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…

GPOTD: Post-World Cup 2014 Thoughts.

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Yes, I am well aware of how late this is, but I’ve always been fond of the cliché “Better late than never”, so allow me to share some of my random ruminations, observations and verdicts on the fifth World Cup of my football-supporting life:

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Germany. Die Mannschaft. The Krauts. The Nutella Gang. Whatever you choose to call them, there’s only 4 words that can aptly sum up their WC 2014 campaign: They deserved to win.

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Champions of the World, at long last.

 

Mario Goetze made the record books as the first super sub to score a winning goal in a World Cup Final. Bet he never imagined that a single goal would change his life forever when he woke up that morning. Not bad for one day’s work.

Speaking of super players, Miroslav Klose has broken Ronaldo’s long-standing record of most goals scored in the World Cup. Not a bad way to end an international career, eh? What a legend.

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…Can score goals more than you.

 

Germany’s Manuel Neuer deserved to win the Golden Glove and then some. He was an absolute beast and a mountain that rival players could not get through. Move over, Iker Casillas*. There’s a new boss in between the sticks now.

(*Don’t worry, San Iker, I still love you.)

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So good, he plays multiple positions.

 

Please watch the Die Mannschaft’s Victory Party/Homecoming Celebrations. It’s 50 Shades of Hilarious, I tell you.

Spain. To say it was a horrific title defence would be the understatement of the year. They were made to look like amateurs. Their first two matches were absolute trainwrecks and yet I could not stop watching. Time to rebuild and start over, La Roja. You had a good six years.

England. Dear, oh dear. How did it get that bad?

Hardcore fans may not always take the USA MNT seriously, but in this tournament, they have managed to achieve what the likes of the so-called “powerhouses” Spain, Italy, Portugal and England have not: survive the knockout stages, and in the Group of Death at that. Major props, dudes. Major props.

That vanishing spray. Yet another new thingamajig that got a lot of football fans going, “huh?” It always reminded me of shaving mousse and whipped cream. The geek in me thought, “Isn’t that interfering with the ball’s trajectory in some way?” But then again, apparently not because it’s now being adopted in this upcoming English Premier League season. The spray is here to stay!

Lionel Messi won the Golden Ball, making him the “best” player of the tournament. Nothing against him, he’s a brilliant player and all that, but I personally think there were 3 or 4 players that deserved that award more than him. Also, if he’s such the dog’s bollocks, how come he was not included in the FIFA XI of the tournament?!

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Oh, cheer up, Leo! You’re still the “best” in the world (allegedly)!

 

James Rodriguez, meanwhile, seems to be the newest “It Player”. The Colombian managed to win the Golden Ball even if his team didn’t reach that far in the tournament, but for some reason, I’m not quite sold on him yet. Now that he’s moved to Real Madrid, we shall see if he can sustain the good form he had in the WC and prove he’s really the next big thing.

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Will he live up to the hype?

 

Luis Suarez. Ayayay. I groaned and facepalmed so badly when I saw that biting incident. What the hell is up with him and that kind of oral fixation?! As a Liverpool fan, I didn’t even attempt to rationalize or defend his actions. They say genius and madness are sometimes mutually-inclusive, but this is just ridiculous. Enjoy your ban, Luis, and perhaps try to squeeze in some sessions with a shrink during your break.

Pundits, journos and other fans may continue to sing the praises of Lionel Messi, James Rodriguez and the like, but for me, the true breakout star of this World Cup was Germany’s Toni Kroos. Trust me, that guy’s going to be huge.

Best kit of the tournament? For me it belongs to France. Classic and with just the right amount of badassery.

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Sadly, the Official World Cup 2014 Song “We Are One” just didn’t do it for me. Don’t get me wrong, it’s…okay, just not catchy and engaging enough for me. I mean, I found myself humming Shakira’s “Waka Waka” and Ricky Martin’s “Cup Of Life” more during the tournament, so it must have missed the mark somewhere.      

Retirements from international football came down like an unwelcome torrential rain post-WC. I don’t even know where to begin or who to pay tribute to first. Thanks for making me feel like such a dinosaur, guys.  

