Sports Ruin My Life/Keep Me Sane.

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(N.B. I originally wrote this piece around the same time last year, but for some reason, it languished unfinished on my drafts, until I found it again this year. While I am doing much better now, the general sentiment remains the same.)

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“When someone talks about something/someone they love, let them. You have no idea how much that love has saved them.”

I posted that thought as a tweet many months ago, and it got a lot of interactions and positive replies.

I sit here right now in front of the TV, watching a Wimbledon match, and I was ramdomly struck by the thought: “How many years have I been doing this?”

The truth is that I am struggling right now. I shall not bore or burden you with the minutest details, but I am in that place where I am aware of how I am still fortunate and blessed in the grand scheme of things, but at the same time, I am deeply dissatisfied with myself and my current situation. Not somewhere you’ll want to be, I assure you.

Anyway, the sound of tennis balls rhythmically getting whacked got me into thinking how several sports have managed to not only entertain me, but also kept me (relatively) sane and cocooned (both positively and negatively) from real life throughout the years. Watching sports has become one of my self-care/self-preservation mechanisms, and here’s a (not-quite-so) brief rundown of my history.

I used to feel kind of…alone back then, when I realized just how unusual my coping mechanism of watching and following multiple sports was. Surely there were more people like me? Nobody I knew in real life could relate to this side of myself, and it was partly frustrating and at the same time, strangely satisfying.

Enter the Internet.

However, I am getting a little ahead of myself…

Tennis

A local government TV channel used to broadcast old Wimbledon matches at odd hours, and I remember watching them as a kid, when I refused to take afternoon naps and there wasn’t anything interesting/good on TV. Steffi Graf and Andre Agassi became my instant favorites, and when my family finally got cable TV installed, Wimbledon became my favorite Tennis Grand Slam. All throughout high school, I would stay up late watching the matches, and it continued until my university years and beyond. There is something soothing about the sound of tennis balls being whacked. The level of competition and fitness required to succeed and dominate is just insane. Of course now my absolute favorites are the inimitable Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic, and yes, I dedicated a whole blog post to explain why.

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Snooker

I’ve struggled with insomnia for a huge part of my life, and I suppose my schedule and workload in university exacerbated it. I’ve often seen Snooker matches on TV when I channel-surfed, but ignored them because I was more of a 9 Ball pool fan back then, aside from the fact that I had no clue how the game was played. A good friend from university managed to convince me to give it a watch, and when I researched and understood the rules, I could not stop watching it. Hooked was an understatement! There was something about the sound of the snooker balls colliding that calmed me, and I loved mentally calculating the points and anticipating the tactics/snookers (yes, I am such a geek at times). Coincidentally, back then most Snooker matches were televised after midnight, so my parents often found me sitting in front of the TV during the wee hours of the morning, watching men in bow ties with long sticks skillfully hiding balls. Every now and then, my Dad used to join me, and I had to explain to him all the rules, after which I often found him asleep after around half an hour of watching. Turns out Snooker was too soothing for him.

P.S. I was beyond heartbroken when my then-favorite snooker player Paul Hunter passed away. A few years after that, my sports cable channels ceased televising snooker matches altogether. I still miss it.

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9 Ball Pool

Filipino players are extremely good at it. Efren Bata Reyes is a legend of the sport. My father and brother plays it recreationally, and that’s why I gravitated towards watching it. Cable TV enabled me to watch many international matches, albeit at strange hours. I loved the technicalities and the trick shots and watching Physics in action. I even became a bit invested in the Mosconi Cup, 9 Ball Pool’s version of the Ryder Cup, as well as the World Cup of Pool. I’m not sure why but my cable sports channel somehow stopped televising pool competitions.

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Golf

Speaking of the Ryder Cup, I had a Golf Phase. I think it was partly because I chat with a lot of British Football fans at that time, which influenced me to check out the Ryder Cup. Of course I was firmly Team Europe. I despised those “In the hole!” screams from American fans every time their player hits the ball. I had (/have) a soft spot for Sergio Garcia and Luke Donald, and I was so pleased when Garcia finally got the Masters he deserves.

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Rugby

It was the year 2003. I couldn’t escape the coverage of the Rugby World Cup, so I thought, if you can’t beat them, join them. Even before I watched my first match, I’ve already chosen England to support, to match my Football Team, and for consistency’s sake. Being a newbie, I had no idea back then that England wasn’t highly-fancied to go far, let alone win the World Cup. But I didn’t care, the more matches I watched, the more I enjoyed the sport. Fast forward to the Final and I couldn’t be more pleased that England made it. By then, I was already far too emotionally-involved. I prayed to the Rugby gods to let England take the cup. And that amazing Jonny Wilkinson tournament-winning drop goal? It still gives me the chills. Post-WC, I went full-geek and learned about the sport, the history, the Rugby Union vs Rugby League thing/rivalry. I managed to maintain being up-to-date on it for several years, but the decline in coverage of it in my country gradually lessened my passion for it, too. I still faithfully watch the Six Nations and the World Cups, and yes, despite not being able to sustain their level or even equal their 2003 campaign, I still have a very soft spot for the England Rugby Team.

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Basketball

I became a basketball fan at the age of two, mainly because my Dad used to watch it a lot. We supported different local teams, and had a “friendly but heated” rivalry. Basketball was, and is, still quite huge in my country. I remember rushing home after school just so I can watch the local league matches on TV, and buying stacks of local basketball magazines just to get to know my favorite players and to further understand the sport. My moods sometime were influenced by how my teams fared. As I grew older, my interest expanded to the NBA, and Michael Jordan became the Ultimate Basketball Player/Demigod in my book. Basketball was IT for me back then, until, one day, serendipity made a certain sport permanently dislodge it from my heart. Which brings us to…

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Football

Where do I even begin? I suppose I can (partly) blame Michael Owen for igniting my interest. I randomly chanced upon the highlights of the Liverpool vs Wimbledon match where he scored his first-ever goal for Liverpool FC, and for some reason (other than overactive teenage hormones), I had the feeling that that fresh-faced boy–just a few years older than I am–will become a worldwide superstar. A few months and some heavy-duty research later, I was a bona fide Liverpool FC fan, and the World Cup 1998 started. That World Cup changed my life. It was the first World Cup I’ve seen on free TV thanks to the official Philippine government channel. It was the first time I watched match reruns over and over again. Owen’s Spectacular Goal vs Argentina cemented my prediction that he will become Football’s Golden Boy. I literally cried when the England players shed tears after their penalty shootout loss. It was the first time I foregone sleep to watch the France vs Brazil Final, and finally understood why it is the most popular sport in the world. I used to save my allowance to buy the ridiculously expensive magazines. When my parents decided to get cable TV, I had my fill of highlights shows and the UEFA Champions League. When I finally got coverage of the English Premier League, I felt as if Life had finally begun (insert singing cherubs here). I joined Football forums, Football chat rooms, Football groups, the whole nine yards. I learned about formations, tactics, player backgrounds, club histories and rivalries. I wrote to players (cringe) to get autograph cards. I attempted to stream cup finals on dial-up internet. I made friends from all over the world because of Football. I’d be so engrossed discussing Football with fellow fans that I’d go to sleep at 9AM and then wake up at 1PM to go to university. I’d stay up to do my architectural drawings with the Spanish Primera Liga matches in the background. I learned the jargon and the songs and the inside jokes and got the latest transfer news and gossip straight from the most unlikely sources. I could probably write a dissertation on all the ridiculous, silly, hilarious, and juicy things I have done/found out all for the love of Football. But, perhaps those should be discussed in another blog post altogether.

P.S. Here is a sample, if you’re interested.

