He tapped “Cancel” on his phone, and slid it back into his pocket. He wonders if there is a phone out there that does not have a phone call function; it would be perfect for someone like him who doesn’t like to talk to anyone. He then picked up his wallet and keys, and locked up the house to make his scheduled 2-minute walk to the hawker centre for lunch.
The strict schedule gave him purpose and kept him sane. Also, an hour of being surrounded by other people, even without the commitment of talking to them, is what the doctor literally ordered. Apparently, it helps to ease the edge off the depressive cycle and especially since he has chosen to live alone, some form of intentional human interaction is beneficial.
Since the downward spiral which saw him quitting his job, break off his relationship, and moving out of his parents place, Jac has been living in recluse and off his savings. Life has pushed him to the brink; a fact that he has tried to hide from as many as he could. He was never the most sociable being in the first place but things got to another level when the demanding commitments, and unfulfilled relationships broke him.
For the past 6 weeks, since he moved in to his studio apartment and started coming to the centre for meals, he has sat at the same table; tucked away from other people, close to the exit, and with a clear view of the in-house television. A repeat telecast of last night’s Singapore League (or S-League) game was on.
Blue was playing against Red, and there was no real skill or rhythm on display. Perhaps it’s the bumpy pitch or the lack of motivation to play in front of an empty stadium. It didn’t make for good TV. The two men in different coloured tracksuits wore contrasting expressions. One was sat on the plastic chair with his hands crossed and a scowl on his face. The other was animatedly screaming and pointing to indeterminate directions on the field while looking as though he was going to snap his clipboard into two at any time. None of the players on the field seemed to care. Neither was anyone at the hawker centre paying any attention to what is supposed to be the professional football league of a country with one of the highest GDPs in the world.
“It’s bullshit isn’t it?”
The middle-aged man at the other table blurted out to no one in particular.
“All that money in the game and we end up with this kind of lousy football. No one got pride to play anymore, not like the Malaysia Cup time. Last time, everybody work hard. Play with semangat. Now, who want to play football?”
Jac wasn’t sure if he was supposed to respond but chose the safer option of not doing so. The Singlish monologue continued.
“Then, you see the coach? I don’t think they all got brain one. The tactics all macam secondary school team. Anyhow kick. Don’t even talk about the association lah, all these office people don’t even do anything to support our players and coaches.”
It was uncomfortable to listen to this stranger’s critique of Singapore football but Jac admitted to himself that it hit the mark. The success in regional competitions after the national team pulled out of Malaysian competitions in 1994 kept some buzz going but things have been going downhill for the most part of the last decade. The interest in local football has all but died and nothing seems to suggest that it will get any better. He would very much rather watch the lower leagues of English football.
“You know, if only got a few good people who still have the belief and willing to work hard to make Singapore football good again, then maybe one day we all can cheer together eh? But… aiyah, what do I know right? I’m just a kopitiam football manager.”
This time the man turned directly to Jac and asked, “You? How? I see you here everyday watching football. Can or not? You can change Singapore football? I think if you apply to become coach also they take you.”
It looked like he was only half-joking and Jac could only offer a constrained smile before turning his attention back to his meal. He couldn’t wait to get out of this place.
“I know it’s difficult but at some point you have to decide what to do with your life. Maybe take a part-time job so that you don’t need to commit to it. Or maybe volunteer with an organisation that is doing something you like? Take small steps but I hope you’ll do something.”
Utami’s words replayed itself in his mind as he stared out of the window and watched the monsoon rain beat indentations in the muddy soil while the wind torment the branches of the frail trees. He pondered for the umpteenth time today about what he should do next. On this third day of the new year, Jac’s determination to turn his life around is on a high. He knows that the only reason he is still alive is because he refuse to let the demons in his head win. He may be down, but he will not go out without a fight. He needs to find something to hang on to, fast.
The web browser displayed a blank search box, waiting for a question, and Jac has a few of those. He typed: “How to become a football manager” and went down the internet warp hole looking for an answer to what the stranger at the coffeeshop had suggested.
By nightfall, Jac had found the International Football Organisation and created an account in their online database. His application form was a depressing read: zero coaching experience, not even as an intern; zero competitive football playing experience as leisure football with friends don’t count; and as the final depressing footnote, he don’t even have much experience with footballing computer games. The only thing that has brought him here is his interest in watching football on television and a hope that he may find solace in it for a while.
The International Job Centre tells him that there are some openings out there, ranging from Director of Football, to Scouts, to Manager, and more. He filtered it down to his home nation Singapore, and the only other country with a league that he has a remote knowledge of, England. Then, without hesitation, he clicked “Apply All”. There was nothing to lose for a man who had nothing in the first place. And now, he can only wait.
Second Half is a story about Jac Grey who lost everything in his life and tries to rebuild it all by travelling halfway across the world to take up a job that he was unqualified for – as a football manager. For the full story, visit Jac’s at shadowcatjac.wordpress.com. You can also get me on Twitter @shadowcatjac.