Ever notice that the players seem to become much-more attractive when they’re donning their national team kits? I’ve done a very non-scientific poll among my football-loving friends (both ladies and gents alike) and they all agreed that players all have that extra je ne sais quoi when they play for their NTs. Proof that patriotism can be sexy.

 

However, now that the return of club football is drawing near, that extra attractiveness and je ne sais quoi are sure to disappear as tribal rivalries shall be renewed. Oh well, I suppose that’s just the way the football bounces…

 

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

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To the future children I may or may not have,

Here is the story of how I finally met my favourite football player of all time*, Mr. Michael James Owen.

(*Before anything else, allow me to state my long-standing belief that I may be his biggest fan in the Philippines. From the time he broke out as a young Liverpool star up to his last English Premier League match with Stoke City, I was there behind him. I accepted everything, the highs, the lows, questionable professional decisions and all. No, seriously, I challenge anyone to find a bigger Michael Owen fan in my country. You won’t, I’m telling you.)

One nondescript May evening, I was lounging in bed, lazily browsing the web on my mobile phone when I chanced upon an article on Facebook announcing that Michael Owen was coming to Singapore in June for a football-related event hosted by the shopping mall Wisma Atria. To say that my pulse quickened and my breathing became shallow would be an understatement: Singapore is merely 3 hours away from where I live. My schedule was pretty much clear for that weekend. Carpe bloody diem. I have to go. I shan’t forgive myself if I dare missed this opportunity.

After going on Viber and freaking out to my closest childhood friends about it, I started researching flight schedules and accommodations. Just when I thought that I was going to have to make the trip alone, one of my bestest friends, HM, confirmed that she was willing to tag along (I need reinforcement just in case I faint or do something embarrassing). Hooray! We got our flights and hotels booked in a flash, so all I had to do was wait.

And wait I did. My birthday came and went, World Cup 2014 got underway, and suddenly it was just a few days before that big trip.

Apart from my childhood friends, nobody really knew that I was making that trip to see Michael Owen. I told my family that I was going to Singapore for a post-birthday holiday and to see my friend J and her family there. Weird as it may sound, I didn’t want to jinx anything just in case I don’t end up seeing MO. Yeah, I’m superstitious like that. Looking back, I’ve realized that from the moment I decided I was going on that trip, everything seemed to fall into place. It’s as if the universe really did conspire with me to make good things happen. And for that, I am eternally grateful.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

We arrived on a Friday, went around the Bugis area, and then returned to the hotel late at night, exhausted but full of excitement for the weekend ahead. I kept checking his Twitter account @themichaelowen but there was no trace there that he was coming to Singapore. Where was he?! A small part of me was getting worried, especially since I haven’t even scoped out the venue and the event was hours away. A bigger part of me though was super Zen, and it kept assuring the worried part that everything will be alright. Ommmm….

Saturday came and it was only when HM and I were having lunch that nerves started to kick in. Hard. My stomach was in absolute knots. In just a few hours, I may or may not see and meet Michael Owen, just the main reason for this trip. My worries from the night before were obliterated as we came closer to Wisma Atria: It was Footballmania over there! There’s no way you would miss him—Michael Owen was plastered everywhere! We couldn’t resist doing the touristy thing and proceeded to take photos with every MO advert we saw, as well as the giant foosball table right smack along Orchard Road. I needed to distract myself, things were starting to get real.

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Move over, Iker Casillas!

Move over, Iker Casillas!

Owen sandwich

Owen sandwich

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We came inside and saw that the event setup was already in place. We were a couple of hours early but we headed down to the atrium anyway to check it out. I asked a girl from the registration desk how the event would play out, and more important, would MO be able to meet the public? She patiently explained to me that the priority for the meet and greet would be in the order of: Fan Club members, the competition winners and those who spent a certain amount of money in the mall. If Michael has enough time, the rest of the public would be allowed to join the queue. Challenge accepted, then. I didn’t want to risk it so I promptly told the girl that I was willing to wait and that I would start the public queue, which was met by a surprised laugh and a “Good luck!”. Just watch the expert in action, girl.

