“Freefall”

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It’s been a while since I’ve last written about Football. And while this isn’t exactly about Football, a huge part of its raison d’être is due to this seemingly innocuous tweet:

Andres Iniesta–Spain and Barcelona player–is one of my all-time favorite footballers, and when someone of his caliber gives us a glimpse of the workings of his genius mind, then you’d better pay attention.

Please read the above article in full. It is worth it, I promise you.

I never expected to be so affected by its content; I thought I would just get to learn something new from a great footballer,  but I was in tears before I was halfway through the article.

Iniesta has managed to succinctly express what a lot of people are suffering from; what I often feel, in fact.

“Not depression exactly, not illness either, not really, but an unease,”
“It was like nothing was right.”

He needed help; he talks about being “on edge”, “vulnerable”, “victim of something that terrified me”.

Iniesta says he had felt as if he was in “freefall”.

The moment I saw that word was the moment I started to cry.

Have you ever had that moment when an epiphany hits you like a ton of bricks? That was one for me. A single word that encapsulated how I feel.

Freefall. We all experience that internally at some point in our lives. We exist, we function, we feel, we socialize, but nothing ever feels right. We question others, we question ourselves, we question our worth, and before we know it, it has become a perverse game we reluctantly, but regularly play.

“I know what’s it like, Andres. I know what it’s like.” My mind concurred as I continued to read the article.

Some would choose to easily dismiss these revelations and focus on the fact that he’s a world-famous footballer with enormous wealth and a myriad of honors. Boo-fricking-hoo. But he is human, just like the rest of us, and no amount of money or trophies can be a panacea for a broken or hurting psyche.

Imagine if Iniesta hadn’t done something about his struggle. The World Cup 2010 Final and the whole history of Football would have been extremely different. But he did overcome the darkness, and now that he has spoken up about it, perhaps many more others will be inspired to win their battles, too.

I never thought I could admire Iniesta more, but somehow, I have a newfound respect for him.

There are good days and bad days, but every day teaches me something. I cannot stress enough the importance of self-care and self-love.

If you, in any way, have been affected by this: Talk to family. Talk to friends. Consult a professional, if need be. Find an outlet. Do things that make you happy. Prioritize yourself: The people who love you the most want you to love yourself. Take it one day at a time. Life can be terrible and difficult but it is also wonderful and extraordinary. You are going to be all right. Breathe.

Gravity is not so bad. It’s better to hit the bottom and feel the full impact rather than be in a constant, endless state of freefall.

Only you can save yourself. You lead life; it does not lead you.

Go and have your Iniesta World Cup Moment. I am rooting for you.

The Iker Casillas Saga: When Parting Is Not Sweet Sorrow.

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Iker Casillas has left the building.

The Santiago Bernabeu Stadium, that is.

It was one of the longest drawn-out goodbyes/breakups in recent football history.  And boy, was it messy. Predictably, a sizeable amount of Real Madrid fans are still on meltdown mode.

I am not a Real Madrid supporter. I do, however, admire and dare I say it, love some of their past and current players. They are a very interesting team to watch, and they are probably the biggest Reality Show in Football (N.B. There also have been comparisons made with Game of Thrones, and really, they are not far wrong).

I have expected Iker’s departure for months now; the only question was to which club he will end up in. The Arsenal rumours were there for a long time, until they managed to snag Petr Cech from Chelsea which effectively put them out of the running. Roma, Fenerbache and a few other clubs were tossed around, but none of those apparently made the grade. Then came Porto.

It’s almost a strange joke by destiny; Iker ending up with the Portuguese club that is so strongly linked with Jose Mourinho—the Special One, a.k.a that Manager he famously fell out with during his tenure at Real Madrid (and possibly, that became the tipping point of everything). Not quite a few scratched their heads at this. Porto? The Portuguese League? Iker Casillas is a World Cup/2x European Champion for Spain and has had more than his fair share of titles and cups with Real Madrid. So how come no bigger club has taken an interest in him?

How did it all come to this?

One side of it is, Iker—nay, San Iker—wants us to believe that he has been unceremoniously pushed out from the beloved club he has dutifully served for 25 years. He was cheated financially, bullied, and pressured from all sides. The president and the board has allegedly mounted a multi-season smear campaign against him and despite his repeated wishes to stay on and fight for a place in the starting lineup, he was simply not wanted anymore. The now-infamous interview of his parents in El Mundo revealed juicy details that make up wet dreams of British tabloids.

(Sidebar: What bothered me most about that El Mundo interview was the bit where it was revealed that Iker has been estranged from his family for years now due to monetary/personal reasons. How come this hasn’t been picked up by the press sooner? Or perhaps I just missed it somehow?)

Conversely, the club wants us to believe that the Saint the public adores is not really a Saint but just a regular, even greedy footballer that got too big for his boots and tried to take on a club that has nurtured him for most of his career. The nerve! He was good, became a great and then throughout time, somehow turned …toxic. He leaked secrets, pushed out a manager and fellow players, and slowly became a symbol of division.   

There are three sides to this story: Iker’s, the Club’s and the Truth. Sadly, it seems we will never truly know the real score.

