Jiang Peicun, March 2013
You don’t have to like football to enjoy the Humanities Programme, but it certainly helps. When Manchester United fans sing “There’s only one Wayne Rooney,” their simplistic chants are elegantly corrected by Mr Sowden and Mr Reeves: “The supply of Wayne Rooney is perfectly inelastic.” When a group of players surround the referee to protest in vain, Mr Purvis is likely to say to them, “After sentence, plaining comes too late.” When Liverpool fans are being laughed at again for making a habit of losing, Mr Rollason will offer them a lecture on historical legitimacy. Of course, the Geographers help to correct the news when they reported that Benitez is in charge of Chelsea for barely one season, claiming that he’ll be there for both Winter and Spring. Meanwhile, as Mr Rollason digs deep into his history books, let us dig deeper into the footballing experiences of our 4 sporty Humanz tutors.
Mr Sowden is a fan of Leeds United. It has been the best of times and the worst of times. Mr Sowden’s love for Leeds started way back in 1960, when his uncle took him to watch Leeds beat Rotherham 2-0 at Elland Road. Since then, Mr Sowden has fought off all sorts of possible addictions, from meat to alcohol, but never the addiction of watching Leeds.
However, if you think that this is a more pleasurable addiction than any of those he has fought off, you are wrong. In fact, the joys are heavily outnumbered by the pain. Leeds fans singing “…and we’ve had our ups and downs” is like a monopolist claiming “…and we’ve had our consumer and producer surplus” – with every Well-fought Loss, the former is transferred to the latter. And now, not even a Supernormal Prophet can see the prospect of Leeds promoting. In fact, ever since 2004, the Premier League’s Barriers to Entry have always been proven too high for Leeds to break down.
On the other hand, Mr Sowden believes the suffering of watching Leeds may be a great glue that holds people together. Furthermore, continued pain makes that occasional joy seem so much more meaningful. On the 27th January after the FA Cup fourth round, as Leeds were revelling and rejoicing in Elland Road and Spurs were weeping and wailing in White Hart Lane, guess who came to school the happiest man on earth? Mind you, moments we see Mr Sowden smiling because of football are as rare as a steak bleu!
As a teacher, Mr Sowden believes that the entire H2 syllabus can be taught via football. He has famously explained Rooney’s skyhigh salaries by creating the cheer “The supply of Wayne Rooney is perfectly inelastic,” in his tutorial. He has also bitterly illustrated the potential evils of take-overs with the way in which the new Leeds master Ken Bates has “bled the club dry.”
Mr Sowden says that he was never a good player. The last time he played regularly was when he was a teenager, and ceteris paribus, he plays as a Right Back.
Another Right Back is Mr Rollason. He played for his primary school team which reached the local schools’ final but lost 4-0. The magnitude of the defeat was, he says, perhaps due to the fact that he was substituted at half time. In secondary school, Mr Rollason became a school hockey player. From then till now, the only other time he played football was in Kenya – not in the African Cup of Nations, but for Railway Wanderers FC, where he made the second team. Like Mr Sowden, Mr Rollason acknowledges he’s “rubbish at football”.
However, as a fan, Mr Rollason has enjoyed the agony of being a staunch supporter of Aston Villa since 1972. Villa was one of his local teams, as well as Wolverhampton Wanderers, West Bromwich Albion and Birmingham City. It could have been any one of those teams. That said, Mr Rollason’s choice of The Villans is partly due to the fact that his primary school team played in Villa colours. However, this offers an incomplete explanation. In explaining his choice, one must also recognize the fact that his elder brother was an ardent Villa fan. Moreover, the timing of his choice can be explained by a special experience of his:
On a fateful day in 1972, while a certain Anwar Sadat was plotting an invasion of the Sinai Peninsula in bitterness, Mr Rollason and 40 odd thousand fans invaded the pitch at Villa Park in jubilant bliss – Aston Villa gained promotion following a win over Chesterfield by a solitary goal. This one and only pitch invasion turned him into a lifelong fan of Aston Villa.
Yet when asked about his best experience as a fan, Mr Rollason recalls better ones. Surprisingly, it was neither seeing Villa win the league in 1981 nor watching Villa beat Bayern Munich to win the European Cup in 1982. On both occasions, the otherwise composed and business-like Mr Rollason was too nervous to enjoy. Instead, his best experience was seeing Villa beat Liverpool 5-1 at Villa Park in 1977, when Liverpool were still at the height of their powers. He spent that fantastic night with about twenty of his schoolmates. Unsurprisingly, not many made it to school the following day.
