Apart from doing the usual flying knees and spinning elbows, we often indulge ourselves in extra curriculum activities. Well actually, most of the time we pretend that we are indulging ourselves in these other sports. Sometimes it is an impromptu performance of our self-made acapella group; other time we try to mimic the old Spice Girls in their mannerism and dance.
We've taken a liking to football for a few months now, and we'll try to pretend we are all Ronaldo, twice a week. At first, it was a replacement for the mundane cardio sessions that we used to do, but as we played on week after week, things became serious. From understanding first touches, to one-twos, to even buying our own soccer boots.
We were always aware that our dear Onyx HR, (Audrey, @theaudtree) had regular soccer trainings. For the longest of time, it didn't occur to us that she was actually playing for a professional team, at the national wide level. The truth is, the first time when Audrey told me that she played for Woodlands Wellington, I had no idea what team that was.
It was by chance, that one Saturday evening, in October, because of some late night commitments at Onyx, we all decided to gate-crash one of Audrey's game, at Queenstown Stadium. The guys that came along, had all already knew how a typical soccer match would be; whereas the noob in me didn't even know what an offside was. I am usually seated beside Jack at these games, and I'd be asking questions non-stop:
"eh, why like that? what's happening?" etc etc.
But soon it made sense to me, the rules weren't complicated, and I started to really appreciate the finesse and skills of these ladies in their usual white jersey, or their bright neon green alternate jersey. At that point in time, I only knew one player in the whole WWFC roster, which was #25, Audrey. The rest of the players were just numbers to me, and to Team Onyx.
"WAH, the #13 damn good sia. She damn power, like a gazelle!"
"omg, the #15 got aura leh. Eh, the #4 is damn hardworking."
At times during the matches, at certain junctures where the opposing team looked like they were going to attempt to put WWFC in danger, I was always mightily impressed with how #3 and #18 came to the rescue. I also get very relieved whenever there was an attempt at goal, and the ball would land in the safe hands of #5, #25 or #1.
After the match, we'd wait for Audrey to join us for supper/dinner and go endlessly at how the match went. Onyx also started putting names to each of these jersey numbers, each of us trying very hard to remember the names to #8, #10, #17 etc. When the first game that we went ended, it was apparent that WWFC were caught a little surprised at this bunch of loud and vulgar spectators that were seemingly Audrey's Fan Club.
When Monday ensues, we'll ask Audrey again, who that particular player was, what was her name, and what did she felt during the match. Before I knew it, I had practically gone for all the games of WWFC since October.
I also realised, that these ladies were slowly becoming my idols.
Every week, especially post-WWFC matches, I'd try to copy what the WWFC players did. The caveat is "try". But what I learnt most was the deeper meaning of the team. Whenever I played with the Onyx crew, I'd get tired, and start walking and start slacking, often passing off each mistake or indecisiveness with a laughter. Vis-a-vis what I saw and experienced during each WWFC game, it was a vast difference.
Versus my slackness, and reluctance to run for the ball, the WWFC ladies would be chasing the ball to the end of their lives. The players were ever ready to move forward with the ball, or rush back in the quickest time to make sure their keeper is secured. The most amazing thing to me, but perhaps a little silly to others, is how these girls all take hits in their faces, head and body to receive and control an incoming ball that is like a cannon. Me? If there was ever a long pass in my way, I would just clam up and avoid contact and pray that it would slow down by itself. So, I made it a habit to commentate each header, or chest of the ball: "The Sacrifice".
After a few weeks of watching and supporting WWFC play and win at various stadiums in Singapore, they had reach a stage that was a new plateau for them as well. They got through to the semi-finals, and subsequently the finals. Whenever I questioned Audrey, she'd humbly pass it off and say that the other teams are very very strong. My rebuttal was: "but you all made it to the finals!"
Just like that, the final match to determine the FAS Challenge Cup winner was held last week. At this very moment, we have never watched WWFC lose. We knew that female SAF Warriors team was very strong, and perhaps, arguably, at the different level from WWFC. But I had faith, and I believed that it was possible. My own, and Team Onyx's heart were wholly with the WWFC ladies.
The finals at the new sparkling National Stadium was an awesome spectacle. It was massive, and bright. We had also garnered the most amount of supporters for this match, and even made a banner for the match. But from the minute the whistle blew for the kick-off, it was obvious that the opposing SAF Warriors team were strong, and hungry. There were too many occasions that it was #18 who saved the day, and there were even more occasions where #5 just barely managed to save the deadly shots on target.
Managing the Warriors team for over 80 minutes took its toll on the WWFC ladies. The usual awesomeness that we saw slowly wore off, and when #15 was substituted due to an injury, I knew that they were being stretched to their limits. We all saw this, and we cheered even louder.
Alas, at the 87th minute, with just 3 more minute of regulatory time left, SAF Warriors broke the deadlock, with a penalty. I'm just going to be straightforward here to say that the penalty was a lousy, no... a WRONG decision. WWFC tackled ball first away from the impending danger, outside the penalty box, the Warrior's player decided to go down with an Oscar Award level acting and the referee was wrong in all sorts of decision. Me, together with Team Onyx, contemplated rushing into the field to Thai kick everybody. We were all enraged, I saw some of us stood up in our stands and started cursing at the referee, players, everybody. My eyes was all rage and blood, and I was spilling vulgarities non-stop.
If there was even any glimmer of hope, it was taken away from us very quickly when the Warriors converted the penalty into 1-0 deficit. The Warriors team celebrated as though they had already won the cup, and it fuel-ed my anger for them even more. The play resumed, with 3 minutes left on the clock, but Warriors capitalised on the acute drop in morale to slot in another goal to seal the game at 2-0.
With the second goal, there was no longer rage, but only what can be described as heartbroken-ness. We were all heart brokened, our idols, our family, had just been stamped the almost inevitable confirmation of a loss. It had been an incredible journey for me, for us, and for Team Onyx, to be behind the team which others might have deemed as underdogs all these time. But to go so far, and to lose it right at the very last moment, it was too much for me to handle.
At the very moment when the second goal was conceded, I saw afar, that #13 had sat down on the field, dejected and lost. It was as though I could feel the same emotions running through me, it reminded me of when we lose fights.
But in the corner of my eye, I saw something. I saw #9, taking the ball from the goal net, and sprinting across the field to restart the match as quick as possible. While that was going on, I heard the ever familiar chants of "Woodlands... Woodlands". We shouted louder than ever, and we stood by our belief; that this was the team that we supported, and this is the team we would stand by.
It struck me, it isn't about losing. It is about having the heart, the same heart that carried us, the fighters all through difficult times in, and out of the ring. It was about resilience, and fortitude.
The truth is, Team Onyx hates losing. But regardless the result, we stick together, as family, and as one.
Onwards. Let's go again next year.