It wasn’t long before people started noticing the event area, and more and more people started joining the public queue. We could only look on in jealousy at all the people wielding the “magic tickets” that allowed them access to the priority queues, but generally, we were all in a hopeful mood that we’d be let in. The line may be long but it was not overwhelmingly long. MO wouldn’t leave us hanging, would he?!

The madness. Pic vis the Wisma Atria Instagram Page.

The madness. Pic via the Wisma Atria Instagram Page.

 

There were Liverpool fans, Manchester United fans, England fans, Newcastle fans and even fans of different worldwide clubs and nations in the queue. Fans young and old alike all wore the same expressions on their faces: I am so fricking excited to see Michael Owen. Even fathers were sacrificing having their children join them (1 person per ticket only, la) and sending them off to their mums instead just to have the chance to meet that footballer that lit up their TV screens as a youngster.

After what seemed like an eternity, the event host finally announced his arrival. With astounding speed and precision, everyone raised their mobile phones and cameras, eager to capture the moment. And there I was, still as a statue, ready and yet so very unprepared.

Michael Owen came out on stage. I felt everything and nothing at the same time. It was surreal. The very player that got me hooked on football and the one I watched and followed for nearly two bloody decades was standing mere meters away. That smile. That accent. Heaven help me.

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

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

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

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

 

They proceeded with the penalty shootout simulator game, the presentation of Michael’s signed Euro 2004 England Shirt to the Singapore Community Chest and the mini Q&A portion* that covered his return to Singapore after more than a decade, the Premier League, World Cup, and of course, the controversial player Luis Suarez.

But hang on, just when everything was going quite smoothly, a lady of a certain age from our part of the queue suddenly went up to the front (near the barrier) and confronted the two young organizers standing guard nearby. At first. she was only asking when they will allow the rest of the public to meet Michael, and when she wasn’t given a definite answer, she proceeded to go ballistic on them and went on an almighty rant about how long she’s been standing there and waiting to meet him. To make things juicier, she made them call their manager and also gave the poor woman quite a dressing down in front of a bemused/disbelieving crowd. Whoa, lady. Calm down. My friend and I have been standing in line longer than she was and yet we wouldn’t have dreamed of complaining or raising hell. Anyway, I suppose I just have to give her props for her passion and eagerness to meet MO.

A few minutes later, the organizers opened the barrier and let the rest of us non-special people/non-ticket holders in the queue. This is it! I couldn’t help but do a happy jig as I finally entered hallowed ground. The host was constantly reminding the crowd that we could only have one photo with him and one item signed by Michael. Yes, yes, we heard you. But I still have no bloody idea what I was going to do or say to him.

(a) Do I go the fangirl route and say, “I love youuuu, Michael!!”?

Nah, too predictable. And if I didn’t do that in front of the Michael Schumacher, I sure as heck wouldn’t do that to Michael Owen. Besides, he might get scared.

(b) Do I go the serious football fan route and say, “I wish you never left Liverpool!”?

Nah, what’s the purpose? It’s all in the past now, and I don’t want to spoil his mood.

(c) Do I tell him he was the one who got me into football and that he changed my life and even though football nearly ruined it I wouldn’t have changed any bloody thing in the world?

Nah, I’m not the rambling, overly-sharing type. Why are you snickering?!

See, before his arrival, my friend and I were discussing what would probably be my reaction upon finally seeing him, and although we made ourselves laugh with exaggerated impressions of myself doing the craziest, most embarrassing things, I knew within myself that no matter what, I would be calm, cool and collected. I may have the tendency to be starstruck but I’m not the crazy fan type. Then again, there’s a first time for everything…

Finally, it was my turn. *insert internal excited screaming here* I handed my camera to one of the organizers and as I turned to step up to the platform, I had the surprise of seeing Michael was already looking at me, smiling–and good heavens, time stopped. Here is the part where I shall unapologetically wax poetic about his eyes, because they’re the kindest, nicest, sparkliest shade of hazel I’ve seen in my entire life. Yes, photos and videos do not do them justice. And the fact that those special pair of eyes were looking only at me is just the craziest, most awesome thing ever. Anyway, I managed to say, “Hi, Michael!” as I approached him (and I immediately judged myself because it was too high-pitched for my liking. Ugh), and Michael responded with a cheerful “Hello!”.

