By Kuang Shane Qi (19A13A) and Loh Lin (19A01D)
Photos courtesy of Brendon Loo (19S03H) from Raffles Photographic Society
It takes 19 minutes for the whistle to blow its most important signal. At the sound, our players drop back and steel themselves for the next round against the backdrop of cheers from the Hwa Chong supporters. The first goal has landed, and it is not ours.
If this rattles our girls, they do not show it. The kick-off is about to start again, so they shrug off their despair from the force of the first goal and surrender their full attention to the ball. It is their turn to pass, and their bodies betray their fervour; they shift their weight and lean forward, prepared to follow the ball no matter where it leads. They need the next goal to be theirs. But they cannot voice this sentiment, so the supporters bellow it for them, loud and hard. The whistle blows once more, and the game resumes.
Our girls are relentless, and it shows in the way they run. What they might lack in speed, they make up for in sheer intensity, never letting up as they race their opponents down and press them into making quick passes. Still, HCI manages to plough past their defence several times, coming heart-stoppingly close to the box to make another goal. So the girls run, harder than before, intercepting passes and doing their utmost to make it as difficult as possible for their opponents to strike. The two sides engage in a persistent back-and-forth, both carrying the burden of what losing means to their team, neither willing to see it become a reality. By half-time, HCI retains their lead of 1-0, and our girls make their way back to the shade, visibly fatigued.
Here in the stands, our supporters are a fever of frustration from the number of close calls from both sides. For a while, they fidget in silence as substitutions are made, searching for their friends on the pitch to relay an affirming gaze or smile. Then the tension breaks with an unorthodox cry of encouragement: “Show your aggression! Just T-pose!”
The attempt at levity from the back row draws exasperated chuckles from the throng of supporters, but fails to reach our girls off pitch, who are still solemn and reflective. Their coach notices when Nooriyah Moochhala (19S03Q) slumps onto the bench, and is quick to approach her. After a pat on the shoulder, he turns his attention to the rest of the team. But the whistle halts whatever he is about to say, as the girls rise to make their last stand.
Barely four minutes into the final half, vice-captain Christie Soo (19A01B) makes a sharp turn past her opponents, sending the ball hurtling towards the goal. The crowd roars, willing it to spear HCI’s defences and level the scoreline. For a moment, it looks like it will. Our supporters are on the edge of their seats, ready to leap up in triumph. Then HCI seize the ball, and surge towards our girls in a renewed clash of blue and green.
Perhaps no other people are more adept at shrugging things off than athletes. In the heat of a match, you pause for a moment to catch your breath, and the next thing you know is the ball being borne away from you on a tide of unfamiliar jerseys. Athletes, then, have nothing left to do but press on. Christie bears testament to this: she is elbowed in the stomach, doubles over for a moment, but forces herself to push through the nausea and remain on the field.
And it is this enduring grit and tenacity that shines through as the clock ticks its way towards the end of the second half. The girls push persistently towards the goal, and at the 54th minute, a ball sent soaring by Milanpreet Kaur Bajwa (19S03K) grazes the goal, missing it narrowly again.
The rest of the match is an exercise in suspense. Even as two writers who knew nothing about soccer prior to this match (and thus cannot be said to know what exactly is going on), we find our eyes anxiously flicking from ball to timer, and our hands drumming nervous rhythms on the bright plastic seats. With every pass that connects, there is a pass that doesn’t, and second by second, the timer counts down. Raffles is anxious, but not disheartened. From the stands, someone screams a reminder: “there’s still time!” And the girls push on, fighting against the inevitable, willing for a miracle.
1 minute 30 seconds left. Raffles is awarded a free kick and they do not hesitate. The ball misses by the barest margin, and they take off after it again.
30 seconds remain. The girls are tired, sluggish. At this point, it seems the match is set, but they will not allow themselves to stop running.
10 seconds. They advance towards the goal. Just as Milan prepares to make the shot, she collides with two HCI players and goes down, to a torrent of yells from the crowd. The girls know it is over.
The whistle blows one last time, and our girls are straggled across the pitch, trying to find each other amidst the burst of blue. Despite the team’s best efforts, Raffles has lost by a margin of 1-0.
A few rows up from where we sit, we see the batch of 2018 stand to applaud as the team comes forward to take a bow. The seniors look somber, but proud. No doubt they know how much this match means to them, and how fiercely the team yearned to win it.
The smell of loss is fresh, even as the girls are immediately enveloped by the warmth of their friends. Christie acknowledges that it will take a while to recover. She pauses, struggling to find the words through the residue of her anguish. “It’s a heartbreak because it’s important to so many of us on the team, and it definitely didn’t end how we wanted it to.”
Loss always seems to elicit a lecture on character, but there is something about pain that gives it a shade of splendour. Christie knows this. “I think the cruel beauty of sports lies in its unpredictability,” she admits, “but I’m proud to be part of a batch that everyone had high expectations for. Even when things on the pitch get rough and we’re not always happy with one another, I know we all try our best and love the game for what it is, and that’s what makes playing with [my team] so enjoyable. I take pride in the fact that we played a good game even for the ones we lost, and that we managed to showcase the beauty of the sport.”
I think the cruel beauty of sports lies in its unpredictability.Vice-Captain Christie Soo (19A01B)
Captain Catherine Kausikan (19A01B) echoes this sentiment, expressing her pride in her team for “fighting with dignity and playing the kind of game [they’ve] been training to play”. She does not forget the people who have supported them every step of the way, sharing that the team wanted to do well “not just for our own goals, but because of our teachers […] who have invested so much in us”.
High hopes easily become a burden, but the team accepts it, and wears it as a reminder that they have something to fight for in each and every game they play. So they will run against the merciless hands of time, unflinching even in the face of imminent defeat, regal even in the aftermath.
Michelle Glazov (#2), Jolene Tay (#4), Abigail Tan (#5), Megan Lim (#6), Nooriyah Moochhala (#7), Quek Lin Yuan (#8), Lim Qi Hui (#9), Chen Siyu (#10), Sofea Harris Wong (#11), Milanpreet Kaur Bajwa (#13), Rebecca Ng (#14), Nur Amira (#15), Christie Soo (#16), Nur Syahindah (#17), Seow Si Min (#18), Alyssa Chia (#19), Chua Bing Ya (#20), Catherine Kausikan (#21), Rebecca Tan (#22), Zitin Bali (#25)