On “Fútbol”

Honoring a Childhood Friend Through the Scope of the Beautiful Game

ASFM Varsity Soccer Squad during the year of Farouk’s passing (Farouk represented by shadow in the center of the picture).

October 14th, 2012. Up until midnight, it had been nothing but a regular Sunday, consisting of binge-watching football games, attending mass, and having dinner with my extended family. A peculiar detail of such a day — which continues to haunt my memory — is that of the inexhaustible downpour that fell upon us ‘Monterreyians’. Mother Nature’s melancholy served as a dooming foresight of what was to take place in the day’s final breaths…

The American School Foundation of Monterrey (ASFM) is a private academic institution, of a peculiarly — yet comforting — small size. Offering studies all the way from Nursery to the culmination of High School, ASFM stands above all of its peer entities for a particular reason: due to the fact that the vast majority of ASFM’ers tend to remain enrolled in the school for their entire juvenescence, each class member eventually constructs inseparable — almost familial — bonds with one another. I can attest to the fact that said defining element of the institution is specially enhanced within the realm of sport teams; having formed a part of the Varsity Soccer Team — which, oddly enough, never varied significantly in terms of its members — since my very enrollment in the school, it bothers me not to claim that the ties I hold with my former teammates surpass all others that I have constructed.

As of today, I am not entirely aware as to why I specifically hold my juvenile teammates in the highest of esteems, to a level that remains unattained by even my closest non-soccer-related friends. Nonetheless, I can certainly trace a substantial portion of such well-regard to the events surrounding the calumnious Sunday, October 14th, 2012.

Farouk Hammoud Giacoman was called-up to the Varsity Soccer Team in the early days of 3rd grade. A notably proficient goalkeeper due to his unparalleled physicality, Farouk became a staple of a developing — yet talented — elementary squad. Under Farouk’s safeguarding, the 3rd Grade Varsity Soccer Team embarked on an admirable playoff-stretch, falling just short of winning the title. Most importantly, Farouk’s incomparable joviality ameliorated the preexisting divisions within the team’s ranks (fostered by the squad’s failures in recent years). Undeniably, Farouk contributed significantly towards the establishment of an authentic sense of ‘team-ness’ that continued to grow during the following scholastic terms.

Hindered by the maliciousness of puberty — which saw him superseded in regards to his height and arm-length by other positional challengers — Farouk was first relegated to the bench, and ultimately demoted from the Varsity Soccer Team. A fatal blow for most youngsters, Farouk’s debacle solely enhanced his commitment to the sport. After several gruesome years attempting to rejoin the Varsity Soccer Team as a goalkeeper, Farouk — in a potentially perilous maneuver — decided to abandon his former positional role and embark into the great unknown: the midfield.

Struggling to adapt to his new capacity, Farouk was unable to break into the first-team squad until 9th grade, when — fostered by the exodus of ASFM’ers from Monterrey as a result of the growing instability in Northeast Mexico — the Varsity Soccer Team’s midfield was essentially left vacant. An unremarkable season thus followed, resulting in the retirement from the sport of multiple life-long teammates; nonetheless, Farouk persisted through such a turbulent phase, and thus re-established himself as one of the team’s leaders.

Prior to the start of the 2012 season (10th Grade), Farouk enrolled in an intensive toning regime; alongside other fellow team-members, Farouk participated in a summer-long course of P90X, a physicality-enhancing program for which the description of ‘intense’ serves most definitely as an understatement. Never before had Farouk trained as arduously prior to the season’s kick-off; indeed, he was completely committed towards achieving his best seasonal performance yet. Farouk’s hard work certainly paid off, as he consolidated himself as a prominent participant of the team’s offensive endeavors. Nevertheless, although fully engrossed in attempting to improve his ‘fútbol’, Farouk conserved the formerly praised cheerfulness that set him apart from his teammates…

I can vividly recall one specific moment of Farouk’s vivaciousness within the boundaries of the pitch. In the dying moments of a match in which we held a comfortable lead, Farouk — in an apparently deranged manner — attempted a bicycle kick near the center of the field. Acrobatic demonstrations as such are usually reserved for the confines of the box, as players that are not attempting to place a shot on goal rarely perform them. Nonetheless, Farouk saw it fit to execute a bicycle kick in the most inappropriate of situations: surrounded by a couple of defenders, Farouk leapt into the air, connected solidly with the ball and — rather unfortunately — fell quite awkwardly, slamming his back against the ground. Preoccupied about his physical state, our coaches rushed onto the field, fearing the worst; in the most unexpected of fashions, Farouk — rather than moan in pain — engaged in an endless stream of hysterical laughter, and returned swiftly to his feet. Entrapped in such an unordinary scene, it was impossible not to burst out laughing. Even the referee seemed to chuckle a little. Such was the quintessence of Farouk’s persona: a well-intended jester who sought relentlessly to standout as an effortful team-member.

Calamity struck just a few weeks later: Sunday, October 14th, 2012. Nearing the stroke of midnight, Farouk was heading back home from a pleasant dinner with his closest friends. Rain continued to pour down indiscriminately, and the poor weather conditions restricted Farouk’s visibility whilst in the road. In a hapless series of events, Farouk lost control of his car, drove off the road, and rammed into a tree with devastating force.

And — just like that — the liveliest of my ‘fútbol’ comrades had passed away. The youngster who had performed a ridiculous — yet effervescent — bicycle kick a few weeks earlier would never again engage in the Beautiful Game. For an underexposed teenager — who had never before faced such a catastrophe — it was too much to bear.

In retrospect, I can confidently affirm that Farouk’s passing marked a before-and-after for the Varsity Soccer Team. Not a single member of the squad was left unaffected by Farouk’s death; such was the extent of Farouk’s influence within our team. Amidst the uncertainty of death, we sought refuge in the Beautiful Game, and — most importantly — with each other. Loosing one of our dearest team-members further expanded the already-familial bonds that we had steadily constructed. Such is the reason why I hold my teammates in such high regard; I literally lived through the gruesomeness of death and grief alongside them. Our homologous experiencing of such life-changing and wholehearted emotions made us inseparable, and even dependent on one another. In the midst of tragedy, the members of the Varsity Soccer Team became true lifelong friends.

Personally, I had trouble assimilating with Farouk’s passing until our first match after the fact. In the most solemn of manners, the entire team ‘let go’ black balloons prior to the start of the game. For me, it felt as if I was finally willing to ‘let Farouk go’; I was finally able to comprehend that — regardless of the unjustness of the entire situation — we would never again enjoy Farouk’s jovial presence…

And thus the whistle blew, and we once again engrossed in the state of play. The Beautiful Game became our escapade, our hideout from the wretchedness of human existence. Nothing could hurt us within the boundaries of the pitch. When wrapped in the imperial red of the ASFM Eagles jersey, we entered a painless dimension, a realm in which there were only two important elements: the ball and us.