‘Effigy’ is a 3-part series tracing the storylines of 3 different Victorians across 3 sports. Each Victorian featured has their own story and is a life-like caricature, symbolising and personifying all that is beautiful and ugly in sport. Today we look at 17S63’s Jonathan Koh, the difference maker in VS’s 2013 C Division finals clash with RI.
“I want you to play like Thierry Henry,” instructs Mr Iskander, then the VS teacher in charge of hockey, as Jonathan Koh came off the bench for VS in the 2014 C Division’s 3rd and 4th placing game. This was roughly a year on from VS’s title winning campaign when they beat RI 2-1. The winner came from the unlikeliest of sources as Jonathan Koh, in the words of TODAY, wrong footed the RI goalkeeper. He made a lung bursting run to the far post, capitalising on a goalkeeping blunder with a deft finish. He was Victoria’s hero that year but he couldn’t replicate that goalscoring touch that Thierry Henry had the following year. ‘Titi’ was Wenger’s nickname for Henry, a Parisian phrase used to refer to a small but unpretentious and spirited boy. It was fitting, maybe a little too fitting, that Jonathan was told to imitate Henry.
Jonathan was our Titi. He carried with himself little airs, a boy who was raised in a Christian household in Woodlands, a neighbourhood he called the ‘slums of Singapore’. His family was by no means a sporting one, his father the owner of Pappito Gelato, and his mother a music teacher. Their professions seemed to lie antithetical to Jonathan’s sporting pursuits, his background suggesting that there was nothing teleological in his goalscoring exploits. But their middle-class backgrounds, comparatively speaking, was just about where the similarities ended.
Our Titi was perhaps a little too unpretentious, reminiscent of the working clash that formed the bulk of English football’s ranks. Jonathan’s hockey style was very ‘kick and rush’ as the English would say, or to put it in a modern context, a stereotypical pace w****, the very bane of FIFA players worldwide. He was labelled a headless chicken by teammates and teachers alike, putting grit and effort over flair and technique. Jonathan’s focus on speed, stamina and work rate might have earned the plaudits of mentor figures in a pre-millennium setting but today, as a continental style sweeps the sporting world through the reach of globalisation, individualism, skill and technical attributes are being prized higher than before.
When Jonathan came into VS, little did he expect to be Victoria’s hero. A nobody who had never played hockey in his life, Jonathan’s coordination and athleticism caught the eye of Fred Martens, a veteran hockey player and VS’s coach. But ultimately, in the grand scheme of things, that goal might have been beginner’s luck. “I never expected big things to come from that. The manner of the goal was a bit fortuitous,” Jonathan said. He struggled to nail down a starting spot in the team over the subsequent years as VS struggled to consecutive fourth place finishes in 2014 and 2015. Jonathan was anonymous in the twilight stages of the B and C Division competitions of 2015 and 2014. Even then, people still talked about his finest moment like it was yesterday, bantering with him about how far those 2 realities have become. But Jonathan was personally resigned to his fate. “In the end, I accepted my place on the team and even though I would’ve like to play more, it was in the best interests of the team to let the coach handle our playing time.”
In the group stages of 2016’s B Division Hockey competition, it seemed like Jonathan Koh’s free fall from grace had finally ended. In a 4-1 victory for VS, Jonathan Koh opened the floodgates for VS with a first touch shot that had screamer written all over it following a well worked cross. “It was my best goal,” he said. Everything about that goal suggested a culmination of all of Jonathan’s struggles over the previous years. It was seemingly symbolic, suggesting he had shed the negative sides of his game that seemed far too deeply entrenched in traditional and working class attitudes. It was a transcendence onto a higher plane of beauty, showcasing spatial awareness in his positioning as well as brilliant technical grounding, while retaining the ‘I’m the man’ mentality that was found amongst the heads of a middle class household. Here he was dragging his team forward by the scruff of its neck but doing so in a way that we would never have expected of this headless chicken. He never looked more Thierry Henry.
Alas, it was not to be. His goal proved to be a false sign rather than a turning point as VS crashed out in the second round at the hands of RI and SJI. The struggles of the previous years had ended up in disappointment. But even in the face of adversity, Jonathan remains strong. When asked about his hockey journey so far, he says “God is of great importance to me. Even through my failures and difficulties, I can look to Him for strength and always be at peace.”
First. Fourth. Fourth. Nothing. That was VS’s placing in the National School Games over the past 4 years with Jonathan in the team. It suggests their downward spiral as a traditional powerhouse. And Jonathan’s recent performances, which he describes as ‘very bad’, suggests that he is not about to buck that trend. With his career as a student athlete winding down, this represents a shot at redemption. His journey as a hockey player is at crossroads. Would he follow Henry’s footsteps whose Arsenal stint ended with him immortalised in Arsenal folklore and achieving a unprecedented sextuple at Barcelona? Or would he mimick Arsene Wenger’s post-Highbury sides, going on a trophyless run that spanned a third of his career and stuck in a temporal limbo? Jonathan has had the weight of expectation thrust upon him as he was barely making inroads into a budding hockey journey. Now, after years of crushing defeat, Jonathan Koh is now presented with a clean slate and a chance to write his name in the annals of time. Everyone loves a compelling underdog story and as Jonathan Koh’s story unfolds, we hope the ending will be just that.
Ryan Low, 17S62
Ryan Low is The Victorian Press’ sports correspondent.
Photo: Red Sports