Do you remember the first goal you set for yourself? Or perhaps the first one you achieved? Or maybe, just one that really mattered to you?
How did you feel when you achieved the goal? Was there that rush of blood to the head that made you want to share the details of the struggle with everyone that cared to listen?
Did it inspire you to achieve even more?
I felt all these and more as a young lad in Primary 3. I remember the experience with fondness.
For a while, I considered it as one of the best moments of my life but now, many years later, I think back to that moment with awe, realizing that it was and still is a mental buffer, a spring board on which I fall in those moments of melancholy and low morale.
It reminds me that all my goals are achievable if I put in the required effort.
Prior to our move to the Island, I knew next to nothing about football. All I knew, I read from my father’s old newspaper collections; the one he stacked for sale.
I read about the UEFA Champions League quarterfinal match which produced Manchester United’s legendary 4-3 victory over Real Madrid at Old Trafford, after falling to a 3-1 humiliation at the Bernabeu in the first leg.
I devoured the details with voracious intrigue, admiring the ingenuity of the Brazilian Ronaldo, the brilliant and indelible effect of Beckham’s cameo, and the artfulness of the newspaper columnist who relayed history into folklore.
Three years later, when we moved to the Island, one of the first things I noticed about the house was the newspaper glued to the backyard door.
On it was an article about Paris 2006: the Champions League final between Barcelona and Arsenal. There was a picture of Thierry Henry maneuvering past Carlos Puyol’s outstretched leg as he initiated a sliding tackle.
Above Puyol were pictures of Ronaldinho, Valdès, Eto’o, Giuly, Màrquez and Deco. Above Henry were images of Hleb, Ebouè, Reyes, Lehmann, Fàbregas and Ljunberg. I did not know these people, but I could see that they were engaged in a contest I would love to be a part of.
In my new school, we played a lot of football. While the other boys jostled for out-field positions, I calmly went to the post. There was less competition there, and the job description was simple: clear every ball that comes your way.
I had only one competitor for the posts, a chubby boy named Ladi. He had been around longer than I had, so I devised a strategy to beat him to the goalie position.
As soon as the bell rang for break time, I would race to the field and stand between the posts. That way, I always played this beautiful game in the only position I could yet play.
Back at home, I learned about Supersport 3, and the Barclays Premier League, where I found Liverpool, Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea and a host of other clubs.
I discovered the Spanish La Liga, where I found Real Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, Atletico de Madrid, amongst others. Over the next few months, I would realize that football was and still is a global sport as well as a booming business.
Every weekend, I would watch all the Premier League games from early afternoon till the last game, even if it was Fulham vs Reading, or Middlesbrough vs Portsmouth.
The La Liga games came later, sometimes starting by 8 pm. I would watch them all until bedtime. I learned the game from every player I watched although I took a special liking to Cristiano Ronaldo for he made goal scoring seem incredibly easy.
I could not wait for school so I could practice what I had seen on TV. In my impatience, I would practice with gravel and little bobo cans while we waited for the school bus.
At school, I was no longer content with playing between the posts; it offered less freedom to display as there was so much risk involved. Any mistake could lead to a goal. Also, I so badly wanted to score a goal and it was almost impossible to do that when you play as a goalie.
So when I heard the break-time bell, I ran to the field as usual, but this time, I let Ladi have the post. I moved up-field to where the boys were jostling for places and jostled with them.
I do not remember the position I ended up playing in, for I moved wherever the ball went. I was determined to score a goal, and this made me more energetic and ubiquitous. Every time I got the ball, there were a million things in my head.
Once, I skipped past a player whilst he slid, just as Henry had done. I knew I would never play between the posts again. I heard shouts of delight, and heard ‘pass the ball!’ Maybe I clung on too much, but why not? I found a mate and released the ball.
I saw the teacher on duty move to get the bell. Break was almost over, and I had not achieved my goal.
I was at midfield when I saw a scramble near the opposing goal post. Swiftly, I flashed like lightning towards the post, my eyes on the ball. As though in slow motion, I saw the ball roll across the post, urged by the errant breeze and reaching feet.
There was an avalanche of legs propelled by a multitude of sweating, panting trunks, but all I saw was an unguarded net. I ran the race of my life towards the ball, towards the goal, towards my goal.
The ball rolled further away and I sensed the opportunity slipping, so I slid, just as Puyol had done. I cared little for the neatness of my rather well-ironed school uniform; my eyes were on the ball and the “empty” net.
I made contact, the net rippled and the sound of the bell was drowned by the screams of “GOAL!”
It was delirium, as much for me as it was for my teammates and our little fan base on the fringes. We, Primary 3 pupils had won against Primary 5! And it was none other than I that scored the winning goal!
The bell had been rung and time was up, but I had achieved my goal; I had scored a goal.
Was it how I dreamed it would be? No.
Was it the prettiest? Hardly. It was no belter from 35 yards, neither was it an acrobatic over-the-head kick, but still it was a goal, my goal.
A goal I would never have scored from the comfort of my goal post, a goal I would never have scored if I had declined to risk some dirt on my white socks.
I had scored a goal; the first of many to come.