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28.12.2005
Lesson of passion

He is one of those short men that would have to rise to a table so that everyone could see him. So he did. He is one of those men that no matter what set-up and lighting would look just ordinary in front any, not to mention hundreds of people. He tells us that.

However, he is the man to silence a room. Standing on a table, with weak voice but fire on his eyes he fills every corner. No more drunken whispers. No ringing mobile phones. No waitresses serving coffee. Zero sounds of people eating. His looks can deceive, but from the first words there is no John Smith there that wouldnít agree that this man is big by actions and by character. Not because he is an ex-England international. Or because he has won the World Cup. But because what he is and stands for. There and then, at traditional Crystal Palace Christmas Sportsmanís dinner, I became a big fan of Alan Ball.

Normally when club sends you to a Sportsmanís dinner you go there hoping chicken wouldnít be too dry this time, that there would be at least one girl in your table and that nobody would come to abuse your team mates to you. As an athlete training early next morning and presenting your club in that evening, you sort of miss out of the idea of the occasion Ė ladsí night out drinking and talking sports. Then you have a comedian and after dinner speeches from former stars or celebrities. Standard stuff. Everyone tells paint-brushed, gossipy little stories leading to funny but often so meaningless endings. Everyone has a laugh, take another beer and can only remember to have a hangover the next day.

However, it is for good cause and a laugh for people attending it. Itís people all sides of the club being together for once. At his speech Alan Ball pointed out also this fact about these rare occasions and stated how nowadays footballers have drifted away from the people. Itís true, you donít meet your hero in a parking lot anymore, you only can see him smile in front of a commercial telling you how itís only possible to perform like a star by eating whatever pot noodles this time. Alan Ball reminded how important it was for everyone associated with a club still to reach each other, maybe even at these dinners. But the most important was his speech itself.

Alan Ball didnít try to be a funny man. Tell juicy gossips. Or namedropping. Be anything else than what he stands for. He spoke his story with passion and dignity. He put himself into it. Which also was the main story itself. It was about passion. And about his father. Besides of these he only had obstacles. He told it straight, how he was always too small, too weak or not just good enough. He described long episodes of how far he had to go to find even little ground under his feet, and yet he barely mentioned at all that he ended up conquering the world. He didnít see importance of telling about his highlights. His story was how he had to believe that passion and support from his father would get him anywhere. Because that was all he had but he knew that was a lot already. It wasnít an after dinner speech. It was a lesson. It stopped everyone. Afterwards I saw people in tears. Calling home to their kids. It was quite a something to remember.

When I stood up to salute him it also got me thinking. I realised no matter what you do in life you have to have passion for it. We keep on drifting to paths we donít want or donít belong anymore, becoming people who we donít want to be. Whether you succeed or not in something you donít feel precious to yourself, it is not going to be rewarding way to spend your life either way.

On the other hand, if you have passion, about anything, it doesnít matter how many setbacks, calf injuries or bad days you have, youíll still be fine. There will always be days you question something but you have your passion to fall back to and it will carry you a long way. According to Alan Ball, it would be only the moment the fire is gone from your eyes that you would not have much left, no matter how talented you are.

When you spend Christmas away from your home, family and friends, you know your passion has taken you a long way in your life. Spending holidays away from your dear ones gives you a right to write about passion at that moment. Not because of the achievements and sacrifices that have lead you there but because you know theyíve been right for you.

Passion is a brave word, I admire people using and feeling it. Unfortunately, this word is often raped by mediocre people trying to make an unimportant achievement to sound more meaningful and heroic. For me, it has to be more actions or the fire in Alan Ballís eyes. Itís when you are humble enough to go for that extra run also at Christmas day or make something special to your closest ones at any given moment, then you know youíll always be fine in life. Alan Ball never used the word passion, but I related his whole speech to it because it reminded me about the moments in my life I hold the dearest.

I have realised that it is usually the most extremely successful and the most ordinary people that still have this dignity and passion. Unfortunately there are too many who think they have made it, like some of us footballers or rich corporative bosses, eating their fat turkey and giving the most expensive gifts to their children at Christmas thinking that would make up of not being there for most of the year. These people are often too busy showing what they have to remember what their passion was.

On the other hand, I have also seen a world famous musician making supportive surprise calls for random people just from his good will, the busiest father checking spelling of his sonís column at early morning hours of Boxing Day, the worldwide rewarded business guru always giving his ordinary friend a feeling he is unconditionally there for him and most of all, even the poorest father bringing smile to his kids face by taking him to play football in the park every Sunday. Their life is rich because they still have passion of being something and passion for others. Like Alan Ball and his dad. Their passion grew together from difficult conditions to win the World Cup. We often need Christmas to talk about giving and sharing. For people like Alan Ball there is Christmas every day. They had worked it out that it is not about gifts, it is about the passion for becoming something you want and helping your closest to achieve that too.

I admire any people who talk, think or feel passionately about anything. Before Alan Ballís speech, last time this totally hit me was when I heard a handicapped kid repeating something Muhammad Ali said on TV. It wasnít one of his victorious punch lines like: ĒChampions arenít made at gyms, they are made inside your heartĒ. The quote I'm talking about was long after his glorious boxing years had ended but even at his hospital bed, Altzheimer taken best of him, he still said with every sole of his body: ďI am the greatestĒ. It struck me that the boy had realised Ali never said ďI was the greatestĒ or ďI will be the greatestĒ.

Never mind the debate who is the greatest but I was inspired about what his belief and passion tells about what he stands for. It was his passion that was the greatest, and still always is because he believes in it. The boy knew also he could never be the heavy weight champion but something similar in his scale at any given moment. I believe anyone can be that something, the greatest in your own little thing. Muhammad Ali of steel pan drumming, Dahnmudo self-consciousness or simply being a friend. You are just passion away from it. That can also be passion to help someone else. Alan Ball reminded me of both. His passion changed his and Iím sure many other lives too. At least I left the dinner believing and understanding why back in 1966 it had to be miles in!

-Aki


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