Zarshis Avari was only a medical student at the University of Sydney when he was asked to be part of the medical team that was attached to Manchester United Football Club when they travelled to Australia for their pre-season preparations in the summer of 2013.
Born and raised in the Sultanate of Oman, the rabid United fan has had little opportunity to share his experiences with those closest to him, and now that he has found steady employment, is keen to look back on his time with England’s most successful football club.
So Zarshis, how did this happen?
It was a part of my Independent Learning Assignment (ILA). I went to the Sports Science Association and I asked the receptionist if I could see any doctor who was available, who can take me in for a week or two. I went to the association building about three months before United came calling, but for legal reasons, I do not wish to name the doctor who’d organised this for me. 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,’ and ‘which team are we talking about here?’ was what I asked him next because I knew United were coming to Sydney. He didn’t even know the name of Manchester United and he looks at his phone to check the details. I just go, ‘look, please, can I 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.
So how did the doctor agree to this?
This was a chance that most football fans would give anything to be part of, and I had to promise to be on my best behaviour when Manchester United did come to Sydney if I was to convince this doctor to let me work with him. A month later, I was given my entry pass, but it came with strict conditions. ‘No autographs, no photos, no handshakes,’ is what the doctor told me. ‘You’ll be tailing me, you’ll only be with the players while I’m there.’ But because I am such a huge fan I went to see my 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. When I joined up with the team the next day at the Kogarah Stadium, I remember having to restrain that emotional side of myself.
So what did you do to stay grounded?
"When I was with the team, it was hard not to get carried away. 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.
“And of course, they knew exactly what was going through my mind when I saw them because they’ve seen countless others react the same way and have the same sort of behaviour in front of them.
“The United players hosted several autograph-signing sessions but I could not attend them because in addition to working with the team, I still had to attend lessons and prepare for my exams.
"I really wanted an autograph. I was even thinking of sneaking in but my professional side told me 'you might get thrown out'.
“But I did finally get to see my beloved Manchester United play live because I went to the ANZ Stadium to watch them beat the Australian A-League All Stars 5-1 and I will never forget those moments.”
Looking back, would you say this was one of your fondest memories?
“Of course, without a doubt. But unfortunately I had to look for another ILA, because my time with the team was so short, and it did not count towards the completion of the assignment.
“But I don't think I really minded that because it was an amazing experience, just seeing the players in real life.
"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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