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MotoGP

MotoGP and I didn’t start off so well. While I’ve already loved F1 for many years, back then, I couldn’t fathom why anyone would choose to watch motorcycle racing over car racing. Oh, and MotoGP schedules at times interfered with my Football matches back then, which annoyed me. But then one day I watched an ESPN Sports Center special where they talked about this up and coming Spanish racer called Dani Pedrosa, and I got curious enough to check out one of his 250cc races. The rest, is history. I was converted. I finally got what the fuss was all about. I knew Valentino Rossi was the main man but I didn’t care. Dani Pedrosa became THE rider for me. He had that intangible something that spoke to me. The lean angles, the engine debates, the constant tussling, the tire wars, the rider rivalries–I relished them all. There’s hardly any boring or unremarkable MotoGP races, and that says something about the quality of its talents. There’s a quote by F. Scott Fitzgerald that goes, ‘There are all kinds of love in this world but never the same love twice’. I’m so glad I opened my mind enough for me to realize that my heart is capable of loving more than one racing series.

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Formula 1

If you’re not new to this blog and/or you follow me on Twitter, then you most probably already know that it’s Michael Schumacher and the scaled model of his 1994 Benetton car that got me into F1. F1 is THE racing series for me. My love for it is at times beyond explanation. I’m fascinated with the cars and the science and the technology and the ingenuity and the characters and the history and the glamor and the grit involved. It is the sport that made me throw caution into the wind and got me to travel alone. I drained my bank account when I was new to the workforce just to see my first F1 race back in 2009. I had to hold back tears the moment I first heard the roar of an F1 engine in person. I have often waxed poetic about F1 in this blog, and briefly touched on how it has helped me cope throughout the years. Not a day goes by without me thinking about returning to the race track so I can add more items and anecdotes to my list of ridiculous/hilarious/awesome experiences during a race weekend. I am not blind to its faults and shortcomings, there have been plenty of times where it has disappointed me and pissed me off beyond belief, and yet I keep coming back to it. I will defend Michael Schumacher until my dying breath. He is my all-time favorite and always will be. One of the best memories of my fangirl life is finally getting to meet Schumi in person. I bleed the red of Ferrari and legitimately shed tears when I saw a Ferrari double podium in the flesh during the 2015 F1 Night Race. I know far too much about F1 for my own good and yet I still feel as if I have barely scratched its surface. F1 has enabled me to meet many wonderful people and has given me opportunities and experiences that I will always hold dear to my heart. Is it any wonder that twenty-four years later, I still love it with the intensity of a hundred suns?

The car and the driver that started it all…

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I can honestly go on and on for much longer.

I don’t necessarily want to be the people I watch; I just find pleasure, escape, and I suppose a form of therapy and catharsis in being a spectator. For a certain period of time, “real life” is suspended and you get to be in a world within another world where you don’t have to be or do anything but watch, and yet, you are somehow included in an extraordinary communal experience that sometimes defies explanation.

All the times I have cried due to sports–whether out of agony or euphoria–I can still very clearly remember. The times I have bargained and prayed to the universe and all entities that will listen–hilarious in retrospect but no doubt will happen again. And again. It’s astounding to find out the spectrum of emotions you can go through in such a short amount of time. My empathy and sympathy levels have been vastly improved because of sports. Sports teach you how to win, how to lose, and how to be…human.

I could have had a different life had I not fallen in love with sports. I could have been…something. I could have become someone else.

But, sports have given me far, far more than it has taken away. And for that, I am grateful.

Regrets? None. I wouldn’t have had it any other way. Now, excuse me while I go find a sport to watch on TV…

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.

Bouncebackable Footballer: Xabi Alonso.

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The Midfield Maestro. The Long Ranger. Flawless GQMF.

It is with equal parts shame and pride that I’ll confess to not liking him when news first broke of his move to Liverpool from Real Sociedad in 2004. Firstly, he was one-half of the Spanish twosome (the other being Luis Garcia) whose purchase was partly-funded by the money Real Madrid CF paid Liverpool FC for the sale of Michael Owen, and since my “I’ve-just-lost-my-favourite-footballer-to-another-club” wound was still so raw that it was seriously impairing my ability to think clearly, it was with near-complete disdain that I assessed his arrival. Secondly, he was handed the number 14 shirt, which was then an empty number for several years, and since it’s my favourite number, my line of thinking was that even a football demigod wouldn’t be deemed worthy to have that number on their back (real mature of me, I know). I immediately decided that I was not going to like this Spaniard–Ever.

