Year in Review
My life was controlled by a bell
I’ll admit there were lots of tears shed during my time at Joeys, especially in the first couple of years. I felt so isolated, so lonely.
I am extremely close to my family. Being around them is where I am most comfortable. I feel stronger – safer – and being apart from them was completely new.
All of a sudden I was living in a boarding house.
Everyone had a schedule and you had to present yourself in a well-mannered way. Every morning. Monday to Sunday.
Eat your soup, make your bed, brush your teeth – that kind of thing – and around it went. Again and again and again.
My life was controlled by a bell.
Ray Moujalli plays for Canterbury in the NSW Cup. He has played one NRL game in his long career. Not many people are aware of this, but he badly injured his knee three months ago and needed a reconstruction.
Normally, a player would have no hope of returning in time for this World Cup. But Ray was desperate to be part of it. He had been representing Lebanon for many years but had never participated in a World Cup because we hadn’t qualified since 2000.
He opted for LARS surgery in an attempt to speed things up. Still, no one gave him a chance. No one, that is, except him. He worked incredibly hard through all of the rehab. And last week he played against England – three months after a knee reconstruction.
That’s inspirational. We all thought he was dreaming, but several weeks before the squad was picked he announced to us he was ready. He proved his fitness and won selection. No one could believe it.
There was a time when raising awareness about Australia meant reassuring Americans that there weren’t snakes and spiders on every corner and that the entire continent wasn’t the Outback.
Seriously, the Discovery Channel over here has a lot to answer for!
But last week was different. Last week, when we played against Miami, I wore a special pair of cleats that were designed to raise awareness about the issues facing Indigenous Australians.
They’re actually up for sale if you’re interested. The proceeds will go to Around The Campfire, which is a group I got involved with in my rookie year in the NFL.
The cleats are bright orange and have culture, equality, health written down the sides. The inequality that Indigenous Australians face – and the cultural, health and wellbeing and environmental issues that stem from that – needs to be rectified.
The style they played under Cruyff I really enjoyed. It made me look at football differently. I became a member of Barcelona. I was a fan, not a coach, but even then you could see from the first moment he arrived from Ajax that he was doing things nobody else was doing. A lot of coaches around the world are still trying now to achieve what Cruyff did then.
He brought the possession style, attacking football, tiki-taka. Afterwards, when I became a coach in the Barcelona youth system, I grew in this philosophy, in this environment. I learned how to adapt and work with this style.
They were magical years under Cruyff. Before him, Barcelona was nothing like it is now where they are expected to win trophies every year. There was not the money or the crowds or the expectation. When he won La Liga in 1991, it was the first time Barca had achieved that in six years. Then they won it three more years in a row after that. It was an amazing thing to watch and experience as a teenager.
I would arrive at Nou Camp a long time before kick-off because I would like to see the players warming up, see what they were doing. It always interested me as a fan and then as a coach.
I spoke with people from all over the globe. There were heroin and ice addicts, alcoholics, people with sex addictions. Here’s me, having spent pretty much my whole life in the safe Sydney rugby league bubble, hearing all these first-hand stories of rape and abuse leading to addiction and all kinds of dark places. I don’t want to talk about anyone individually, because that wouldn’t be right, but it’s fair to say some of the issues discussed were incredibly sad.
I spent quite a lot of time with a monk, a Pommy guy, who had done a lot of work with jail inmates. He taught me new meditation techniques. I do it three times a day now. I also picked his brain about having things around the house that give you balance. I’m quite an erratic person by nature. For me, having routine – meditation, more balance in my life – makes me feel in control of my life a lot more.
There was also a yogi and discussions about a higher power. I believe there is a bigger force in the universe than just what we can see. When you start to connect to whatever is out there you feel more alive.
I got a job in Bendigo picking fruit for eight hours a day. Each day I would drive nearly two-and-a-half hours each way from Melbourne. I was literally leaving in the dark and coming back home in the dark, so it was tough. Eventually I had to find something else, and I found a labouring job at a fertiliser company loading and unloading the containers.
It was a tough job with the chemicals and stuff. It was harder than fruit picking, but it saved me the four or five hours drive and I tried to spend those hours training and playing cricket here and there. I was striving for better, so I started a Level 2 cricket coaching course, and while I was doing the course, one day we went to see a Victoria Bushrangers training session.
We went inside the Melbourne Cricket Ground. It was the first time in my life I had been there, and the Bushrangers were having a full session with the ball. I asked them if I could bowl and their coach Greg Shipperd looked me up and down and said, ‘What do you do?’ I said ‘I’m a spinner,’ and he said, ‘What kind?’ and I said, ‘I’m a leg-spinner.’
I was just in casual clothes, sweatpants, a normal t-shirt, no training shoes or joggers or anything. Rob Quiney was batting – he played a Test match a few months after that against South Africa. I thought he was a fast bowler because he was tall, he was a big guy, and so I bowled my first ball to him.