The Journey

A Diary of my Pursuit of Life\’s Best

For the Love of the Game

“Offside!  Offside!  OFFSIDE!!!”  I would shout those words with all the verve that my little lungs could afford, every time my opponent stood behind me on the pitch and there was no one between the goal and us.  I was 13 and I didn’t know exactly what the word meant, but I had a rough idea.


When I supported Manchester United for the first time, it was because out of a group of 6 people who were discussing an upcoming match at the time, 5 were Arsenal supporters.  Fortunately for me, the Red Devils walloped the Gunners 5-1 in that match.  My understanding of soccer speak and my love for the Reds have grown since then.  My comprehension of the interaction between soccer and the law has also increased.  I discovered this after this year’s Champions League Final when I heard the story of 3 footballers from different teams who got arrested in a Muslim country for possession of alcohol.  Upon hearing who the culprits were, the king called for them and said, “You’re very fortunate that it’s my birthday and I’m a soccer fan.  For those reasons, you won’t suffer the death penalty but 10 lashes of the whip each.  Before that, I will grant you one wish each”.


The Arsenal player went first and said, ‘I’d like a pillow strapped to my back.’  His wish was granted and the punishment went well until the 4th lash, when the pillow disintegrated.  For the 2 minutes that followed, Cesc Fabregas was beside himself with tears.


The Chelsea player went next and requested that 2 pillows be strapped to his back.  His wish was granted and all was well until the 7th lash, when the pillows disintegrated.  Didier Drogba wailed through the last 3.


Finally, the Man U player came to the fore and the king said to him, ‘My good man, I am a big fan of yours, so I’ll grant you 2 wishes’.


Christiano Ronaldo said, ‘Thank you, your highness.  I know that my friends and I committed a great crime, so I’d like to request 20 lashes instead of 10’.


The king, impressed by his noble request, inquired about his second wish.  ‘Strap Drogba on my back’.


I agree with the king that Ronaldo deserved two wishes because he plays for one of the greatest teams in the world, and he plays well.  I also agree with Ronaldo that Drogba deserved to be flogged – thoroughly, in fact – for many reasons, including the fact that he plays for another team!  Drogba behaved badly during the Champions League final and got sent off the pitch during his team’s most important match.  In my opinion, he cost his team the coveted Championship.


One man who would not have deserved such a flogging is Chelsea Football Club’s skipper, John Terry.  Not only did this man lead his team to their first ever Champions League final, but he did this against the odds.  Chelsea did not have an impressive record at the first stages of the competition – they had an almost hopeless record. 


But John Terry played every match with all he had.  Maintaining his commitment to putting up a waterproof defence of the Chelsea net, his absence from the team was always evident in the number of goals that Chelsea conceded.  Terry maintained this commitment throughout the group stage, the quarter final, the semi-final and eventually, the final.  That is why the game went into extra time, then into the first five penalties and eventually into sudden death, which is the riskiest and most unfair way in which a match outcome can be determined.  Then John Terry slipped and his shot missed the net.  So did Nicholas Anelka’s.  That was how Chelsea’s fate was determined and that was how Manchester United beat Chelsea to second place in the Champions League.


Despite my joy that Manchester United beat Chelsea to second place yet again this year, I find that Chelsea as a team and John Terry as a man, deserve commendation for a job well done.


Here was a team that had lost their prized manager, Magic Man Mourinho, because he could not take them to the Champions League final.  Here was a team that showed remarkable vision when Chelsea continued with their impressive performance under the stewardship of Avram Grant.  Here was a team that over the years had established itself as a star-studded outfit with remarkable agility and humility.  Whenever there were stars on the pitch, there were stars on the bench.  Yet these stars never grumbled and never underestimated the latent power of their opponents to surprise.  So they cheered … they encouraged … they rejoiced whenever their team scored.


This is the spirit that carried them through each stage of the competition to their first Champions League final – and therefore to history.  And this history could not come at a better time.  This remarkable final went down in history as one of the longest finals in history, one of the only games where a team’s favourite striker was sent off the pitch for indiscipline and one of the only games where the team captain missed a penalty.


Still, I would be careful to fault these men – Didier Drogba and John Terry – because throughout the competitions they maintained the spirit of the game … the spirit of winners.  It did not matter what the critics said about their performances – especially the dismal ones.  It did not matter which star was on the pitch and which one was on the bench.  It did not even matter how well or how badly they had played at the last match.


What mattered was that they were still in the game, and that they were playing to win.  And play they did – and win they did.  Because even if they missed the Championship by a whisker, they earned the respect of many people around the world, by playing fair and playing well.  Even if they missed another title this season by as narrow a margin as the last they remained true to their ideals and committed to their cause.  And even if Avram Grant lost his job as Chelsea’s manager soon after this surprising defeat, he had left his mark in history by taking Chelsea’s flag to a new frontier – and doing so in remarkable style.


That’s how easy it is to win.  All you need to do is have a clear vision of where you want to be and make it your mission to realise your vision.  But so many times we get distracted – by the little voices that whisper, “It’s impossible”.  By the little failures that should serve to strengthen us rather than to break us.  By the successes that make us forget our visions and cause us to live without any new sense of challenge or direction.


That is not what we are here for.  We are here to be the best that we can be.  For this reason, we cannot afford to become like every other person who has resigned himself or herself to mediocrity


It’s a game and we must play until the whistle blows.  And when the whistle blows and the curtain falls, we must be certain that our spectators will say, “Hats off!  You were the man … or woman … of the match.”


August 14, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment