Football at UNSW is a reflection of life. It may not always seem memorable when you are wondering where the midfield went, why you lost with the last kick of the match or who forgot to tell you the game had been rescheduled from Sunday to Saturday.
It’s not until later, often much later, that you recognize you spent some of the best years of your life with some of the best people you might ever meet. And so it was with Siva Shankar Kanagasabai … ‘Shanks’ to his mates.
Shanks arrived in Australia from Malaysia following his secondary education to enroll in Architecture at UNSW. Of Indian descent, he was tall, lithe, dark skinned and appeared quite athletic. An illusion that was not always evident during his subsequent playing days. He joined the club in 1983, and began what was to become a memorable tenure with the mighty Wales. Beginning in third grade (U20s) he progressed through seconds and eventually firsts where he was an imposing sight in the middle of defence. From an inconspicuous start, he became a significant contributor as he matured. Like all good defenders, he had a natural contempt for strikers, particularly fleet footed ones, seeing his duty to disrupt their game plan and, if necessary, their permanent mobility. He didn’t much like goalkeepers either – particularly his own – believing they were way too precious for the effort they contributed. And too noisy.
But, he was everybody’s friend. He may have been teased from his arrival … this quiet lad from Malaysia … but soon learnt to give as good as he got, and we all received our payback, with interest, as time went by. Shanks went on to hold just about every position on the executive, including President. He played for Australian Universities and was deservedly awarded a Blue. Despite all those contributions and accolades, no one would question his greatest contribution was as a person. He was an incredibly well liked member of the club and across the footballing fraternity. Everybody knew Shanks, if only because they wore his stud marks.
After 10 years enrolled in his 5 year undergraduate course, Shanks had to return to Malaysia in the midst of the recession we had to have. His efforts in extending the course duration for so long, without being expelled, are still discussed in reverential tones in his old faculty. He did this, of course, so he could continue to play and manage for the club including at various Intervarsity and University Games.
He returned to Malaysia for a couple of years but spent most of his life in the UAE meeting and marrying his wife Lynn, together having 3 wonderful children in Seetha Isabelle, Shivenrda Ryan and Sriya Alyssa. Although a qualified architect, he specialised in construction, delivering a number of major hi-rise and infrastructure projects across the Middle East, India and Malaysia. His last project, as Deputy Project Director, was the $A4b Abu Dhabi Midfield Airport expansion. Check it out on the web … it is insane.
Sadly, Shanks passed away in December at the age of 54 after an extended, but typically dogmatic, fight with cancer. It didn’t get past him without a few stud marks. He remained close to many of his contemporaries and stayed in regular contact over the years. Although he would discuss his family, current projects and lifestyle, the subject inevitably drifted back to football and the great times we all shared at the club.
He may never have played football again after leaving UNSW, but few strikers or goalkeepers complained. The rest of us though, are left to mourn the premature passing of an iconic character, a custodian of the club and a great mate.
The thing is with Shanks, you did know you were having the time of your life. So did he … and he was.