Right now, Mr Rollason is disappointed to see a grand old club struggle, like a fallen superpower, against the very real threat of relegation. But one thing he’s learned from following Villa is that disappointment goes with the territory.
Moreover, as a history teacher, Mr Rollason is as much interested in the social history or politics of football as he is in the game itself. In England it’s more of the former because unlike those in mainland Europe, most English clubs don’t have political affiliations.
“Though it’s somewhat clichéd,” he says, “football has – until recently – always been the ‘working man’s opera’. But the identities are also very strongly tied up with regions, cities, or even specific parts of a city. For example, to support Villa is to be from the northern parts of Birmingham, and not the south of Birmingham who supported the Blues.” The issue of identity – class, national, ethnic – intrigues him, and so do the cultural identities that are part of supporting a football club.
Mr Rollason lived in Portugal for four and a half years and realized that support for FC Porto was very much tied up with resentment at the political domination of Lisbon and the south. Porto supporters are very aware of their history as outsiders from the centres of power. They still taunt Benfica supporters for their links to the fascist government of Salazar, and the fact that the south, unlike the north, was conquered by the Moors (Arabs) almost a thousand years ago.
Just like Mr Rollason, Mr Purvis was born in a football-obsessed area – the North-East of England. He was brought up to put “first things first”, and always read the newspapers from the sports pages at the back to the politics on the front page. Mr Purvis’ hometown, South Shields, is 12 miles from Newcastle and 6 from Sunderland. People there support either Newcastle United or Sunderland. As he lived on the side of the town nearer Sunderland, his choice was made. Since then, it was as if a black cat has crossed his path.
Mr Purvis’ experience supports Mr Rollason’s ideas about identity. When he worked in Sunderland as a teacher, he realised that the people of Sunderland always looked down on the people from South Shields. They called them ‘Sand-dancers’ because of their beaches and their girls’ tendency to fall in love with Yemeni seamen and have, what were then called, ‘half-caste’ children. After three years of insults, a disconcerted Mr Purvis decided never to visit the new Stadium of Light. On the other hand, he can’t switch to Newcastle because that is asking for even more abuse. Being a Sunderland supporter is therefore “an accident of birth”. He wishes he wasn’t one, but he’s stuck with it.
Mr Purvis played for all his school teams and in his twenties played amateur football for a team from Newcastle called Denton Rovers. When he watched, he supported his hometown team in the Northern Premier League. They played teams such as Wigan Athletic – before achieving League status and Premier League glory. He loved watching football at this semi-professional level, as access to the ground was easy and fans’ abuse were far funnier and more audible than that at large professional stadia. Cynicism reigned and he relished it.
Today, Mr Purvis plays most weeks for the Colbar Tigers, which was originally set up by an expatriate teacher to let fellow teachers play football and socialise afterwards. The “club house” is the well-known bar on Wessex Estate along Portsdown Road. They play their home games on the Tanglin School pitch before retiring to the Colbar for beer and a quiz. Visiting the bar, one can see on its walls photos of a young Mr Reeves as well as a younger Mr Perry from Hwa Chong. Of course, Mr Purvis is there too, with a moustache and a flatter stomach. The team motto is a maxim worth remembering: “Not always victorious but never defeated.”
Mr Purvis always plays on the left, usually on the wing. His favourite number is 11.
Mr Purvis sees no explicit relationship between football and his subject – literature. Indeed, at grammar school, he was actively discouraged from pursuing any serious interest in the game. He once broke a school window while playing football in the school yard. He met the Headmaster and was told, “Purvis, now you’re in the Sixth Form, you shouldn’t be playing football, you should be in the Sixth Form Centre drinking coffee and discussing politics!”
However, as a passionate literature teacher, Mr Purvis has made it his personal business to try and collect the best writing and writers on football. He has many recommendation for students, such as the recently published “Inverting the Pyramid” by Jonathan Wilson, a fellow Sunderland supporter.
He says the best football reporter of them all is someone called Hugh McIlvanney. He has written for all the big, serious papers and is highly regarded by all for his craft as a writer. He described Sir Alex Ferguson thus: “Criticism bounces off Alex Ferguson like a Barnes Wallis bomb, with the promise of more explosions to come.” He described Diego Maradona as having “the most remarkable power steering in sport.” He is capable of philosophy too: “Sport at its finest is often poignant, if only because it is almost a caricature of the ephemerality of human achievements.”
Ephemeral or not, no one can deny the achievements of our Humanz captain, Mr Jamie Reeves. He has undoubtedly had the most illustrious of careers in football.
