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.

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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!

 

Timewarp Thursday: Tales Of Footballmania, Part 1.

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

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

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Proof That Brazilians Hurt.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PB: “What happened?!”

Me: “I am going to CRY!”

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

PB: “Why?!”

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

*cue a fresh round of screams*

–Beckham and Mills celebrate with goalscorer Owen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Photo Of The Day: In Hopes Of A MasterStoke.

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He will wear Red and White, but will his future at Britannia be bright?

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The striker that might as well have “Polarizing Footballer” as his middle name has finally gotten himself a new club, and he’s back to wearing his old number, 10.

He still has a couple of years to prove his killer striking prowess, and I for one am glad he has chosen to remain in the English Premier League. Best of luck to you at Stoke City, Michael!

 

Unusual Nicknames In Football.

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Ah, name-calling: a practice that is now inextricable from the intricately-woven culture of football (and sport in general, actually).

Some are “legitimate”, some are gathered from various fansites, forums and word-of-mouth, and some are… from my colorful imagination. Wherever they’re from, all I know is, it is highly amusing and infinitely funnier to give footballers weird monickers:

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Xabi AlonsoMr. Perfect, Dexter, The Long Ranger


Daniel AggerDagger, Aggersome


Nicolas Anelka- Le Sulk

Andrei ArshavinArseshaving

David Beckham- Becksywecksy, Mr. PWhipped, Goldenballs

Joey BartonJoey Farton, JB, Mr. Hipster-Homicidal-Secretly a Teddy Bear Footballer

Craig Bellamy- Bellend

Rafa Benitez- Fat Spanish Waiter

Karim Benzema- KBenz

Dmitar Berbatov- BRBtov

Sepp Blatter- Sepptic Blatter, Sepp BlahBlahtter

Bojan- El Jailbait

Jamie Carragher- Carradonna, 23CarraGold

Iker Casillas- Mofeta, El Dork, San Nevernude

Petr Cech- Cechmate

Ashley Cole- A.Hole, Mr. Tweedy

Didier Drogba- The Drog, The Drog’s Balls

Patrice Evra- Whatevra

Cesc Fabregas- Cescbomb

Rio Ferdinand- Braapder, Oreo

Sir Alex Ferguson- Rednose, Purplenose, Hairdyer Master

Steven Gerrard- The G, Captain Fantastic

Pep Guardiola- Peppers

Guti- El Diva, Gutiiiiii!!!!

Roy Hodgson- Woyster

Gerard Houllier- Monsieur “We’re turning the corner soon”

Mats Hummels- Prince Mats

Andres IniestaCasper, Miniesta, Geniusta

Stephen Ireland- Stephen England; Otter

Toni Kroos- Count Kroos

Philip Lahm- Emperor Lahm

Frank Lampard- Mr. Deflection, Fat Lampard, Lumpard

Juan Mata- John Matter

Jose MourinhoJMo, Trollinho, Maureen

David Moyes- Gollum

Thomas Mueller- Precious Tommy

Michael Owen- Little Mickey, PermaCrock, MUMO

Lionel Messi- Football Messter, Mes Que Un Player

Mesut OzilBambi, Deer-Caught-In-Headlights

Gerard PiqueMr. Moc Moc, Mr. Christmas Tree, Piquechu, Mr. HerpDerp

Lukas Podolski- Polkadot, Prince Poldi

Carles Puyol- Slash, Tarzan

Peter Ramage- Rampage

Sergio Ramos- The Ramos, Alice in Wonderband, The Horse Whisperer, El Caballo

Harry Redknapp- ‘Arry ‘Oudini

Jamie Redknapp- Mr. “He’ll be disappointed with that”, Glass

Pepe Reina- El Jester, Pepsicle

Frank Ribery- The Face

Cristiano Ronaldo- Crispy, Eurogrease, Cristina

Ronaldo- Teletubby, Bucktooth

Wayne Rooney- Grannynator, Shrek

Bastian Schweinsteiger- Swaggermeister

Paul Scholes- Gingerpubes

Alan Shearer- She-Ra

David Silva- David Silver

Martin Skrtel- Skittles, Teenage Mutant Ninja Skrtle

Jay Spearing- Spearochaun

Luis Suarez- Gerbil

John Terry- Cockney Yob

Fernando Torres- Fernanda Tresses, Ratita

Francesco Totti- Top Totty

Victor Valdes- The “Not Iker Casillas” Spanish Goalkeeper, VV

Andre Villas-Boas- Mourinho 2.0, Like A Boas

Neil Warnock- Nutter Neil

Arsene Wenger- Mr. Myopia, Mr. “I Didn’t See The Incident”

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Do you have your own kickass contribution/s? Leave a comment below and I’ll add it/them to the list!