I was just 11-years-old in 1961 when I first embraced the hero status of footballers, placing them on pedestals as powerful pundits of hard work, confidence, resilience and respect. Certainly, I realised some of them failed to consistently deliver on these personal traits, but I selected my heroes carefully, analysing their every action on the field to discard those who didn’t meet my clear criteria. Sadly, my parents, relatives and teachers too, did not adhere to my allegiance of fair play and duty, abandoning them as potential heroes even before football became my pursuant passion. But on reflection, why did I adopt footballers as my heroes, moreover, why did I need heroes at all? Do we all need heroes as role-models of inspiration not just in adolescence, but throughout our lives? Indeed, as the years advanced and I opted to be a journalist, a very few in the business stood alongside sportsmen as heroes to emulate (I started enjoying cricket and tennis as much as football), avidly reading their books and articles entertaining ideas about how to implement their practices as my own. In my 20s in the 70s, I began re-assessing exactly what qualities I wanted to emanate as my individual talents and attitudes, with some of my earlier heroes falling off their pedestals and at times, leaving me wanting for new heroes to replace them.
I believe that as we struggle through life with all its ups and downs and diverse challenges and pressures, it does indeed help knowing of others’ success and how they achieved it. I’m not talking about all the external accoutrements of so-called success as so many people define it, but those who’ve found an inner peace and tranquillity, albeit happiness of a kind, within themselves to transcend the down times and enjoy the up times with joy and laughter as content individuals. I know when I was young and loved football, it was not so much about winning every game, but of far greater significance was how they played every game; going in hard, persistent and playing to their best ability for four quarters. Maintaining a fighting spirit till the end of the game was critical, only surrendering that fight when the final siren sounded. The application of those same traits was needed with the same effort the next week and throughout the season. Certainly, I walked out of games frustrated and angry at my team’s players, but it was not about losing or being thrashed, rather that too many of them simply weren’t even trying to contest the ball. Similarly, many people also surrender the precious gift of life, continually bemoaning how unfair, unjust and unequal it all is, without even attempting to do anything to change their circumstances. Doing rather than dreaming has always been my inspiration, and even now, when so many of my efforts have been ignored or rejected, I still cling to that philosophy of life. I know at least I tried and can do no more than that. I have received, and at times, still receive, great encouragement albeit inspiration, from some footballers who still slog away week after week for their team only to walk off the ground feeling disconsolate and despondent. Other people too, more ordinary mortals like myself, who continue to try and live life and enjoy themselves, no matter how difficult, albeit impossible, it seems at times.
As we get older, for me anyway, I’ve stored in my conscious mind many stories I’ve heard and read over decades about all kinds of people who keep on keeping on, despite the setbacks and hardships encountered, which translates for me in having learned to inspire myself, when there are no more heroes in my life. Instead, becoming my own hero was paramount in achieving my own inner peace; albeit learning the lessons from others who have withstood even more testing trials and tribulations than my own. I watched a TV program the other night about survival; a man of 37-years-old who survived in the ocean on his own for three nights and four days, a young women in her 20s kidnapped by guerrillas off a boat in South America and a guy in his 20s who was in south tower in New York when the plane hit the tower on 9/11. Listening to their harrowing tales of survival, it was impossible for me to really comprehend just how they survived, but as I wrote in another blog about survival a few months ago, some people are incredibly resilient and refuse to surrender life so easily.
Moreover, I realised years ago that some people erroneously place their faith in many so-called professionals in many disciplines such as medicine, the law, education even the media and politicians et al, to supposedly clear a way forward for them, but as Bruce Springsteen once sang, ‘the highway’s jammed with broken heroes’! I know only too well because in my youth, I did this too, only to have a much stronger sense of myself, albeit unconsciously at that time, to recognise these people understood nothing at all about me and didn’t know what they were talking about, let alone having any real grasp of the reality I encountered, time and time again. I was fortunate to be able to clear my own path shoving these ‘broken heroes’ into the dust. I learned from sportspeople more than any other people, though some who crossed my path provided reassurance for my own life. I certainly can’t remember all their names or gender or what their jobs were, but suffice to say these people are my unsung heroes that most people would label ‘nobodies’. I no longer need these heroes as such, but I certainly learned heaps from them and as I listen and read about how people can really live enriching lives, despite the odds seemingly stacked against them, it heartens me to know that and hope others can learn from them, too. Viva La Vida!