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From Arthur Hagopian
Sydney, May 25 - Ever since he was a little child, dribbling a dilapidated football across the footpaths of Hadjen, the Armenian "suburb" of Beirut, Vatche Jelenkerian had aspirations of one day joining the ranks of an elite football team and kicking a real ball.
The dream was shattered, along with a broken bone in his leg and the ligaments in his knee, when a bomb blew up close to him in 1975 at the height of the Lebanese civil war. The shrapnels narrowly missed his heart, one of them lodging in the vicinity, a permanent reminder of his horrific brush with mortality.
"It's a miracle I am alive," he says.
A lifetime later, in Sydney where he has found refuge, and started his own auto mechanic workshop, his son Anthony stands poised to rekindle that old dream.
As he gazes at the strapping youth, just turned 18, sipping his first beer at a family barbeque, Vatche's heart is filled with pride and confidence.
"I know the boy will make it, he's got what it takes," he says.
"It's what I've always wanted," Anthony echoes. "It's the sport that I love to play. It's the only one I am interested in and I just love the game," he explains.
He concedes that he has inherited his father's passion.
"He has always supported me," he adds. "My mom and sisters don't like me to be away on practice for long, but they understand. At least the two older ones do. Little Mary, though, finds it difficult. She's very attached to me, but is too young to understand what is happening."
Anthony Jelenkerian, (actually, it should be Tchilingirian, but a somnolent official in the Beirut registrar's office opted for the more easily palatable Jelenkerian, and Jelenkerian it has become), knows it will not be easy.
But, with the indefatigable obduracy and unshakable determination that are the hallmark of the Jelenkerian clan (the elder sister, Siroun, has been featured on TV, and has won prizes for dancing, ranking 1st in hip hop Varsity championships and 3rd in the whole of Australia), he is prepared to undertake all the travails that are the engraved kismet of dedicated sportsmen, in order to reach his goal.
"This is for keeps," he says. "I want to be a professional football player."
He knows he will make it.
"It depends on how well I do [during trials]. It's all up to how much I want it. It will be hard but it's my dream."
If there's a drawback somewhere there, it is his inherent shyness. As an only son, he tended to be withdrawn and taciturn. He will need to chip away at the edges of his introspective nature, and mesh more assertively in team culture if he wants to make any headway in the selection process.
Anthony's ambition is to play for an English team on their home turf or away. Two years ago, he traveled to the UK's Sheffield Academy for a couple of weeks to do some preliminary training and liked the ambience of the soccer field there so much, he did not want to come back to Sydney.
At the end of this month, he will be heading to England again, along with the whole Jelenkerian family, for some more serious training and exploratory approaches to prospective teams.
Asked about his ideal of a football player, Anthony has no hesitation in naming "Fernando Torres when he first joined Liverpool."
"But I like to watch and follow many players, particularly Steven Gerrard," he adds. "I admire his passion for the game and how he puts 110% into every game he plays."
He will be staying in England for at least five weeks to undergo trials for some teams, and is not sure yet which team he will eventually sign up with.
In the meantime, any plans to continue his university studies must remain on the back burner. He would have loved to study to become a chiropractor, but for the time being, soccer has eclipsed all other choices.

PIX CAPTION: Anthony Jelenkerian, budding football star in action.


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