However, Alonso proceeded to prove me wrong on every account of my rather-superficial and highly-irrational disdain for him with every single match that he played, with every single pass he completed. The fluidity of his passing and sheer awareness of the game made me appreciate the midfield wars and tactics as much as I anticipate the elusive attacking breakaways. I consider him as one of the most clever and intelligent footballers out there–he’s calm in the face of a storm, confident without being arrogant and a natural leader without being an usurper. Far from being a flashy player, he still ends up as one of the most powerful and influential players in any match when he is at his absolute best. From club football to international football, his sheer class shines through. Eminence grise, indeed.

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Bossing the Liverpool Midfield.

Even though he resisted the overtures of Juventus, when Real Madrid came a-calling, it was an offer he could not refuse, and when he left Anfield to come back to the Spanish La Liga to join Los Blancos, I felt a deep and immeasurable sadness stemming from the knowledge that Liverpool FC will never be the same again.

This year though has brought about a double whammy: His time in the International stage and in La Liga has come to a close. True, he will still be very much visible in club football terms as he is now part of the German Bundesliga giants Bayern Munich, but now that he has vacated the number 14 La Roja and Real Madrid shirts, the hole that was left is truly a Herculean task to fulfill.

And so in the end, I was (partly) right—in my eyes, no one can possibly wear the number 14 shirt of Liverpool FC (and La Roja) ever again and be really, truly, categorically worthy of it. It’s just not possible. Xabi Alonso set the bar far too high.

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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.

 

101 Random And (May Not Be) Obscure Football Trivia, Part 2.

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I never expected the first part of this to be one of the most popular and most-viewed articles on my blog, and so without further ado, I shall give the public what they want–More football trivia to get your geek on:

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Show-Offs and Bragging Right-Holders.

In Premier League history, the only player to have scored 3 perfect hat-tricks (1 header, 1 from right foot, 1 from left) is Robbie Fowler.

Players with the most number of hattricks in the Premier League: Alan Shearer (11); Robbie Fowler (9); Thierry Henry (8); Michael Owen (8); Wayne Rooney (6).

Liverpool’s Martin Skrtel holds the Premier League record of scoring the fastest brace by a defender (9 minutes and 28 seconds).

Dani Alves is currently the La Liga player with the most wins over Real Madrid: 13 (8 with Barcelona and 5 with Sevilla).

The partnership of Andy Cole and Peter Beardsley during the 1993-1994 season for Newcastle has produced the most number of goals at 55, followed by Didier Drogba and Frank Lampard for Chelsea (51 during 2009-2010) and Alan Shearer and Chris Sutton for Blackburn (49 during 1994-1995).

Four players who’ve all played in the Liverpool and Manchester Derbies, as well as Spain’s El Clasico: Nicolas Anelka, Mark Hughes, Steve McManaman and Michael Owen.

Both Nicolas Anelka and Michael Owen have scored goals in all of them too.

5 Goalkeepers who have scored a goal (or more) in the Premier League: Peter Schmeichel, Brad Friedel, Paul Robinson, Tim Howard and Asmir Begovic.

Ryan Giggs has won more trophies (34) since 1991 than the whole of Manchester City FC (14) since 1889.

Luis Suarez now holds the record for scoring the most goals in a Premier League season (excluding penalties).

Jari Litmanen was voted Finnish Footballer of the Year for seven consecutive years (1992-1998).

David Beckham has scored the most direct free kicks in the history of the English Premier League (15).

Belgian goalkeeper Simon Mignolet can speak 4 languages (English, French, German and Dutch) and has a degree in Political Science.

