Raspreet Sandhu’s ‘American Dream’ comes true

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By Suresh Nair

HIS 83-year-old grandmother, who has never patronised a football match, came to watch 23-year-old Raspreet Sandhu at the Jalan Besar Stadium on Tuesday, as he achieved a Singapore-version of the “American Dream”.

The much lauded “American Dream” is the ideal by which equality of opportunity is available to any American, allowing the highest aspirations and goals to be achieved.

The first US-born professional footballer to make his debut for five-times S-League champions Tampines Rovers, Raspreet had an awesome debut in the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Cup in the 2-1 opening match win over Malaysia’s Felda United.

By his own admission, he never expected to be in German coach Juergen Raab’s first-team line-up, where more than half the team comprises national players or foreign-based players. And when Raspreet told his dad, the previous evening, that he may start, both dad-son were overjoyed. But they kept it a closely-guarded family secret.

Come Tuesday, more than 30 Sandhu clan members, sang the Punjabi ‘bhangra’ tunes as they cheered Raspreet, and tears welled in the eyes of Kalwant and his mother as they relished how the Sonoma State University striker dazzled with an outstanding individual and team performance.

“Raspreet truly rose to the occasion as he wanted to prove that he had genuine professional football quality. My mum was just over the moon to get an elated feel of a football atmosphere, with her grandson on the big stage,” said Kalwant, who also played for Tampines Rovers 40 years ago before be migrated to Mountain View, California,  in USA.

Never before in the 22-year S-League history, has a dad-son combination, playing for the same club, ever emerged and it will go down as an extraordinary feat for a rising professional player to return to his father’s club to wear the same sacred yellow championship-winning jersey.

I never expected such a rip-roaring Raspreet debut performance. I thought he’d have butterflies in his stomach in the opening match, even if he started as a second-half substitute. But he was such a cool class act, as he played 83 minutes of the 90-minute match before he was replaced.

BRAIN & BRAWN

In my opinion, Raspreet is brain-and-brawn brand, a perfect fit as a Bachelor of Arts (BA) history graduate from the university, located about 40 miles north of San Francisco. And closely watching him in a high-end competitive international-club match, I thought he passed with flying colours.

Tampines Rovers’ President Krishna Ramachandra, who was instrumental behind-the-scenes for Raspreet’s big break for the AFC Cup, gave the young striker a post-match hug, and said: “Raspreet has personally proven to me that he has the rip-roaring talent to be a value-add professional. I’m glad the extended Sandhu family came to give him the big boost and I must say I’m really delighted for the dad and son.

“I must make this point clear. I admire and respect his dad (Kalwant Sandhu) because he’s been very professional in his approach to me and the club, the past four weeks,  and never pushed for Raspreet to be given any favoured treatment just because Kalwant was one of the Tampines’ players in the mid-1970s.”

Director of Football Excellence at Tampines Rovers, Jita Singh, gave the big thumbs-up to Raspreet’s longer-term potential after his “magical” debut:  “He was not overawed by the occasion and showed plenty of steel in playing character and impressed me most with his team-player qualities.

“I have said this before. I will not pull any punches to go on record to say that Raspreet would be starting in the Singapore national team if he was a citizen. He has great attitude and disposition for a 23-year-old, rarely seen in local players.”

The award-winning Jita can spot true talent, with five decades of coaching experience as he was the first Sikh footballer to play for Singapore in the early 1970s, at 22 years. He donned Singapore colours during the first and only three-week overseas playing tour in England in 1972. He later went on to be the youngest Singapore coach to win the Malaysia Cup in 1980, at 29 years, and the Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC) decorated him with the 1981 ‘Coach of the Year’ award.

FIRE IN THE BELLY

“I hope Raspreet stays with Tampines because he has that rare fire in the belly to succeed. I hope his family looks into ways where he can be a PR (Permanent Resident) and perhaps be considered to play for Singapore,” said Jita. “Academically, he’s also very strong as a BA degree graduate, so he’s a very inspiring formula to marry both football and studies in order to be a noteworthy role-model young football professional.”

