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"How Soccer was Played During My Childhood (the ‘70s & ‘80s)"

Post on: January 23, 2020

In Redhill estate where I grew up during the ‘70s and ‘80s, soccer was the most popular pastime amongst the kids — where friendship was forged and lost in the hallowed ground. We were so obsessed with the game that we would somehow sneak our way to the basketball court for our daily routine. Homework, exams and the occasional drizzle could not keep us from getting our adrenaline rush.

Sometimes we would go overboard — a free-for-all brawl would break out at the slightest provocation. It was total mayhem – tempers were frayed and the level-headed players had to palliate the bitter feud. The adage accurately echoes, “Before kids can play like a pro, they must enjoy playing the game like a kid,” Steve Locker.

The rules of the game were simple. It was formulated by our predecessors and passed on to us without question. We religiously held on to these unwritten rules:

The two best players have to be on the opposing teams –
In addition, these two best players were chosen as captains of their respective teams. My brother would helm Team A while I captained the other since we were the flashy kids with great footballing skills. And we were given the enviable task to select the players for our team. We would have to “Long Chiam Pas” (akin to the modern-day “scissors, paper, stone”) to determine who gets to choose first.

Take on the names of famous footballers –
During the match, we would assume the name of our favourite stars. In a routine match, one could find a Keegan, an Ian Rush and a Rummenigge amongst the players. Being a Manchester United fan, I would invariably take on the name of Bryan Robson or Steve Coppell.

The best player takes on the striker role —
It was the notion that the person who scores the most goal was worthy of the ‘best player’ title. Thus, both captains would be positioned near the penalty area to inflict maximum damage to the opponents. It was rare to find the captains relegated as a defender or midfielder. To gain respect from teammates, one has to be an opportunist with killer instincts in front of the penalty box.

The fattest boy in the team becomes the goal-keeper –
In the basketball court where the game was held, the goalpost was small and thus the goalkeeper was not allowed to use his hands. Thus, it only made sense to assign the biggest built boy as the goalkeeper — he could use his sheer size to block the ball.

Plastic ball –
In everyday matches, the plastic ball was used as a means of practicality. The leather ball was treated like a luxurious item and hence used in the field and for formal tournaments. Another reason was that the basketball court was at close proximity to residential flats and one shudders to think what would befall if a leather ball was thunderously volleyed onto someone’s window.

Going shirtless –
We grew up watching the English Football League and were intrigued by the fanciful jerseys each team wore. However, it was an era where such paraphernalia were not on sale. Thus, with a little bit of imagination, one team was distinctively distinguished from the other — by going shirtless. And which team gets to keep on their shirt was done by the toss of a coin or via the ubiquitous “Long Chiam Pas”.

Best player replaces the goalkeeper during a penalty shootout —
Flexibility was very much entrenched in the matches. As the opponent prepares to take a penalty, the best player would swap position with the goalkeeper. He shouldered the burden of the whole team and thus he had to take over the moniker, “One who saves the day”. After the penalty shootout, the best player would resume his coveted striker role.

The last goal determined the winner —
Our matches were an excellent platform to showcase our talents. And many goals were scored with flair and precision. However, the scores do not determine the final outcome although the scorers were held in high esteem. We came up with a rule that the team which scores the final goal is the ultimate winner. This served as an impetus for everyone to give 100 per cent even at the dying minutes of the game. And when the final goal was scored, the match ended.

Taunting —
The matchwinner was extolled and heaped with praises. This was followed by insults hurled on the losing team. Sometimes the abuses were taken light-heartedly while it disintegrated into arguments on other occasions.

Imaginary referee’s name invoked —
And to soothe bruised ego, the losing team would invoke the referee’s name. Children of the current era may be baffled by this strange phenomenon since there was no referee in the first place. The reasoning — the referee invariably gets the taunting whenever an unfavourable decision was made against our team each time we watch soccer at the National Stadium. Thus, the losing team would cry foul with the chant, “Referee Kayu, (blockhead) Referee Kayu!”. It may sound absurd blaming a non-existent referee nevertheless comforting to the ten-year-old defeated boys.

And as every game ended, we would walk away satiated and yet yearning for another shot at goal…. I cannot help being overwhelmed by a sense of nostalgia as I recollect the beautiful game personified by the Redhill kids of yesteryear.

By: Shaji Thomas Varughese
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Photo: Pexels.com

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