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Bad Boys, Bad Boys… 

Joey Barton was made to serve 200 hours of community service in 2009 as punishment for beating up his teammate Ousmane Dabo during training.

Robin van Persie was accused of rape in 2005 and was held in jail for 14 days. These allegations have never been proven true and were dismissed.

On January 1991, then-Sheffield United player Vinnie Jones was booked within 5 seconds of play vs Manchester City. He beat his own record a year later, when as a Chelsea player, he was booked after 3 seconds, while the ball was still in the center circle.

Eric Cantona was banned from the French National Team in 1988 after he described his manager Henri Michel “a sack of shit”.

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The Strange, the Curious and the WTF-worthy.

Michael Owen has taken 21 penalties in the Premier league, but has only converted 14 of them. So far, Wayne Rooney has the same record.

Technically, Juan Pablo Angel has the worst penalty conversion rate in the Premier League, having only scored 50% of the penalties he has taken.

Which team has been awarded the most number of penalties in Premier League history? Liverpool FC with 119 (as of January 2014).

Robert Lewandowski was supposed to fly to England for a £3 million move to Blackburn in 2008, but a volcanic ash cloud prevented him from completing the move in time.

Cristiano Ronaldo was once told by his school teacher to forget about football as there’s “no money to be made there”.

Famous chef Gordon Ramsay’s hopes of becoming a professional footballer was ended by a knee injury.

Spanish TV presenter Sara Carbonero, the girlfriend of Real Madrid’s Iker Casillas (as well as the baby momma of his son Martin), is an Atletico Madrid supporter.

Fernando Torres has his name tattooed in Tengwar, the script from Lord of the Rings.

India withdrew from the 1950 World Cup in protest at the rule that requires players to wear boots.

The 1981 FA Cup Final between Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspurs ended in a 1-1 draw, with Man City’s Tom Hutchinson scoring both goals.

An England centre-forward during the 1890s called G.O. Smith had an unusual quirk for his position: he refused to head the ball. He believed that the ball should stay on the ground and that the forwards who needed to use their head were not playing the game correctly.

In the run-up to the 15th World Cup, held in USA in 1994, Macau played 6 games in the Asian group, lost all 6, scored zero goals and conceded 46.

Jose Mourinho is the first manager to lose in 4 UEFA Champions League Semifinals. He’s lost 6 in total.

Since the Premiership replaced the old First Division in 1992-1993, no English manager has succeeded in winning it.

Cesc Fabregas is afraid of mushrooms.

Kaka was a virgin when he got married.

David Batty was once sidelined for 3 weeks after his child ran over his ankle with a tricycle.

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Quote Them On That

Dutch striker Ruud Van Nistelrooy once told Argentinian striker Gonzalo Higuain that “Goals are like ketchup, you keep hitting the bottle and eventually plenty comes out”!

Andrei Arshavin once said, “I started off playing checkers. When I realized that I won’t be able to become an International Grand Master, I had to leave it for football.”

“The natural state of the football fan is bitter disappointment, no matter what the score.” –Nick Hornby

“All I know for certain about the morality and the obligations of men is that I owe it to football.” –Albert Camus

“Ryan Giggs is one of those rare players who could play football in a phone box and find the door no matter how many players were in there with him.” –Carlos Queiroz

“I took a whack on my left ankle, but something told me it was my right.” –Lee Hendrie

“My wife often complains about my tactics. She tells me to stick with the players who won the last match.” –Pep Guardiola

“He’s a specialist in failure. I am not.” Jose Mourinho on Arsene Wenger.

“They taught us at school that family is the most important thing for a human. Roma is my family. Have you ever heard of someone who left his poor parents to live with rich strangers?” –Francesco Totti when asked why he refused to join Real Madrid back in 2006.

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Milestones and History Lessons

The 700th goal scored in the Premier League was by Tomas Rosicky of Arsenal vs Sunderland (February 2014).

Lionel Messi became the youngest player ever to play 400 matches for FC Barcelona at 26 years and 7 months, beating his teammate Andres Iniesta’s record (he was 27 years and 11 months old at the time).

