Thursday, June 21, 2018

How I Failed To Become A Footballer And World Cup Star

As a kid, I grew up watching the World Cup in wide-eyed awe.

And as I close my eyes after yet another breath-taking game, I saw myself on the field... making mazy dribbles... shooting pass the 'keeper... celebrating in front of the exultant crowd... lifting the golden trophy high over my head...

Can't blame a kid for dreaming, can you?

Me in 2020

My First Dreams

But it was not all wistful thinking. I really loved playing as much as watching the beautiful game. Almost every evening, I would rush to the nearby field and kicked about with the other neighbourhood kids.

The 'big' games were usually on weekend evenings. Free from school, tuition and the weekday grind, that's when the neighbourhood's best all come together. My family went to church on Saturday evenings, so my brother and I would always get yelled at for coming back late for dinner.

I was quite talented, too. I would torment and run rings around defenders. I had a tricky feet, and a good eye for goal. Amongst my close friends at school, I was indisputably the best. In my neighbourhood, I was holding my own against the older and fitter kids. I was full of hope.

My first dream - before shooting for the stars as an astronaut - was to be a footballer. 

My First Chance

My primary school organised a football competition. 7 versus 7. Anyone can form a team. Knockout system.

Our team was called the 'Magnificent Seven'. I don't remember what the other options were, but this was proposed by our captain-keeper, and he was quite the domineering type and really liked the name. I haven't watch the movie before, all I know it's about cowboys in the Wild Wild West or something. Anyways, who cares? All I cared about was winning the whole damn thing and being the next Maradona (Messi wasn't a thing back then).

I was the anchor of the team. They were depending on me to score and make big plays. Lots of pressure, but no problem. I was quite confident of my abilities.

We roughly knew the other teams and players. By the luck of the draw, the two strongest teams met early. So only one remained. We were on the other side of the bracket, and would only meet either of them in the finals. And the teams on our side were rather weak. We were feeling good about our chances.

We went into our first game feeling even more confident. One of their players didn't turn up, so it was 7 of us against 6 of them.

But they defended like madmen, and parked the bus. We couldn't find a way through. Attacks after attacks came to nothing. We dominated possession. Yet, we couldn't break through. Panic slowly crept in.

The game remained goal-less pass full-time... pass extra-time... PENALTIES!

We were shaking. We were staring at defeat. We were paying for our complacency. Now they have a chance. Now it's 50-50. Now could be the end.

I took the first kick... GOAL!

One of us missed, one of theirs missed. At the sixth kick, our captain saved! And then he walk out to take the penalty kick... and scored... VICTORY!

We proceeded to the semi-finals. This time, we were more focused and respected our opponents. We built up more patiently, and kept our composure.

It was a rout. We smashed them 4-0. No contest. I got a goal, and assisted maybe another. It was an all-round superb performance. What a boost, what a great momentum...


No pressure

My First Breakthrough

They were faster, stronger, and meaner. They breathed and slept football.

It was like Switzerland versus Brazil. We were the smart boys who aced exams, they were the naughty kids who could miss class whole week except the day with Physical Education (so they could play football). We were the urban elites, they were the rural warriors. In footballing terms, we were clearly the underdogs.

We were fully prepared to be on the back-foot from kick-off. Our game-plan was to defend deep, and hit them on the break.

As soon as the whistle blew, we were hit by a human tsunami. They kept advancing. All we could do was desperately throw our bodies to block their shots and passes. We could barely string passes together and get out of our half.

Late in the first half, the ball broke to my feet slightly outside our penalty box. And for the first time, I spied an opening and burst forward. The maneuver caught them totally by surprise. Their players desperately tried to track back.

The counter-attack was on! Everything happened in a blur. I ran, and ran, weaving pass one shell-shocked defender after another. One kept chasing me from behind. And then in front of me, there was just their keeper left. I took a shot...


I wheeled away in mad delirium. My teammates caught up and jumped all over me. Tears welled in my eyes. At the corner of my eye, I caught sight of my Dad standing and clapping. He didn't say he would be coming. He wasn't really supportive of my footballing obsession, preferring me to stick to books (and church, too). But there he was, perched at the stands near our opponent's half, where he had full view of my Maradona-esque run and bullet shot into the roof of the net (an odd spectator position to take considering we were camped in our own half, which perhaps goes to show the level of faith he had in us to break out and score - which we duly repaid). I smiled, and punched the air.

We were up 1-0 at half-time with our only attack and shot on goal of the game. 

The second half was much of the same story. They kept storming at us, and we desperately held the fort and prayed.

Alas, they struck back with two goals. The match ended 2-1. We lost - and deservedly so. They were by far the better team. We had a single moment of magic, and that was all.

Nevertheless, I was proud of my performance in the finals and the tournament. And I scored a wonder goal. What more could a kid ask for?

Me and my miracle run

My First Heartbreak

The purpose of the tournament was to scout for players. The main guy in charge - who refereed all the games in the tournament - would be picking our school team for a district tournament in a few weeks' time.

We were devastated, of course. We were so close to victory, only to crumble right at the end. Still, we felt good that we made our mark. Surely, our dream run would've counted for something. Surely, our talent would've been noticed. This was just the beginning.

And with such a strong individual performance, I was feeling pretty optimistic of my chances of making it to the next level.

Few days after the tournament, the selection results was announced.

My name wasn't in the list.

And to add insult to injury, three of my other teammates were selected. The rest were players from the champion team and the other second-best team that were beaten early on.

How was I not in the team? Honestly, I don't know. I can only speculate. My other three friends were prefects, popular, and quite the teacher's pet. They were also quite active in athletics and sports in general. From a decision-maker perspective, they were safe choices that were hard to question on paper. Also, since this is Malaysia after all, I suspected a whiff of *ahem* racism...

Me? I was nobody. A weirdo. Even if I made a fuss, so what? None of the teachers gave two hoots about me. No one would take my side. And my parents weren't the sort that donated generously to the school and could get on the line with the headmaster...

And on that day, I knew I would never make it as a footballer and play in the World Cup.

My First Enlightenment

As years passed, I felt less sorry for myself and instead more angry with the state of society.

I'm sure there are many other kids like me, or even better. And just like me, they never made the cut, no matter how promising and talented they were.

And the reason being? Simply because the system is corrupted and incompetent as f**k at all levels of administration, from schools to the FA. And of course - *cough cough* - there's the not-so-small issue of racism...

My school team went on to the district tournament. They came back being trashed by 4 to 5 goals each match. Served them right. Karma's a bitch. Now, I'm not saying that me being in the team would've made much of a difference. With so much quality in our ranks, it goes to show how inept our PE teacher/coach was. Assehole

As at today, Malaysia is ranked 174th out of 204 countries in the FIFA rankings. We're a country where football is the most popularly played and watched sport. We're not ravaged by war, and we have plenty of fields and indoor futsal courts. We have no excuse doing worse than the likes of Yemen, Maldives, Nepal, Palestine, Tahiti...

We suck because of idiots running the show, politics ruining the system.

But if you're nor first...

Why Malaysia Will Never Get Into The World Cup

I will never forget the day I ran halfway across the field to score a wonder goal in a final.

I will also never forget the day I didn't make it into my school football team despite running halfway across the field to score a wonder goal in a final.

Those two moments made me realised the cold hard truth.

That I'll never ever make it to the World Cup.

And neither will any Malaysian.

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