January 15, 2016

Horse 2057 - Ali Abbas Returns To The Scene Of The Incident

It must be said that I like watching sport. I like watching, playing and analysing it to the point of stupidity. I like the statistics, the tactics, the struggle, the endurance and the sheer drama of sport but most of all I like the fact that it is a truer and clearer mirror on life than life itself.
The sense of bravado that sports people have when they know that the odds are impossibly against them but they still try anyway, the pure joy that flows through every sinew when your team wins, the sense of disappointment and sometimes ennui when your team loses and the sense of hope in the face of all rational sense that your team will do better next time when they have demonstrated consistently that they will not, are all stronger and more real then the decidedly more grey world where most people are happy if they spend their time in a nice place, with the occasional trip to the lav.
As well as being bigger and better than grown up things like love, death and taxes, sport provides lessons which are also better.

This weekend in what promises to be a slow and wet weekend in old Sydney town, the Sydney Derby between Sydney FC and the Western Sydney Wanderers will be played out in the never ending argument to prove that Blue is best and that Red and Black is like jamming a rusty cake fork in your eye forever (I admit that I am incredibly biased, that I only have one eye and that it is sky blue).
This Sydney Derby sees the return of Ali Abbas to the fixture which saw him out of the game for 405 days.

Ali Abbas suffered a tackle from Iacopo La Rocca in the match on 29th November 2014, which saw a cynical one-all draw and this caused his Anterior Cruciate Ligament and Medial Cruciate Ligament to tear.
As a player who has been through this, the fact that you can't go back out the next week, or the week after that is disheartening; when it extends into months its positively maddening. Worse for Ali, as a professional he will have had to watch Sydney FC from the sidelines and know that he was powerless to change the course of any action out on the pitch. All the while, his match fitness will have ebbed away to zero and he'd still be left with the twin problems of pain and rehabilitation.

On social media, Abbas had to also suffer taunts and racism; rivalry is one thing but this should not be tolerated. The fact that Brendon Šantalab had openly made racist remarks in the 3-1 victory to Sydney in the March fixture at the Sydney Football Stadium in the previous season, should have had Šantalab fined and suffer match bans to say the least - it got nothing.
Abbas himself though, who somehow has risen above all of this, serves as an example of why sport is bigger and better than grown up things like love, death and taxes, and has provided a very valuable lesson to society.

As an Iraqi refugee, he came to Australia with practically nothing and the worst things that will have happened to him already did so before he stepped onto our shores. To be out of the game for 405 days and then to score a goal on your return to competition, shows something of the best of the human spirit. To then back up and return to the very fixture which caused you to get injured, the very next week (which is what happens this weekend) is to display determination and courage. Courage is not an absence of fear but doing it anyway.
Ali Abbas is also I think, a pretty good personification of what it means to be Australian. As a nation the vast majority of us came from across the seas, we're more colourful and diverse than a bowl full of M&Ms, Smarties, Bhuja Mix, Salted Nuts and Skittles and we'd like to think that we show grit and determination in the face of our foes. He might play for Iraq but we can adopt him, can't we?

And what foes they are. The Western Sydney Wanderers are Sydney FC's first best frenemies. They are neighbours, they are rivals and in the great sporting landscape of Australia, they are brothers. Ali Abbas returning to the fixture which put him out of action for so long, is like the return of someone who has been on a long journey and as come home. One of the greatest compliments that a sibling can pay, is a traditional punch in the arm. No doubt that when Abbas returns to the pitch against the Western Sydney Wanderers, they will play him all due respect and watch him like a hawk.

The fixture tomorrow night at Parramatta Stadium, will be a return to where it all happened 412 days before. The incident must have been horrible because it meant that he had to watch all of the 2015 Asian Cup from the sidelines; it meant that he couldn't play for Iraq in that tournament.
I tip my hat to you Ali Abbas. You show a sense of joy and determination which is bigger than grown up things. We should be proud to have you in our nation. I'm certainly proud that Ali Abbas wears sky blue.

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