Statistically speaking, Arsene Wenger is more successful during his first 1000 matches with Arsenal compared to how Sir Alex Ferguson did during his first 1000 matches with Manchester United.

Fabrice (at 16 years and 98 days old) is currently the youngest player to score in La Liga history.

Ryan Giggs (at 40 years and 110 days old) currently holds the record for the oldest outfield player to play in the knockout stages of the UEFA Champions League.

The goal scored by Edin Dzeko (Manchester City) after just 44 seconds is the fastest goal scored by an away team at Old Trafford in Premier League history.

Fernando Torres became the youngest captain of Atletico Madrid at 19 years old.

Bryan Robson’s netted strike vs then-Yugoslavia (December 13, 1989) after 38 seconds was the fastest goal scored in Wembley.

The Hall of Fame was created at the National Football Museum in Preston in 2002, and 29 people who were deemed to have made an ‘outstanding and lasting contribution to English Football’ were inducted into the roll of honour.

The governing body of Football, the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA to you and me), was founded at the rear of the HQ of the Union Francaise de Sports Athletiques in Paris on May 21, 1904. The English Football Association—the oldest in the world—refused to join until April 1905.

Football was introduced into Moscow by an English mill owner, Clem Charnock, who showed the game to his Russian workers in 1887.

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The First, The Last, The Everything…

Fernando Llorente is the first player from Athletic Bilbao to represent Spain when he was called up in 2002. He also plays the clarinet.

Sergio Ramos is the first defender to score 2 goals in a UEFA Champions League semifinal.

Karim Benzema is not only the first Frenchman to score a brace vs FC Barcelona since Thierry Henry, he’s also the first to score a brace against them at the Bernabeu since Raul.

Scott Parker is the first player to be signed for 5 London clubs (Charlton, Chelsea, West Ham, Tottenham, and Fulham) in his Premier League career.

Borussia Dortmund were the first-ever German side to win a European trophy in 1966, beating Liverpool 2-1 after extra time in the final of the Cup Winners Cup.

Only 15 teams took part in the first-ever FA Cup, and 13 of them were from London. The other 2 were Donington School from Lincolnshire and Queen’s Park from Scotland.

Ian Rush is the last Liverpool player to score 30 goals in a season, setting that record in 1986-1987.

Kevin Phillips is the last Englishman to win the Premier League Golden Boot back in the 1999-2000 season.

Everton FC were the first football club to play in Anfield.

On April 23, 1927 (also known as St. George’s Day), the first radio commentary of a football match was broadcast in the United Kingdom. The commentator on the Arsenal-Cardiff City match was George Allinson, and his assistant was Derek McCulloch.

Blackpool first wore their distinctive tangerine strip in the 1923-24 season. The colour was suggested by a club director named Albert Hargreaves, who was inspired by the Dutch national team and thought that orange would help Blackpool stand out among fellow English clubs.

The first indoor arena used in a World Cup was the Pontiac Silverdrome in the United States city of Detroit, which was one of the venues for the 1994 World Cup.

The first recipient of the Football Writers’ Association Footballer of the Year Award was Stanley Matthews of Blackpool in 1948.

In 1888, while still having the name Small Heath Alliance, Birmingham City was the first club to adopt limited liability. The share capital of the club was £650.

The first team to win the FA Cup three times in a row were the Wanderers. They won 3 finals from 1876-1878 beating Old Etonians, Oxford University and Royal Engineers.

The first player to be capped by England while playing for a foreign team was Gerry Hitchens. The former Aston Villa player played for Inter Milan and a number of Italian clubs between 1961-1970.

The first major football tournament won on penalties was the 1976 European Championship. Czechoslovakia beat West Germany.

The Mitropa Cup was the first major international cup for club teams. The name Mitropa is an abbreviation of Mitteleuropa which means Middle or Central Europe. The competition began in 1927 originally with 2 teams each from Hungary, Austria, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia.