To quote Cersei Lannister-Baratheon, “When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die.”

Perhaps Iker should have demanded Trial by Combat instead, because he sure got mercilessly battered and lost the Public Trial that ensued.

Tears were unabashedly shed by Iker as he read his farewell statement—alone, and the event was simply attended by photographers and journalists. Not the ideal sendoff befitting a player of his caliber. Predictably, backlash ensued not just from the RM fans but from football fans in general, and so a “proper” farewell was arranged by having him stand in the middle of the Bernabeu pitch with the trophies he has won and letting fans inside the stadium for him to say adios to. Let us not forget the mini testimonial, and then photo calls with the President, holding his “Legacy Shirt” and being forced to put on smiles as though he means them.

It was a ridiculous and insulting charade and we all know it.

Perhaps Iker can take comfort from the fact that this was not the first time this has happened to a football player, and this will certainly not be the last.

Screw or be screwed. Sad, but this sums up the business of Football in this age.

Can time really heal all wounds? We shall see.

At the back of my mind, I think there will come a time when Iker will return to the Bernabeu; he will don the club shirt yet again and maybe play in one of the Corazon Charity Matches with his former colleagues. He will be glad to be back and put the ghosts of the past behind him, but for now, he needs to live with the choices he has made and start over.

Meanwhile, the fans can busy themselves expressing all their hatred and obscenities at Perez, but in the end, they will still buy their match tickets and the replica shirts of the new players. They will fill the stadium and resume singing the club songs. They will make new legends of fresh, unsuspecting players. They will perhaps remember Iker in passing and think, “He was good, and he was one of us.”

And life in the Santiago Bernabeu will go on.

 

The Mystery of (Sporting) Love.

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Why do we love who we love? Why do we allow ourselves to be subjected to the madness and agony of one-sided, unrequited love? Is the need to vicariously put our hopes and dreams on an individual or a team brain-based, or must we always blame it on the sentimentality of our hearts?

It’s a funny thing, sporting love. Some find it instantaneously/spontaneously, while for some, it is a slow burn. It’s a mixture of both for me. Never the same love twice, and all that. Having favourites is fun. And when your favourites end up as your sporting HGs, then it gets even better. What I do have to point out though, is that it is never about popularity nor notoriety for me. I was not, and will never be, a bandwagoner. Sure, the history aspect plays a part, but it is not necessarily a dealmaker nor a dealbreaker. The sportspersons/teams/clubs I support and unashamedly profess my love for are an interesting mixture of legends, legends-in-the-making, underdogs, the criminally-underrated, and yes, even some overrated ones.

Call it what you want–the X Factor, the spark, charisma, je ne sais quoi, star quality–I personally prefer the term “magic”. Yes, that’s what I saw in them all. Magic. That’s what got me hooked. It’s not the looks or the stats or the hype. It’s that special alchemy of terrific talent and human flaws that compel me to genuinely care.  Because really, what is the point of getting emotionally-invested to the point of absurdity if they are nothing short of magical to you?

Are they worth the effort/time/trouble? Sometimes no, but more often than not, absolutely. Love is crazy, annoying, unpredictable, frustrating, exhilarating. It has the power to make you or break you. Would you have had it any other way? Hell no.

So never apologize for loving who (or what) you love in a sporting context. All feelings are valid, no matter how simple or monumental they may be. Ironically, it should not be a competition, either. How are we supposed to even accurately measure the depth, intensity, and legitimacy of one’s sporting love? Better to just accept that to each their own, no judgments.

Own it. Flaunt it. Celebrate it. And let everyone know how gloriously liberating true and sincere (sporting) love is.

Ride Or Die.

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For some reason, or strange divine machination, you found him. Or her. Or them. They had talent. And charisma. Je ne sais quois. That valuable, intangible something. And you were mesmerized, enthralled even.

You decide to support them. To profess a certain level of “love” for them. Come what may, you will be there for them, cheering, sending positive vibes from a thousand miles away and defending them from critics and naysayers.

Time passes.

What happens when your hero shows signs of weakness, of mortality?

They stopped winning after years of domination. Cheated on their partner. Left your beloved club/team. Transferred to a rival club/team you absolutely despise. Media exposed a nasty habit/vice. Still haven’t won a title despite years of trying. Said the wrong thing on social media. It could be one big thing or a thousand, smaller things that piled up.

Disappointment consumes you. Heartbreak of epic proportions. You seriously question your devotion. Maybe you should move on. Maybe you have outgrown them. Maybe it is time to live in reality. Is this what falling out of love feels like?

You stop and think. You remember why you supported them in the first place. You smile. You feel like crying. There were good and bad times. But you wouldn’t trade all those memories for anything in the world. Abandoning them because of their faults won’t make them any lesser beings. It’s all on you.

In the end, you throw all caution to the wind. Get your shit together. You are not a fairweather fan. You are better than that. Who are you to judge? You are not perfect. You know the power of empathy. You choose to love your heroes because of their weaknesses, not inspite of them.

Heroes are not meant to be flawless. Perfection is boring and overrated.

