Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Bleachers' Brew #287 Love of the game

This appears in the Monday November 28, 2011 edition of the Business Mirror.

Love of the game
by rick olivares

How does a man tell the woman that he is engaged to that while he loves her and he will care for her for the rest of his life, his first love and duty is to football?

When Poravankara Narayanan “PN” Sivaji, a Singaporean of Indian ancestry first met his future bride, he sought a moment before their wedding to make a confession. While Sivaji promised to love and to care for bride to be, he said revealed that first love was football and that his career in the sport might take him often out of the country.

His wife thought that it was an odd thing to say as football at that time was not an industry in Singapore where one could make a living but she believed in Sivaji. Many years after his marriage that produced two daughters who now call Australia home, Sivaji has gone from national team hopeful to coaching the Lions for three years before ultimately becoming an instructor for the Asian Football Confederation.

In Manila for the first time to conduct an “A-License” seminar for both local and foreign coaches, Sivaji admitted that his job does not come without its challenges.

When teaching to an audience that includes coaches of Western origin, that old colonial mentality somewhat surfaces. “The most important thing for me as an Asian is to show my competence to everyone,” revealed the AFC instructor who at one time served as the Technical Director for the Football Association of Singapore for six years before he dived back into coaching clubs. “That is why even if I am giving these clinics, I make it a point to learn and study new matters surrounding the game and the people around it.”

The lure of the beautiful game came when PN was a youngster growing up in Sembawang, Singapore. He lived close to a British Naval Base and that’s where he saw Her Majesty’s Armed Forces first play the game of football. Quickly enthralled by the sport, Sivaji took to the game like fish to water. As an energetic teenager, he first broke with Burnley United. Like any other youngster, he grew up dreaming of playing for the Lions, the island state’s national team.

Sivaji was eventually named to the pool for the Lions even as he moved to other clubs such as Safsa, Sembawang and Singapore Indians. Only it never came. His worsening eyesight prevented him from continuing to play. “I think it is important that a man admits when he can go no further,” declared the bespectacled coach. “I couldn’t achieve my dream of playing for our national team so I thought that maybe I could help the game by writing about it.”

Sivaji followed an older brother’s footsteps in the world of journalism yet before he could fully entrench himself in sports writing, an opportunity to be involved in the sport that he loved opened up.  Even if the new job paid only Singapore $50 more, he leaped at the chance. “When you do something you love it is not a job,” he reasoned.

The job was a coaching one and Sivaji buried himself in studying the game. It took several stops and quite a few years before PN was named head coach of Singapore. He didn’t make it as a player but as a coach, Sivaji achieved his dream. Unfortunately, the 1993 side that he coached fell to Kedah SC, 2-nil, in the prestigious Malaysia Cup. Sivaji found himself under attack from all quarters following the loss. Saviji left the country to continue his studies and his coaching elsewhere.

He coached in Sweden and Myanmar where he found success. He triumphantly returned to his country where he first coached Tiong Bahru then Home United to a third place finish after floundering in the cellar the year before. He was soon named Technical Director for the Football Association of Singapore until he gave up the most to once more teach.

“I’ve been through a lot,” Sivaji related last Saturday during a party thrown by Mariano V. Araneta who was re-elected as President for the Philippine Football Federation. “I have all this knowledge and experience inside my head that I would love to share. Being here in the Philippines at this time and seeing all this excitement about the Azkals and local football, it reminds me of the time when the (Singaporean) S-League was organized in the 1990s.”

“In this coaching seminar, I see a lot of young brilliant Filipino minds. I want to tell them of the challenges I faced. Sometimes you fall along your journey but you really have to pick yourself up. It’s been a good year for Philippine football in spite of the ups and downs. But it’s all good. And I can see how you love the game and like a challenge.”

With PN Sivaji at the PFF part last Saturday night. 

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