Wednesday , 22 November 2017

What I Learnt from Street Soccer, By Michael Olorunninwo

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There is a reason football (soccer, in American) is popular in the developing world. Forget the luxury of a lush green pitch, an Astro turf or even a sandy playground. You can play football on any flat-looking surface, even stony ones. All that is required is a round object, big enough to be kicked around and soft enough to bounce like a ball. Our goal posts were made of rocks, used car tires, our sandals, or anything we found??we called them monkey posts. As for shoes, dont even think about it!

Football was my game and I loved it. As a youngster, it was the game in which I discovered my first passion. Or what passion meant. The sad part??I usually got scolded for playing. At some point, my parents would detail teachers to monitor me such that Id be in the soup of punishment for even watching other people play! Until secondary-school, I used to be a brilliant goalkeeper (at least in my mind), before I realized that suddenly leaving the goal-mouth open at the sight of an oncoming teacher did my team plenty of disservice. Football in school became a no go area.

Getting my parents out of the way of enjoying a great evening game took quite some time. The next obstacle was laying hands on a good soccer ball??and getting playmates. Personally, I never minded sacrificing my last penny for this. I also noticed that owning the ball, meant holding an option to dictate how the game would be played, plus you always get the opportunity to play in the first set (game) of the evening.

After outgrowing playing on the concrete floor of our fenced backyard, the available alternative was the streets. The problem again was my parents never wanted me having anything to do with street kids??I did it anyway. Birds of a feather, street kids like me, at the sight of a perfectly-rounded health branded ball, would quickly join in. Sooner than we noticed, a small crowd, of spectators and turn-takers, would have mounted.

However, football did me a huge favor. For someone with a stay-in-doors upbringing and sometimes a reserved personality, it afforded me the opportunity to open-up, express my unbridled passion, and meet some cool new people. I was the type that could walk down from the bus-stop, through the long stretch of street leading to my house, without having the cause to say hi there! to anyone. Probably, I never missed anyone elseuntil football did it!

Months later, before I walked home, I would have greeted a handful lot of people that it became an ordeal when in a hurry. I was able to meet people different from me. People with diverse upbringing, approach to life, perspective and mentality. Although these differences oftentimes made it frustrating trying to play football, however on the stony pitch, right there on our dusty street-stadium, we shared the common objective of making the best of every game??no matter what! Eventually, not only did we all extremely enjoyed our experiences, with time the differences in our personalities paled out in comparison to our desire to have fun. It turns out that, though different, we were all people of equal values and aspirations, with deep faith in a greater future.

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At late dusk, sweaty, dirty, exhausted as we might be, we would all smile, shake hands, and hope for another splendid experience the next evening. We played football evening after eveninguntil it was time for us to follow our dreams. One after another, our street-stadium became deserted and left to the mercy of erosion from the rains. The players reduced in number, the crowd diminished, and all that was left were memories??memories that I still replay in my mind. Great as they were, the memories are now history, but our relationships remain.

My moms favorite saying was twenty children do not play together for twenty years, but I personally discovered that relationships are like diamonds, they last forever.

What a world it would be if we focused on living our dreams and making the best of our experience on this side of eternity, and endeavor to encourage and help others to do same. We may not get to know each other until we engage at an emotionally expressive level through finding common interests. In the end, wed realize that, in every respect, our humanity, the values and aspirations we share, are much deeper and greater than our differences.

We cannot solve the challenges of our time unless we solve them together??unless we perfect our union by understanding that we may have different stories, but we hold common hopes; that we may not look the same and we may not have come from the same place, but we all want to move in the same direction??towards a better future for our children and our grandchildren. Barack Obama, in A More Perfect Union


Michael Olorunninwo is a management consultant and business strategist. He writes from California, United States

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