Monday, 25 February 2008

This Overdue Glory

Went down to NUS today for the futsal tournament organised by Khairul (who couldn't play because of his knee ligament injury) with the good ol' assemblage of Sanchin, Koon, Arvinder, Chengjun and Zhiquan, and some much-needed goalkeeping help from Xuanyou, our ex-NYJC volleyball winning team's captain.

We then went on to blaze through our qualifying group stages and the knock out rounds totally unbeaten and came out champions, with the following scores:

Group stages:



Bagged myself 3 or 4 goals. The team we won 3-2 in the group stages eventually became our final opponents whom we beat 2-1, both very tight games.

As I type, the vibe still reverberates as strongly as ever; a combination of a truckload of thoughts and emotions about where I, or perhaps we, stand today and of all the circumstances that have preceded this.

For one, to say I love soccer is an understatement. I owe a huge part of what I am today to the sport because of the many things it entails. And I take a lot of pride in my game; I don't think it's unfair for me to say that I'm quite a decent player who might've deserved more.

But me, and the other guys as well, have never really lived up to that potential due to many circumstances, such as being in the wrong place at the wrong time, having to focus on studies more, not having a good enough coach etc. And I daresay that the team mates I played with today, the same guys who went through NYJC soccer with me, can really whip up a very mean game. From the way we played today, we were practically obliterating every other team and clearly coming out tops each time, and those were good opposition in a conventional sense. Who'd expect a bunch of university kids to be pwning much fiercer non-university opponents? The way universities always lose to polytechnics and ITEs is somewhat embarassing. Circumstances in the past have cumulated to deny us so many chances and opportunities to have achieved any form of illustriousness with soccer and most people may not understand it, but it has been quite upsetting for me at times and I won't doubt the frustrations the others feel too, especially when we had so much in us to achieve. It is really such a pity.

Sab says it's better late than never, and yet also that being over-competitive can kill the passion for the game, especially when team mates start fighting for personal glory. And one other thing is that the ones who've achieved success can start to lose their desire to keep going once they've tasted the sweetness of being at the top.

I think it is this predicament of ours, because of our circumstances leading up to our prestige-deficient present, that has built in us a character that I'm quite proud to say we have. From what Sab has said, I guess we can be considered as the perpetual underdogs, the under-rated team or the under-performing team, depending on how you'd wanna look at it. Because I really think we've got what it takes to get to the top but we always never make it far enough somehow.

And this character of ours is something that is quite different from the many lame mainstream teams out there. The guys I play soccer with and call my team mates every weekend have really modest roots and are incredibly humble for the skills they possess. Perhaps it is this humility that has been a restraining cap on any audacious initiative on our part to take a step forward towards more ambitious ends such as going for club trials and playing for varsity, but it has allowed us to compete at the highest level without any selfish personal glory or senseless egoistic pride taking over. I see these inflated egos in so many teams and players I've played against and I wouldn't hesitate to classify SMU as a really egoistic team that promises too much and under-delivers; and for all that lack of glory they seriously still think very highly of themselves. Most other university and JC teams are like that too, because the big talkers with huge egos tend to be the ones who believe they're good enough to make the team and are more willing to prove their point. There are many far more talented players who are simply overshadowed by the less humble.

We don the old NYJC PE shirt that belonged to a past era and I don't even wear branded shoes to play, but we were scalping the ones who had their Adidas jerseys and Nike shoes and shouting at each other for making mistakes and then making mistakes themselves. When we play, I think our team's quietness can seriously be scary to our opponents, and yet our play and teamwork is almost telepathic. Simple passes, effective runs and discipline in marking; that's all we do. A lot of local soccer players have got it misconstrued that you have to be technically gifted or individualistic to play; they seriously have no idea. We were scoring goals by stringing countless simple, unbroken passes without even needing to be showy or dribble past anybody. And our opponents, though seemingly more technically gifted, couldn't even break out of their halves. That's the vintage way we play and today summed up over a decade of frustration and destroyed it for good, my only gripe being that it might be somewhat too late. Who knows what else we might've achieved and conquered if only, if only.

It may be asked what's with this glory obsession. It's somewhat like 300, as Dilios says of King Leonidas' wish, "'Remember us.' As simple an order as a king can give. For he did not wish tribute, nor song, or monuments or poems of war and valour. His wish was simple. 'Remember us,' he said to me. That was his hope, should any free soul come across that place, in all the countless centuries yet to be. May all our voices whisper to you from the ageless stones, 'Go tell the Spartans, passerby, that here by Spartan law, we lie.'"

Of course, I do not expect anyone to know of us as of today because in the bigger scheme of things, we're like mere grains of sand in the Sahara. But victory, at long last, like today, does solidify things and, to some extent, is a form of closure to this flickering light of potential, just like finally giving a name and destiny to an old yet unnamed child. So we won't be forgotten to ourselves of who we were and what we know we were capable of when the light has finally died and we will play no more.

It's the first time I've won an official tournament, though we've come close a couple of times in the past. I'm just really glad to have such a team to play in. The team we played against twice provided for some really dramatic moments, reminiscent of the other times we came so close to winning it all only to lose it at the end. Both matches were close fights and, in the final when we won 2-1, we actually went 1-0 down with 3 minutes to go but clawed our way back to draw 1-1 and score the golden goal in extra time. On top of that, they were much older and were starting to get extremely hostile and a fight seemed to be tethering on the edge of breaking out. Soccer's such a game of male pride sometimes that the dark side of it all keeps rearing it's ugly head.

Arvinder scored both goals in the final, making him the hero, and the funny thing was that after he scored the golden goal and won the game for us, he immediately changed and went off because the tournament was dragging way too long and he had a meeting to attend, so it was almost as if he's saying, "eh don't waste my time already la" and scored so that he could end it and leave.

Had a quiet and simple celebratory dinner at Vivocity's Kopitiam (anti-climax) before heading home. It's been a really good day.

People are very open-minded about new things as long as they're exactly like the old ones.

Audio Candy:
Jason Mraz - Curbside Prophet

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