Monday, 13 January 2014

"I really wanted an autograph": The story of how a Manchester United fan got to work with his heroes when they visited Sydney last year

A medical student at the University of Sydney, Zarshis Avari was part of the medical team that was attached to Manchester United when they travelled to Australia for their pre-season preparations last summer.

Zarshis has been supporting Manchester United for the last ten years, but he's wearing a frown while speaking about them now.

He's speaking to me a day after Sunderland beat the Red Devils at the Stadium of Light in the first leg of the Capital One Cup semi-final, but that United have suffered three defeats on the bounce does not dampen his enthusiasm when he tells me about what he did last summer.

Zarshis Avari, medical student and
Manchester United fan.
Reproduced with permission

How it happened

Although he now cherishes the week he spent with the United players and staff, his time with the 21-time Premier League champions happened by chance.

"It was a part of my Independent Learning Assignment (ILA)," he recalls "I went to the Sports Science Association and I asked the receptionist, 'can I see any doctor who's available and who can take me in for a week or two?' 

He walked in to the association building about three months before United came calling. For legal reasons, Zarshis does not wish to name the doctor who'd organised this for him.

The doctor said 'I'm going to be busy for the next three to four weeks because a team from England is coming to play in Sydney and I will be their physio while they're in Sydney.'

'Which team are we talking about here?' was Zarshis' next question, because he - rabid fan that he is - knew United were coming to Sydney.

"He didn't even know the name of Manchester United and he looks at his phone," recalls Zarshis, giving me the same wide-eyed stare he gave this doctor when he came to know that he was going to be working with United.

His love for United

"I just go, 'look, please, can I please please please please (four pleases) do my ILA with you on this topic because I'm a big, big fan and he straight away pointed out that being a fan, it's not a good thing because you have to keep your opinion and your profession separate," he recalls.

This was a chance that most football fans would give anything to be part of, and Zarshis had to promise to be on his best behaviour when the team did come to Sydney if he was to convince this doctor to let him work with him.

Lookie, lookie! From left to right: Manchester United's Anderson Oliveira, David de Gea, Rafael da Silva and Patrice Evra along with two members of the coaching staff at the $1000 a night Park Inn hotel where the players stayed.
Reproduced with permission
A month later, Zarshis was given his entry pass, but it came with strict conditions.

"No autographs, no photos, no handshakes," is what the doctor told Zarshis. "You'll be tailing me, you'll only be with the players while I'm there."

Fan that he is though, Zarshis went to see his childhood heroes disembark at Sydney International Airport and was even able to take a few photos of them.

"I always thought I wouldn't have much of a reaction because I'm that kind of guy but seeing the legends like Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes, that was huge," he recalls.

But when he joined up with the team the next day at the Kogarah Stadium, he remembers having to restrain that emotional side of himself.

Staying grounded

"When I was with the team, it was hard," he says. "I was thinking about the goals that (Wilfried) Zaha has scored or the goals that Ryan Giggs has scored, I was thinking about the FA Cup (semi-final) against Arsenal.

"Sometimes I would tend to forget what I had to do so I would just stare at the player in a blank fashion. The player would know what was going on because they've seen that reaction a lot of times."

"I really wanted an autograph!" he adds wistfully. "I was even thinking of sneaking in but my professional side told me 'you might get thrown out'."

One of the tests Zarshis remembers doing on the players was a knee exam on Patrice Evra, but a few musculoskeletal tests aside, he spent most of his time tailing his physio.

On the 20th of July, Zarshis added to that experience when he watched his beloved team play live for the first time at the ANZ Stadium. The pre-season friendly between United and the Australian A-League All Stars ended in a thumping 5-1 win for the visitors.

Fond memories: Zarshis' photo of the two teams lining up in the ANZ Stadium at the Sydney Olympic Park ahead of their pre-season friendly. United won 5-1 with a brace apiece from Danny Welbeck and Jesse Lingard, with Robin van Persie also scoring. Reproduced with permission
During their stay in Australia, the United players hosted several autograph-signing sessions but Zarshis could not attend them because in addition to working with the team, he still had to attend lessons and prepare for his exams.

"I had an exam the week after, so I could really take time out to go to the Kogarah stadium to meet the players," he says.

Unfortunately, Zarshis has had  to look for another ILA, which he tells me has already been secured: because his time with the team was so short, it did not count towards the completion of his ILA.

Truth be told, I don't think he really minded. "It was an amazing experience, just seeing the players in real life," he gushes.

"Working with them, it's going to go on my CV and I'm betting it's going to impress a few employers."

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