Arthur Wharton was the first black professional footballer in Britain. Born in Ghana in 1865, he played in goal for a number of clubs including Preston North End and Sheffield United.

Cristiano Ronaldo is the first player to break the 15 goals-in-a-season tally in the UEFA Champions League during the 2013-2014 season.

Diego Godin of Atletico Madrid is the first Uruguayan to score in an UEFA Champions League Final (2014 vs Real Madrid).

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I Didn’t Know That

4x Formula One World Champion Sebastian Vettel’s favourite team is Eintracht Frankfurt.

Football commentator Martin Tyler reportedly lives in a house called Squirrels Leap.

Jamie Carragher started his career with England as a striker.

Fernando Torres started playing football as a goalkeeper.

Gerard Pique’s girlfriend, famous popstar Shakira, is a MENSA member.

Aaron Ramsey was actually approached to play rugby when he was younger but was already signed to Cardiff City’s youth team.

John Terry started out as a Manchester United supporter.

Sergio “Kun” Aguero is Diego Maradonna’s son-in-law.

As a youngster, Michael Schumacher’s hero was Toni Schumacher (no relation), Cologne and West Germany’s goalkeeper.

The goal net was patented by J.A. Brodie of Liverpool in 1890.

Two-handed throw-ins were made mandatory in 1882.

What is The Acme Thunderer? It is a brand of whistle invented by Birmingham toolmaker Joseph Hudson in 1884, and is still used to this day in football.

It was only in 1891 that penalties were introduced.

A match that is brought to a halt before the end of the full 90 minutes is classified as “abandoned”.

The Italian system of play called catenaccio literally means “door bolt” and describes the defensive wall approach used in Italy. The system involves 4 markers at the back with a player (a sweeper) behind them—a door bolt.

Peter Corr, an ex-Ireland and Everton player, is the paternal uncle of the Irish siblings/musicians The Corrs.

There has never been a knockout tie in the UEFA Champions League that has ended on 0-0 aggregate.

The Mexico vs Bulgaria match during the 1994 World Cup was held up for 15 minutes due to one of the goals collapsing.

The full and formal name of FC Barcelona’s home stadium is El Nou Estadi del Futbol Club Barcelona.

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What’s In A Name?

Manchester United’s original name was Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway Newton Heath. It was then shortened to Newton Heath before becoming Manchester United FC in 1902.

There are 20 top-flight British clubs that have the word ‘United’ in their name: Sheffield United, Newcastle United, Scunthorpe United, West Ham United, Manchester United, Carlisle United, Southend United, Hartlepool United, Ayr United, Leeds United, Dundee United, Torquay United, Hereford United, Rotheram United, Boston United, Peterborough United, Colchester United, Cambridge United, Oxford United, Airdrie United.

Founded in 1891, the Uruguayan club of Peñarol was then known as The Central Uruguay Railway Cricket Club.

The Czech club Sparta Prague was originally called King’s Vineyard when it was founded in 1893.

Manchester City’s first name was West Gordon St. Marks when they were founded in 1880. It changed to Ardwick FC in 1887 before becoming Manchester City in 1894.

81 The Finnish team FC Jazz was founded in 1934 under the name Porin Pallo-Toveritand. Their current name comes from the fact that they are based in Pori, the home to an annual jazz festival.

The Mexican club Atlante once called themselves U-53 in honour of a German U-boat.

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Until the next installment! Stay bouncebackable!

 

An Open Letter To Michael Owen.

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Dear Michael,

I honestly don’t know where to start, or how to begin.

Only a few days are left until the start of the new season of the English Premier League, and I realized that I should have done this letter months ago, but somehow, I just…couldn’t. The mind was willing, but the heart was not. I didn’t have the proper words then. I’m not even sure if I do right now.

Denial: It is not just a river in Egypt.