Heroes are meant to be fallible. Heroes are meant to be human.

Heroes are meant to be as real as they can be.

And somehow, even though some things may change, some things in your heart will always stay the same.

Thoughts On Michael Owen: My Story.

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In case you haven’t noticed (or you’re new to this blog), I am and forever will be a Michael Owen fan. Let’s just get that out of the way already.

Despite having read his autobiography Off The Record, I’m still very much interested in anything Owen-related, so of course it was a much pleasant surprise when I found out that LFC TV has produced an interview/documentary entitled Michael Owen: My Story. It’s about time!

It was not easy for me as an overseas fan with no access to LFC TV content to see it, but I finally got hold of it from a fellow LFC fan who kindly uploaded it for me (you know who you are and you’re awesome!).

So where do I even begin?

What stands out about Michael Owen was just how confident he was (and still is, I suppose) about his talents and abilities not just as a football player but as a person. Money, image, fame and the like never factored into his journey—for him it was all about playing football and scoring goals. That clinical, almost single-minded approach earned him equal parts admiration and critique. But really, that’s just the way he was as a player, and I’m glad that up to now he stays true to himself and makes no apologies for it.

The first half discussed his humble beginnings, his meteoric rise to the Liverpool and England Senior Squad, as well as that extraordinary 2001 Treble Year that he was part of. It was amusing how even winning the European Football Player of the Year 2001 wasn’t that much of a big deal to him (at that time), and the gravity of it only sank into him a few years later. Seeing snippets of his goals as a Liverpool player made me feel as if I’m a teenager again, and that nothing mattered but the beautiful game that is Football.

To be honest, most of it was perfectly straightforward, nothing that a longtime Liverpool or Owen fan doesn’t already know, and although ex-teammates were mentioned in passing, only Carra’s name cropped up a lot. I know Michael and Jamie are still good mates until this very day, but what I really wanted the interviewer to touch on is how Michael and Steven Gerrard’s relationship are these days. I know Stevie wasn’t particularly happy when Michael signed for rivals Manchester United, and although they have crossed paths a number of times in Anfield, I have not heard of them interacting together like the old friends they once were. Am I being paranoid or are my suspicions valid? Anyway, the Owen-Gerrard rift (or lack thereof) shall have to remain a mystery for now.

And then things got really interesting.

“…Liverpool is in my heart…”

So that move to Real Madrid was finally brought up: Ten years may have passed (dear me, has it really been that long?!) but I still feel a knot in my stomach every time he talks about it.

And boy, did he talk about it. For the first time in years, the usually calm Owen surprisingly displayed a bevy of emotions as he discussed leaving Liverpool for Real Madrid, being denied a return by Newcastle and then making the decision to play for blood rivals Manchester United.

He still looks visibly hurt when he talked about being twice denied the opportunity to return to Liverpool, which he fondly called “his first love”, as well as being booed on his Anfield return and the strain in his relationship with some LFC fans. I just wanted to reach out and hug the screen because he sure looked like he needed a big one. (cue Take That’s “Back For Good”)

Saint Michael, The Wonderboy: He is human, after all. You never really forget or get over your first love.

The atmosphere was mostly relaxed, there was never a hint of sensationalism nor forced controversy. Overall, it was candid, earnest, at times heartbreaking and bittersweet.

Haters: All your arguments have been proven invalid.

Although some questions have been answered, I still have a hundred more unanswered ones. I’m still hoping that at some point in time, Michael will update his autobiography one more time to expound on his adventures. I feel like he has so much more to say. Forty-six minutes just weren’t enough—I want more of that emotionally-charged last 10 (or so) minutes!

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Haven’t seen it yet? Click HERE to view the complete interview online.

Tales Of Footballmania: How I (Finally) Met Michael Owen.

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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 may be 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 behind 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, I’m telling you.)

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.

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Move over, Iker Casillas!

Move over, Iker Casillas!

Owen sandwich

Owen sandwich

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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?!

The madness. Pic vis the Wisma Atria Instagram Page.

The madness. Pic via the Wisma Atria Instagram Page.

 

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.

What I'm feeling internally as he came out on stage.

What I’m feeling internally as he came out on stage.

The best pic my friend could take amidst the madness. I was too busy staring at him!

The best pic my friend could take amidst the madness. I was too busy staring at him!

 

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.

Quite possibly what I looked like when I saw him up close.

Quite possibly what I looked like when I saw him up close.

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!”

Right. I don't like posting personal photos in my blog but just to prove that I really did meet MO!

Right. I don’t like posting personal photos in my blog but just to prove that I really did meet MO!

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.

MeMOrabilia. :)

MeMOrabilia. 🙂

Me after the event.

Me after the event.

 

Footnotes:

  1. 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”?
  2. I was supposed to be named Michael had I been born a boy. Perhaps that partly explains my fascination with Michaels.
  3.  In case you were wondering, Michael’s bet to win the World Cup is Argentina.
  4. 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.
  5. To view decent-quality photos of the event, here is the link to the Facebook page of Wisma Atria.

 

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.

.

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