So far, so good. No fainting, no crazy antics, no scaring Michael off.

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

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

As the organizers were preparing to take our lone photo, I sneakily placed my mobile phone face down on the table and pushed it towards Michael:

Me: *mutters under my breath while maintaining my smile* “Michael, could you sign this, please?”

MO: *Looks at my phone* “This? Oh, sure.” *signs the back of my phone*

Our photo was then taken and Michael signed the photo provided by the organizers. I heard the security guy hurrying me along, but I needed to have one more exchange with him:

Me: *collects my stuff* “Thank you, Michael!”

MO: “You’re welcome.”

Me: “You know what, you should come to the Philippines, Michael. We love you there!”

MO: *gives me a surprised smile that may have possibly reduced my heart to smithereens* “Okay!”

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

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

I waited for my friend HM to finish her turn, and the funny thing was she managed to tell Michael that we flew all the way from the Philippines just to meet him, which was again rewarded by that signature boyish smile. She also got him to sign my England badge. What one item only rule? That’s what friendship is truly about.

After we exited the meet and greet area, we went up one level to simply stare at him as he went on with the autograph signing and photo-taking event. We marveled at the quality of merchandise that some fans have brought with them (One had a replica of his shirt when he helped Liverpool win the 2001 FA Cup! Another girl had a pinup of him from the British magazine Smash Hits which was published in 1998! Loads brought hardbound books of him that I only saw just now!), but to be honest, we mostly marveled at how bloody good-looking he is in person. Not in a David Beckham-metrosexual-I-need-hours-to-get-ready kind of way but in a wholesome, boy-next-door, best-of-British sort of way. The type you would definitely want your parents to meet. Before I go into 50 Shades of Fangirl territory, the organizers then announced that Michael had to leave, but that instead of meeting fans one by one, he would go around the barriers and sign for the rest of them. He finished signing everything (even autographed a dress of a sleeping toddler, as requested by the father!) and then exited the area via the glass elevator. My friend and I managed to shout a cheeky “We love you, Michael!” as he passed us in the elevator. In the blink of an eye, he was whisked away by a Range Rover and out of our sight.

Just like that, it was over and I was left reeling. In the best possible way.

The rest of the trip went by in a blur. Absolutely nothing dampened my mood and all I could think about was that encounter. Sometimes, you really have to take life by the balls and just go for what you want. Life is too short to not celebrate your passions.

So thank you from the bottom of my heart, Mr. Michael James Owen—and screw that cliché about not meeting your heroes because they might disappoint you—I would gladly go through that over and over again.

And just in case I’ve not made it crystal clear: Yes, he was absolutely worth the 17-year wait.

MeMOrabilia. :)

MeMOrabilia. 🙂

Me after the event.

Me after the event.

 

Footnotes:

  1. The dress I wore when I met Michael Owen was the same dress I wore when I met Michael Schumacher. Coincidence? Luck? Or is that dress some sort of a “Michael Magnet”?
  2. I was supposed to be named Michael had I been born a boy. Perhaps that partly explains my fascination with Michaels.
  3.  In case you were wondering, Michael’s bet to win the World Cup is Argentina.
  4. I have a brief video of Michael during the Q&A portion, but it’s shaky as heck, so I shan’t subject you to that.
  5. To view decent-quality photos of the event, here is the link to the Facebook page of Wisma Atria.

 

Timewarp Thursday: Tales Of Footballmania, Part 1.

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

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

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Proof That Brazilians Hurt.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PB: “What happened?!”

Me: “I am going to CRY!”

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

PB: “Why?!”

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

*cue a fresh round of screams*

–Beckham and Mills celebrate with goalscorer Owen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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