It was a sad evening for VJC. We reigning champions were denied a second straight double-champion feat, dethroned by an inspired RI team owing to a mesmerising solo goal from RI’s Ramalingam Gouthanam in the latter stages of the game. Despite valiant efforts from VJ, we ceded the title to the Bishan-based team.
VJC were the reigning champions, but the opponents came into the game with form on their side. Their impenetrable defence and streak of shutouts spanning the entirety of the tournament meant that VJC indeed had a tough task ahead, especially in such a game of fine margins.
The first half started off brightly for VJC. In a hotly contested match full of crunching tackles and long bursting runs, VJ dominated early spells of possession and the game was mostly played in the opposition’s half, bar a few counter attacks. RI looked a constant threat down the wings; this proved to be instrumental in their eventual victory. As the half went on, RI found their feet and got going. The tide of the game turned in their favour. VJC #8 Danial Shah ran the show for the side in yellow. The 6-foot-3 freak of nature bossed midfield, intercepting loose balls and breaking down RI attacks. The first half came and went, with both sides having equal spells of possession, but neither sides managing to register a shot on target. The head scratching use of Albet Yamatri, who is best known for his ability to play killer passes, deep in Defence as a last man was perhaps justified by the 0-0 scoreline and his ability in possession. Albet was solid alongside Felix and Gabriel as he mopped up play well and looked to quickly launch play upfield with his raking passes. Towards the end of the first half, Danial Shah sent an RI player flying after a crunching challenge, earning a place in the referee’s book; a temporary suspension.
The second half started where the first left off, with Danial out of the game. However, VJC sadly failed to find their scoring sticks, missing chances and counter attacks. Despite Jonathan Koh’s off the ball work, he missed a gilt-edged chance after brilliant play from Ashwin down the right flank, as Ashwins’s cross flew harmlessly behind him. There was to be no repeat of 2013. However, similar to the first half, the opponents slowly found their way back into the game, and started to dominate possession. Their clever plays down the wings gave our full-backs a run for their money. As the half progressed, the game was played in the VJC half, with our attacks limited to long balls by Albet to the diminutive lone strikers. Both Jerome and Ashwin tried to make things happen on the half turn, pulling the strings for VJC and looking to use their on the ball skills to carve open the organised Raffles backline. However, Raffles was too solid, their transitions back into defense too quick to be able to catch them on the break. Despite the many chances, both sides again failed to register a shot on target. However, ’twas the end of the game. With seconds to spare, our defence crumbled as fatigue seeped in and they lost their concentration. Pouncing on the space being left behind, RI speed-demon #14 took the ball, beat a VJ defender, cut inside, sent another one for a hot dog, got past almost the entire defence, before smashing it top bins, sending a quiet Raffles crowd off their books. The magical solo goal came with seconds to spare, and despite VJ forcing a quick restart in a desperate last-ditch attempt to equalise, RI won the title, and broke our hearts.
Throughout the game, our players’ fitness might have proven to be their weakest point — the multiple cramps and injuries affected the standards of their gameplay. If not for the injuries and fatigue, VJ would have rolled over their Bishan opponents, but lady luck was not shining east as our players fell victim to fatigue despite their best efforts.
Speaking after the match, Jonathan Koh said, “We trained really hard for this, extremely disappointed of the result. However, failure is the mother of success, and with determination we will reclaim what’s rightfully ours in the next season.”
Above: Danial Shah in action
Special mention post-match goes to Victoria’s very own man-monster Danial Shah, as he led the cheers after the match despite the poignant air surrounding the VJ hockey players. For some, it was a night to forget, as to many of the boys, “first runner up” was as good as the first loser. But that is hardly the way to see things. To do so would be to myopically ignore the feat of coming this far, reaching the finals — something other CCAs and other schools can only dream of. To dismiss this as a ‘loss’ would be nothing short of disrespectful to the pain our players went through to make it to this stage, to even get the opportunity to play on this pitch.
What really shone through that day was the Victorians’ display of sportsmanship and school pride. We may have lost the match, but we have not lost the battle.
We recognised that our boys had given their best, and we displayed our pride in them to the fullest. As the hockey players stepped forwards, towards the stands, cheers erupted that would put any other school to shame. One might have expected a stark contrast to the earlier match of the day, but the cheers were just as loud if not louder. Shouts and cries of “we love you” and “we’re proud of you” rang out, filling the stadium with expressions of Victorian pride. Amidst the teary embraces, we saw nothing but support, encouragement and reassurance. From the loud drumming and excited yelling, a passer-by would never have known that the match did not go in our favour. There was many a wistful smile to be found on our faces. For we knew that although the result of the match was not favourable, our boys had played their hearts out, and if the game result did not show it, we saw it. Months of effort and toil had gone into this run, and the boys had certainly come far. And we knew that no matter what the result, we would be proud of our hockey boys, and celebrate their achievements. As the tagline on the back of our blindingly yellow shirts says — “We came, we cheered, we conquered.”
As Ethan Chan of 16S43 commented, “Maybe we had our victory, just not on the pitch — the laughter and banter after the tears are surely worth more than any [manufactured] medal.” Indeed, we agree. The gold medal may not have gone to us, but what made us human was what made us better. There were no regrets. We felt nothing but triumph.
For the second time that day, Victoria united as one in singing the school song, and our voices resounded throughout Sengkang. And we certainly let all our opponents know — we are not a school to be messed with.
With hard work and dedication, may the next batch of hockey superstars succeed as the take over the reign of power from the graduating batch. When asked about his post match feelings, Lee Seung Soo said “We’re going to beat them next year.”
Above: Our Hockey boys may not have won the title, but they certainly won our hearts.
Denisse Sim, 17S62
Ryan Low, 17S62
Isaac Tan E, 17S52
Ryan Ch’ng, 16S47
Editor’s Note: This article has been updated and amended in order to better reflect the details of the game and provide a more balanced coverage of the players’ roles.