerness to meet MO.
A few minutes later, the organizers opened the barrier and let the rest of us non-special people/non-ticket holders in the queue. This is it! I couldn’t help but do a happy jig as I finally entered hallowed ground. The host was constantly reminding the crowd that we could only have one photo with him and one item signed by Michael. Yes, yes, we heard you. But I still have no bloody idea what I was going to do or say to him.
(a) Do I go the fangirl route and say, “I love youuuu, Michael!!”?
Nah, too predictable. And if I didn’t do that in front of the Michael Schumacher, I sure as heck wouldn’t do that to Michael Owen. Besides, he might get scared.
(b) Do I go the serious football fan route and say, “I wish you never left Liverpool!”?
Nah, what’s the purpose? It’s all in the past now, and I don’t want to spoil his mood.
(c) Do I tell him he was the one who got me into football and that he changed my life and even though football nearly ruined it I wouldn’t have changed any bloody thing in the world?
Nah, I’m not the rambling, overly-sharing type. Why are you snickering?!
See, before his arrival, my friend and I were discussing what would probably be my reaction upon finally seeing him, and although we made ourselves laugh with exaggerated impressions of myself doing the craziest, most embarrassing things, I knew within myself that no matter what, I would be calm, cool and collected. I may have the tendency to be starstruck but I’m not the crazy fan type. Then again, there’s a first time for everything…
Finally, it was my turn. *insert internal excited screaming here* I handed my camera to one of the organizers and as I turned to step up to the platform, I had the surprise of seeing Michael was already looking at me, smiling–and good heavens, time stopped. Here is the part where I shall unapologetically wax poetic about his eyes, because they’re the kindest, nicest, sparkliest shade of hazel I’ve seen in my entire life. Yes, photos and videos do not do them justice. And the fact that those special pair of eyes were looking only at me is just the craziest, most awesome thing ever. Anyway, I managed to say, “Hi, Michael!” as I approached him (and I immediately judged myself because it was too high-pitched for my liking. Ugh), and Michael responded with a cheerful “Hello!”.
So far, so good. No fainting, no crazy antics, no scaring Michael off.
As the organizers were preparing to take our lone photo, I sneakily placed my mobile phone face down on the table and pushed it towards Michael:
Me: *mutters under my breath while maintaining my smile* “Michael, could you sign this, please?”
MO: *Looks at my phone* “This? Oh, sure.” *signs the back of my phone*
Our photo was then taken and Michael signed the photo provided by the organizers. I heard the security guy hurrying me along, but I needed to have one more exchange with him:
Me: *collects my stuff* “Thank you, Michael!”
MO: “You’re welcome.”
Me: “You know what, you should come to the Philippines, Michael. We love you there!”
MO: *gives me a surprised smile that may have possibly reduced my heart to smithereens* “Okay!”
I waited for my friend HM to finish her turn, and the funny thing was she managed to tell Michael that we flew all the way from the Philippines just to meet him, which was again rewarded by that signature boyish smile. She also got him to sign my England badge. What one item only rule? That’s what friendship is truly about.
After we exited the meet and greet area, we went up one level to simply stare at him as he went on with the autograph signing and photo-taking event. We marveled at the quality of merchandise that some fans have brought with them (One had a replica of his shirt when he helped Liverpool win the 2001 FA Cup! Another girl had a pinup of him from the British magazine Smash Hits which was published in 1998! Loads brought hardbound books of him that I only saw just now!), but to be honest, we mostly marveled at how bloody good-looking he is in person. Not in a David Beckham-metrosexual-I-need-hours-to-get-ready kind of way but in a wholesome, boy-next-door, best-of-British sort of way. The type you would definitely want your parents to meet. Before I go into 50 Shades of Fangirl territory, the organizers then announced that Michael had to leave, but that instead of meeting fans one by one, he would go around the barriers and sign for the rest of them. He finished signing everything (even autographed a dress of a sleeping toddler, as requested by the father!) and then exited the area via the glass elevator. My friend and I managed to shout a cheeky “We love you, Michael!” as he passed us in the elevator. In the blink of an eye, he was whisked away by a Range Rover and out of our sight.
Just like that, it was over and I was left reeling. In the best possible way.
The rest of the trip went by in a blur. Absolutely nothing dampened my mood and all I could think about was that encounter. Sometimes, you really have to take life by the balls and just go for what you want. Life is too short to not celebrate your passions.
So thank you from the bottom of my heart, Mr. Michael James Owen—and screw that cliché about not meeting your heroes because they might disappoint you—I would gladly go through that over and over again.
And just in case I’ve not made it crystal clear: Yes, he was absolutely worth the 17-year wait.
- The dress I wore when I met Michael Owen was the same dress I wore when I met Michael Schumacher. Coincidence? Luck? Or is that dress some sort of a “Michael Magnet”?
- I was supposed to be named Michael had I been born a boy. Perhaps that partly explains my fascination with Michaels.
- In case you were wondering, Michael’s bet to win the World Cup is Argentina.
- I have a brief video of Michael during the Q&A portion, but it’s shaky as heck, so I shan’t subject you to that.
- To view decent-quality photos of the event, here is the link to the Facebook page of Wisma Atria.