Unlike the other three teachers, Mr Reeves does not exclusively support any club. He always saw himself as a player, not a supporter. Therefore there’s no special team. This allows him to enjoy football for its own sake, savouring good football regardless of who should be playing that good football. The only exception, however, is watching England, when he really wants them to win. Although it’s not as agonising as Mr Sowden’s supporting Leeds, it all too frequently is painfully disappointing.
Having stopped playing semi-professional football in the UK, where he played at Wembley twice and won the FA Vase twice, Mr Reeves started playing social football upon arrival in Singapore. At the age of 36, he was still in pretty good shape, and soon got noticed. The club Tyrwhitt Soccerites was taken over (and not bled dry) by someone who had seen Mr Reeves play, and at the start of 1992 Mr Reeves was persuaded to play in Singapore’s top league. His debut in Singapore was against The Police (now Home United) in the opening game of the season. His team were totally outplayed, but the goalkeeper had a blinder and Mr Reeves scored with a header. They won 1-0. The second game was a carbon copy of the first, where they won 1-0 again, thanks to Mr Reeves’ headed goal. The Straits Times named him Man of the Match, and as the oldest player in the league at 38, he caused a stir.
In 1992, Mr Reeves topped his team’s scoring charts in his first season in the FAS Premier League, scoring every single goal with his head!
Another unique feature about Mr Reeves is his identity as a commentator and a pundit. Based on a string of brilliant performances, Mr Reeves was asked to be the studio guest with Brian Richmond for Sunderland against Liverpool in the FA Cup Final – his first TV work, which opened a floodgate of opportunities. Brian’s son, Mark Richmond, was the TV commentator for Singapore in the Malaysian League, and he soon asked Mr Reeves to join him as the “colour” commentator, down at the old National Stadium.
“Those were the great days of the Kallang Roar, and the team featured the likes of Fandi Ahmad, V. Sundramoorthy, Malek Awab and David Lee,” recalls Mr Reeves. He also gratefully recalls that Mr Purvis used to attend games there and always brought a beer up to the commentary position for Mr Reeves at half-time!
In 1997, Mr Reeves got a call from Star Sports, who had recently moved to Singapore from Hong Kong. “Do you fancy doing some commentary work on the Asian World Cup qualifiers, starting with Uzbekistan vs. S. Korea?” they asked. Passionate about football, Mr Reeves duly showed up and met John Dykes. Together, they presented and did the commentary on those qualifiers, before moving on to present a wide range of games, from the Asian Games to Copa America, from the Chinese League to the K-League, from the AFC Championships to the UEFA Champions League. When ESPN/Star Sports got the rights to broadcast the English Premier League, Mr Reeves was taken on as a pundit.
In school, Mr Reeves and Mr Purvis were the core of the then RJC team that was unbeaten between 1990 and about 1993. Where Stewart Downing and Andy Carroll failed at Liverpool, Mr Purvis and Mr Reeves succeeded at RJC. They had one tactic: They would get the ball wide to Mr Purvis on the left wing; he would get the ball under control, steady himself and then with his exceptional left foot launch a long, high cross to the far post; Mr Reeves would arrive at the right place, at the right time, and head the ball home. Simple tactic, simply unstoppable.
The Magic of the Game
In what was one of the most magical moments in football at Humanities, Mr Sowden – proudly wearing his Leeds United jersey – was playing up front alongside Mr Reeves against a shaky ACJC defence. Raffles were a couple of goals up, when it occurred to the Gryphons that they had never seen Mr Sowden score a goal. The project for the rest of the game turned to creating a goal for the out-of-position Mr Sowden. Chances came and were duly spurned, with the ball never doing what Mr Sowden wanted it to do. Finally, the moment came when Mr Reeves was right through on goal. He rounded the keeper. A0n open goal yawned. Mr Sowden spotted his chance and ran up to support. Unselfishly, Mr Reeves rolled the ball across the empty goal with the keeper lying helpless on the ground. Mr Sowden stuck out his boot, but, as most full backs would do in front of goal, misjudged the ball, which leapt up, hit him on the knee, trickled forward and somehow bobbled over goal-line. Mr Sowden wheeled away in celebration, arms aloft, ripping his Leeds jersey off and accepting the plaudits of his adoring fan in the stands.
After many years of watching and playing, passion remains burning and interest in football remains high for our Fabulous Four. As far as they are concerned, to misquote Dickens for the umpteenth time, it is fair to say, “Football, it is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; the stadium, it is a far, far better place to go to than any other I have known.”