I may be able to inject some humour and sarcasm now but believe me, my heart is still broken in a tiny million pieces thanks to your retirement from football last May. If you must know, I found out about it from the weirdest source: Piers Morgan. On Twitter. Yes, your fiercest, most favourite frienemy ironically delivered the heartbreaking news to me. I was thrown sideways. I imagined myself flooding the whole street with tears and throwing the most massive strop to end all strops once your retirement has been confirmed, but instead, I sat very still for a long time, staring at the mobile phone, just trying to digest what I’ve read. It wasn’t just a cruel joke, it was real, and man, was it painful.

I did not even get to properly watch your very last match as a professional football player, as my ever-useful cable sports channels did not broadcast the Stoke City match live and I had to make do with watching the game on my mobile phone’s tiny screen, praying to all football gods that will listen for the online stream to keep going. It reminded me of the times I’ve foolishly attempted to watch Liverpool/England matches online using a dial-up internet connection. Fun times.

Anyway, I’ll come clean already: Football for me will never be the same without you. The retirements of Jamie Carragher and David Beckham have already mercilessly injured my heart, but yours was quite simply the ultimate blow. The sheer finality of it is what‘s hurting me the most. There will never be enough time nor space in my blog for me to document all the funny, crazy, amazing and wonderful things I’ve done for you and for football (although someday, I may attempt it as they’ll make for interesting reading—check back regularly). You have been an inextricable part of my life for 16 years, without you even having the slightest bit of idea that a girl from the tropics of South East Asia is ever so thankful for your very existence. I may not have always agreed with your professional choices, but I’ve never stopped believing in you and having your back. That’s what a true-blue, ride-or-die supporter is all about.

All those years have never been easy, but you know what? I wouldn’t have had it any other way. Every smile, laugh, cheer, tear, eye-roll, hissyfit, heart-in-throat moments and the like? All worth it. You were worth it.

Believe me, my answer to the question of, “Who’s your all-time favourite football player?” will always, always be the same.

Michael James Owen.

The English Wonderboy. The Babyfaced Quicksilver Assassin. St. Michael. MO.

Nobody else.

Cristiano Ronaldo? Lionel Messi? Nah, they just can’t hold a candle on you. Granted, they are both amazingly-talented footballers, but they were not the ones who inspired me and made me love the beautiful game—with all its glory and pitfalls—as much as you have.

So how am I going to face this new season of football, knowing fully well that I won’t be seeing you work your magic on the pitch anymore? I suppose I’ll take it one match at a time. It will be difficult, but I’ll get through this (get the violins out).

It is a bit comforting to know that I’m part of this generation of football fans that was lucky enough to have witnessed your incredible career. I will always hope and pray that one day, I will be able to see you play football in person—I care not whether it is for a massive testimonial or just a simple 5-a-side match—the football lover in me shall never rest until that mission has been accomplished.

And yes, I shall be looking forward to your new career as a football pundit and commentator. What an excellent choice as I, along with many other fans, consider you as one of the very few “thinking footballers”—a rare breed that is slowly but surely facing extinction. I don’t even get the channel you’ll be on over here, but I can always find ways to follow you. You’re worth it.

See the effect you have on me? And I’m just a speck in the ocean of your many fans, those who truly support you, believe in you, and accept you for who you are—hamstrings and all.

Your signature chant is true, after all.

There’s Only One Michael Owen.

Thank you for everything, Michael. Enjoy the new chapter of your life.

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P.S.
Any chance of releasing an updated version of your autobiography Off The Record? I’m extremely curious to know your side of the story regarding your time at Newcastle United and that very controversial move to Manchester United. Please consider.

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Sincerely,
Bouncebackabilitrix
(Still your biggest fan this side of the world.)

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Still The One and Owenly.

The Bouncebackable Dictionary: REDTROGRADE.

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REDTROGRADE:

-A massive decline in quality and/or performance, especially pertaining to a team whose squad color is Red.

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Massive changes were expected in the Brendan Rodgers’ LFC era, but after 2 losses, 1 draw, and a lacklustre showing in the Transfer Window, fans are lamenting over another infamous redtrograde-in the making.

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