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Mumbai To Melbourne

Posted on Monday, November 17, 2014 by ARFAI,

1959887_735963109770111_2117848768_n-001Written By: Saurabh Bhandekar

“Look at that flag on your chest. Play for its honor, know that you represent the people who salute it”, said our Coach at a particularly difficult and rough match at one of the fields in Royal Park, Melbourne. I still find these words ringing in my ears sometimes when I get on to the field to kick footy. And then I am reminded of the wonderful and memorable experience that was the AFL International Cup 2014.

I have played several sports at competitive levels but my initial involvement in footy was only restricted to the once or twice a week games we played for fun at a local park. So, it came as a surprise when I got a chance to represent my state of Maharashtra in the first ever Aussie Rules National Cup and compete against other states. I seldom travelled myself even though I had a small desire to do so every now and then. But this desire of mine has been fulfilled time and again because of my involvement in footy. Footy has taken me places and given me the pleasure of making friends in different parts of the country, which otherwise wouldn’t have been possible. One can hardly imagine how astounded I was when I was informed that I was selected on the Indian Team and would be travelling to Australia for the International Cup. I never thought that I would be rewarded so highly for my steady but determined involvement in footy.

Before leaving for Australia a National Camp was held at Kolkata and it offered a great opportunity to all the players to bond with each other and understand their ways and styles of playing. This was essential because the players had never ever practiced as a team before but merely played against each other at the National Championships. Just when everything seemed to be going well, I strained my calf muscle during one of the training sessions and it put me on the bench for the next few sessions. I felt dejected and cursed my ill fate. But I was determined nonetheless to overcome the injury. I followed the doctor’s advice carefully and started conditioning myself for the tour, gradually regaining my confidence and motivation.


 The big day arrived when we were to depart for Australia and I woke up feeling very excited and yet a little nervous. I am not a big fan of goodbyes and wished if I could sneak out of the house unseen. But I was out of luck. My family and friends had gathered to bid me farewell and I must admit that I couldn’t help but feel a bit proud of myself. The journey till Australia was an eventful one as it was my first trip abroad and I thoroughly enjoyed every bit of it. I was fascinated by the views and the atmosphere that Australia offered as soon as we arrived there. The next couple of weeks I spent there were one of the best ones in my life. I don’t remember ever being so active and yet very tired, but persistently fighting fatigue and willing to go on.

We set to work with the first team meeting which included players residing in Melbourne as well. Here we agreed upon five team values which we would all strive to uphold during the entire tournament. Then onwards, all our actions and efforts were directed towards being Strong, Committed, Disciplined, United and Respected. This wasn’t the first time I got the feeling that lessons in footy are indeed lessons in life as well. I felt privileged to be a part of Indian Tigers and felt elated to experience proper coaching as it was something I always craved for. I will never forget that day of our first match when we stood there, one as a team, holding on to each other’s jumpers, heads held high while our National Anthem was played in the background. It indeed felt like being a soldier ready for a battle.


The only fond memory I have of my first international match is getting bumped from nowhere and hitting the ground hard. That hurt, real bad. But I knew that I had to be strong, that I had to be committed to my team, and I was back on my feet in no time. Though I admit, it took me a while to steady my footsteps. In the matches that followed we kept getting hit, harder every time. But we didn’t stop, we got back up and kept on going. We were defeated on the score board time and again but never in the spirit thanks to the constant encouragement we received from our Coach. His faith in our team instilled a strong desire in us to deliver what he asked for. And I am happy to say that we always returned to the field as an improved side. We kept improving and fought harder and harder after every quarter. Playing at the international level and facing the top teams was a brilliant learning experience for me and I was very excited to share what I had learnt with everyone when I got home.

Participating in the sport and learning about its importance in the lives of people there I got a glimpse in to their lifestyle and rich culture. I found it to be very exciting and intriguing. When it was time for us to leave I felt heavy in my heart and found it hard to accept that we were going to leave the place which had become our home for a few weeks and where we had learnt so much about the sport we love, about each other and indeed about ourselves.  Once again, I realized how wonderful and rewarding playing footy has been for me. And what makes it even more gratifying is to be able to work for the organization that strives towards the development of this wonderful sport in our country. To make the sport available to everyone who wants to play it and to help them get what I have gotten from it would make me more happy than anything else could. An oval ball making people fly across seas to play, connecting lives of people and adding smiles to their faces isn’t less than magic, is it?