NUS: I will remember(VII) Football!

Thanks to a football crazy bunch of friends at my high school (DAV Boys, Gopalapuram), I was a football convert. Having hardly played the game till I joined my 11th Grade/equivalent to JC1, I was playing a lot of football all of a sudden. There was always football talk – premier league clubs etc etc. So, I was looking forward to come to NUS to play lots of football as well.. And I did.

3 things that I remember –

1)Learning the game: In my early days, my playing was restricted to games with a bunch of my Indian and hence, known seniors and friends. This was generally a lot of fun as it was pretty feisty.. However, as I began to work, I became less regular because of clashing times. Besides, my mentor always just hopped onto the field and joined anybody who was playing. In the early days I was very apprehensive, but I soon realized how much fun it was. I learnt a lot in those days particularly from one regular called Jackie – who was a Singapore Airlines person, a commando at the army and at 46, among the fittest people I’ve seen.

Jackie’s understanding of the game was great and he always used to push me to do better – run harder, fight for the ball. He always said -‘You’ve got to really want to get the ball if you ever plan on getting it’. It was great. I made a whole bunch of friends over soccer. I was a regular for a good 2 years, generally playing 3-4 times a week. It was my way of keeping fit..

Learning: Playing with players with different styles gave a good idea of my own abilities. I had never been an amazing athlete. I had a pretty decent amount of stamina and I realized that my biggest strength was an eye for pass i.e. for spotting the right pass. I’ve learnt that for both football and life, it pays to know our strengths so we can focus on those strengths.

2)Realizing a dream: One of my big dreams when I first saw the awesome looking SRC football field was to play a proper football game and score a goal! Now, once I joined university, that dream practically faded away as I saw the the standard of the teams. With my skills, I could only make it to the 2nd round selection of my faculty’s team(which is admittedly pretty good) but anyway..

It was just when I had almost given up hope when it turned out one of my football buddies (from above) used to play on this team and once I happened to hop by with a mentor of mine as they were about to play a game. They were the NUS staff team, were short of players and I excitedly joined in. I still remember that game – we got thrashed 7-0. In typical style, I decided to be more regular and joined them for training/kicking around on Tuesdays and games on Fridays. I played quite a few games, got to know a good number of them and had lots of fun and learning. There was a player in our team called Tomoo (an Econs Professor) who was a player I would pay to watch. Thanks to a few good players, we won quite a few of these games as well.

And you know what, I did score that goal.. It was a penalty I had won and it was wonderful burying it in under floodlights.

Learning: I always think of Randy Pausch (the last lecture Professor) when I think of these small dreams. I learnt we should never give up on it.

The bigger learning was NOT to rush! I was always rushing when I got the ball – too impatient and always lacking composure. Tomoo taught me to focus on one thing at a time by taking it much much slower. This is a learning that had a huge impact on my life and work..

3)Watching Football: I started watching Manchester United in the 2002-03 season. It’s funny how it happened.. The first game on air was a Man Utd game followed by an Arsenal game.. I saw the game and fell in love with the team. Wonder what would have happened if I’d seen the Arsenal game first..

Anyway, I followed practically every game that season. Following that season, we had some weird cable rules in our city and I couldn’t really follow games for 3 whole seasons (which coincided with my board exams/O and A levels) – so a good thing, all in all I think. This passion was re-ignited in university.. And boy, has watching football given me so much happiness! I still remember impatiently waiting for the Barcelona game the night before my signals exam. (Funny how these things work…) Remember so many great goals.. Remember the joy at winning the champions league.

Of late, one of the best things that has happened is I’ve found a football buddy who lives and breathes united as well. And that’s a friendship I’m sure to treasure for a long time. It’s become a part of life now, to go down to a lounge in PGP and catch a big game with friends or walk across to KE7 and watch a game on the big(ger) screen TV.

Another fun thing that happened was ‘Management Through Football’ – my mentor’s idea to convert all our football talk to ideas and solutions to life problems. This probably requires a lot of background but was a nice way we used to catch up on Saturdays and play football with friends on Saturdays..

Learning: It’s been great following a club closely. I’ve learnt a lot from Sir Alex Ferguson’s management style. The biggest thing I’ve learnt is his refusal to take any defeat or failing personally. While he does play the media game well by deflecting attention, all in all, he almost always moves on.

Another wonderful thing I learnt is his longevity as a result of his habit to celebrate, and then move on..quickly! He’s built 4 teams at Manchester United. During this 23 year period, he was won 11 premier league titles, 2 Champions leagues and numerous other trophies. Most strikingly, over 950 managers have come and gone in all the other premier league clubs..

Of late, playing football has lessened thanks to a new passion – Tennis. While I have no idea how it started, a few of us made it a habit to play every Saturday morning till a friend advised me to engage a coach and that’s been a great decision as well. It’s lots of fun learning a new game..