An article by Pang Jia Tai of The Yellow Knights
My obsession with local youth football started out way back in April 2019. It was a random night when I happened to have a craving for live football. I still remember my very first game. It was my local club, Tampines Rovers, and their U18 team up against our bitter Eastern rivals, Geylang International. It was a game we unfortunately narrowly lost 3-2 but it left a deep impression in my heart. The boys played their hearts out and that fighting spirit convinced me to follow our U18 alongside the senior men’s team.
I approached then-General Manager of Tampines Rovers, Leonard Koh for a fixture list. He happily obliged. So began my footballing journey with the U18 Stags. As I lived nearby Our Tampines Hub (OTH), It was massively convenient for me to show my support for them as the young Stags played most of their games there.
The young Stags bounced back from their opening day defeat against the Eagles to dominate the next five games. However, back-to-back losses against Singapore Sports School and Home United meant that the title challenge will go down to the wire. With superior goal difference, one game in hand, and with Home United just three points behind in 2nd place. The young Stags knew that they only needed one more win for them to clinch the U18 title. Fortunately, the young Stags did not disappoint, a comfortable 4-0 victory against Hougang United sealed the title for the boys in yellow and black as they won it on goal difference.
After the completion of the league, the COE U18 Challenge Cup kicked off, and the young Stags won their group comfortably with two wins over Home United U18 and Warriors U18. The Stags scored seven and only conceded just once. In the semi-final against Hougang, it was goals galore, as the young Stags tried to fight back a 4-0 deficit, however, they fell short, and the game finished 4-3 in favour of the Cheetahs. This result meant that the Stags had to settle for a 3rd or 4th place finish against local rival Geylang. Emotions ran high as the game finished a with 1-1 draw, which meant that penalties had to be taken to decide who will finish 3rd. The young Stags held their nerves throughout and prevailed 4-3 winners against their Eastern derby rivals on penalties. A memorable way to cap off a successful 2019 season.
Much credit has to be given to Head Coach Afiq Yahya, and the rest of his coaching staff which also included the likes of Coach Sofiyan and Goalkeeper Coach Rezal Hassan. Under their leadership and guidance, the young Stags have become a very strong and united unit. This is further evident by the good number of young Stags who would eventually make the transition to first-team football. Players like Hari Mccoy and Nicky Melvin Singh recently made their senior men’s debut with Balestier Khalsa and Albirex Niigata (S) respectively. Nicky Melvin Singh even got the call up to play for the Singapore U23 in the recently concluded Southeast Asian (SEA) Games in Hanoi.
Other notable player includes Fathullah Rahmat, the former defender and Vice-Captain of the 2019 COE U18 title-winning side who was eventually promoted to the Stags’ first team. He then went on to represent Tanjong Pagar United from the 2021 Singapore Premier League (SPL) season. Fathullah’s remarkable performance during that season had many in the local football scene asking for him to be picked for the SEA Games squad. Unfortunately, this did not happen.
Other players who have made the transition into the senior men’s game included goalkeeper, Nur Shafiq Zaini who became the first-choice goalkeeper for the Young Lions. However, his career was tragically cut short as he was forced into early retirement due to health issues.
Danish Siregar, who scored several crucial goals for the team including two goals in the title-winning game went on to make his senior men’s debut for Tampines in a 4-0 victory against Franchise FC (Lion City Sailors). He now plies his trade at our Eastern Rivals, Geylang.
Dynamic winger/midfielder, Elijah Lim is another young Stag who was promoted to the Stags’ first team. He eventually had short stints at both Balestier and Geylang but will now be making a move to the Young Lions in the middle of the current 2022 SPL season. While players like Ahmad Mirza remain in service with the Stags, but this time with the U21. The rest of the title-winning team are currently serving their National Service which also includes the former Captain, Haziq Mikhail. Another former young buck, Syafi is currently turning out for the Lion City Sailors U21 side. He was also called up to the recent National U19 squad as well.
None of the young Stags in that title-winning team, however, has made more of a splash in our senior team than Ryaan Sanizal. Ryaan is now a regular for our side and has been given the heavy responsibility to defend our backline with our new Japanese signing, Shuya Yamashita. His solid performance for Tampines has also earned him a much-deserved call-up to both the national U23 and senior men’s teams.
With all of that said, I am delighted to know that many of our players who came through the Tampines COE teams are still playing and doing well in the SPL. It is especially tough considering that the COVID-19 pandemic really hurt the progress of youth football in Singapore. I would like to take this opportunity to wish all the players all the best in their respective careers whether they are still in football or not, and to never forget the friendships forged when they were playing together.
ALL THE BEST!
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