Raspreet was blushing when reminded of the “American Dream” and promised to live up to expectations. “The coach has high confidence in me and I was surprised to be in the starting lineup,” he said. “I worked real hard in recent weeks to compete with so many young professionals, most of them national players.

“I’m glad I played team-spiritedly as the coach believes in a team-work strategy. I will work even harder now. I expected or never asked for any favours just because my dad was a former Tampines player. I knew I had to start from ground zero and prove to everyone that I’ve the necessary qualities to realise my longer-term dreams to be a football professional.”

Even Raspreet’s mum, Pam-Conlon Sandhu, a nursing-visionary leader with more than 25 years of rehabilitation nursing experience, was screaming her head off as she watched the AFC Cup match in the Mountain View home in California. She, too, was reduced to tears at her youngest son’s rousing debut performance in an international club match.

“Blow the final whistle, ref, please blow the whistle,” she repeatedly screamed in a long-distance mobile-call to Kalwant after Felda United reduced the deficit to 2-1, with three minutes remaining.

She said: “I’m a very proud mum as my little lad is now the first US-born player to play professional football Singapore.  I hope he realises his longer-term dream to use his brain-and-brawn talents to be the best he can be, in whatever sporting career he wishes to pursue.”

DREAM-COME-TRUE

Kalwant, 61, a well-known businessman in Mountain View, California, who even ran the political race to be a suburb mayor a few years ago, says the professional debut baptism at Tampines Rovers for Raspreet is a “dream-come-true, more than the American Dream”.

“This is a really beautiful question, on the American Dream, one that everyone should ponder. As an immigrant, I often reflect nostalgically on my journey, too. I now love and have come to call my own and if there is an American dream, I’m proud to tell you that I’m living it,” said Kalwant, who  received his US citizenship in 2001 and the Sandhu family now resides in Santa Clara County called Mountain View, where he is also vice-chairman of the city’s Human Relations Commission. He also holds a National Diploma from the National Soccer Coaches of America Association.

“America is not without her faults but I love this country and I’m a proud American and if I should have to fight to protect her then I would gladly fall if it meant she could stand firmly underneath the stars and stripes.”

With tears welling in his eyes, Kalwant, who had his early secondary education at St Joseph’s Institution, added: “I still love Singapore and have millions of good ‘ole memories. But waking up in USA, I found a difference, with the freedom to decide. It is not an ideal, it is not a value, it is a life. You have to live it. To ask the meaning of the American Dream is like asking the meaning of life itself, it is like reading about love, thinking about work, learning about success.

“It was never a bed of roses. I learnt it the hard way but I relished the opportunity to live, love, work, succeed and you will know more about life, love, work and success than their meaning could ever provide. And if you do so as an American migrant, you’ll begin to understand what it means to live the American Dream.”

Final word: He will leave Raspreet to decide his longer-term future as a footballer or rousing lad, with big dreams of his own. “Every American is the legacy of an individual that has made such a choice and you are not alone. You are following in their footsteps, as I always tell my three sons,” added Kalwant, who believes in these four ideals.

Dream big: That it inspires you.
Believe in yourself: That it emboldens you.
Seek opportunity: On it alone success is forged
Work hard: For success is better wrought than contemplated

And I just feel, somewhere along the hallmark corridors of the White House, President Donald Trump may well be blowing his trumpet to Tuesday’s “America first” heroics of the first US-born Sikh teenager to make a rousing Singapore football debut.

Take a deserved now, Raspreet Sandhu.

 

  • Suresh Nair is a Singapore-based journalist who was one of the founder-committee members of Tampines Rovers when the S-League was launched in 1996. Raspreet’s father, Kalwant, was his hockey-playing mate in the mid-1970s when they played for Singapore.
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