Post-hock: Hockey Finals 2018

By Aaron Tan (19A01B) and Kwee Qiao Ying (19S03K)
Photographs courtesy of David Lin (18S06O) of Raffles Photographic Society

2.47pm. We are late (just a little). In anxious anticipation I call Sushin (19S03M) to ask when I was to meet the team. A minute later, I get a call back.

“Meet you at the bus. Let’s go.”

And so I clambered on, a bumbling anomaly amongst the wine-shirted sea of one of the best A-division hockey teams on the island of Singapore. Calm, ear-plugged, exuding quiet confidence, our defending champions cruised onward, onward towards Sengkang Hockey Stadium. Towards our formidable foes of Victoria Junior College, who waited to challenge our crown.

The game will start in a little under two hours. When we arrive, the Victorian hockey girls are playing against Eunoia. Chants of “VJ, ole” erupt from the stands. Aditya leans on the railing beside me, catching a few seconds of the game before he heads down to practise. I ask him how he was feeling.

“Excited, mostly.”

Confident?

“Well, in the end, the team that plays better will win,” he quips, flashing a knowing smile as he heads down the stairs to rejoin his team.

    ***

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4.29pm. I watch as the team huddles together in a circle for one final strategy briefing, some last words of mutual encouragement before they roar, scatter and take their positions. The match is about to begin. With a blow of the whistle, the players spring into action.

The advantage is clear from the very first quarter. Team Raffles makes consistent, concerted, aggressive pushes which force Team Victoria into the defensive. Our Boys in Black weave skillfully around their opponents, skirting round interceptors, a triple tango of player, ball and stick. The ball is sent darting between legs, soaring through the air in a graceful parabola to be received with the precise lift of a stick. When it seems like the ball has finally been cornered, it is simply passed to another member of the team, who continues the routine. At 4.41pm, Akash (19S03R) strikes the ball, and the first goal of the game is scored. The supporters burst into a triumphant roar. In the second quarter, the next goal, courtesy of Raziq (19S06I) follows. Soon, the whistle blows for half-time. Team Raffles’ effortless technique and ruthless advance earns them a 2-0 lead. It seems as if the match has already been made.

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Meanwhile, tensions run high in the Victorian camp. A player yells in frustration. The goalkeeper collapses, emotionally exhausted. The crowd screams louder than it ever has. And it is these screams, of anguish, of hope – which draw them together. Electrified with a new energy, the Victorians band stronger than ever to mount a desperate comeback. They are not going down without a fight.

As the whistle blows and the game resumes for its third quarter, Team Victoria pounces. No longer does Team Raffles’ skillful technique guarantee smooth sailing. Passes are swiftly intercepted and the tide of the game turns with the swipe of a stick. This time, it is the Victorians who are on the offense. Persistent, relentless, the Victorians persevere and soon score a goal. The crowd goes wild. 2-1.

Both camps re-energised, emotions flare in the fourth quarter of the game. The fiery crowd cheers louder and harder as Team Raffles fights back, stronger than ever before, with frequent attempts at scoring. Team Victoria, an equalizer so close yet so far, closes in for one more attempt… and disaster! Opposing players collide, collapsing and tripping a player from Team Raffles over. A hush falls upon the crowd. The tangled clash has injured the Victorian, who is helped up and is escorted away to cheers.

Raffles is awarded a penalty corner. Spectators await the shot with bated breath. If we manage to score, our lead would be secure. Ethan Tan (19A01C) readies himself, staring straight, steely-eyed. He makes the shot…

And goal! To a resounding roar, Team Raffles surges forward 3-1. Maintaining our lead for the remaining 10 minutes of the game, Team Raffles emerges victorious.

During the prize-giving ceremony, the Team stands at attention as spectators join in to sing the institution anthem and perform the Unite cheer. Gold medals in hand, they return to the field to mingle with family and friends, basking in the afterglow of a well-earned win.

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***

The captain of this ragtag crew, Caleb Ang (18S06F), is a friendly, affable individual with a warm smile and leadership style as personable as he looks. To him, nothing is more important in a team than unity. “We are very bonded,” he said when asked to describe his team. “We’ve really grown individually and as a team, we’ve become more inclusive, which is very important in a team sport.”

It was this unity, according to Caleb, which gave them the winning edge. “A lot of my team have been playing for quite long together,” he remarked. “It really helped us in terms of chemistry.”

Teacher-in-charge Mr Larry Lee agrees. “I like the way they put themselves together  for the past 6 months,” he comments with pride. “Generally they grew to really like each other as a team all due to the captain and the vice captain – who were able to ensure everyone was involved in the team, gelling the team together.”

“Boys will be boys,” he adds bemusedly. “They’re rowdy, but overall, the captain and vice captain have been able to mature.” Mr Lee goes on to elaborate that they have established a set of practices and rituals. “Everyone comes together to make sure they’re stretched out. Especially before a game starts and ends, Caleb and company are able to ensure that everyone is focused mentally.”

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***

I watch the team members mingle as the sun sets over the Sengkang Hockey stadium, casting a wistful orange glow over the field where the team played what may be their final match together. Hugs are exchanged. Pictures with family and friends are snapped. Caleb interrupts our interview to rush over for one big group photo with teachers and coach.

It is a beautiful picture. One that tells the story of friendship, of brotherhood, of unity. Of the insurmountable spirit of oneness which beats in the heart of every sportsman. It is a tale of how 20-odd Rafflesians banded together as brothers, through gruelling training and giddy triumph, to make something beautiful together. That’s the story of the Hockey Team that was told on Sengkang Hockey Stadium on the 11th of May, 2018.

Caleb returns, awash in that orange radiance, that bittersweet joy. We ask him for one piece of advice he has given his teammates in recent days. To that he chuckles, and replies with warm assurance, “I tell them to relax.”

“Relax, because I know they can do it.”

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