Tag Archives: Hougang United

Our Singapore Premier League Team Of The Week #4

Game Week 4 saw Matchdays 5 and 6 unfold, and what a week indeed! It was goals galore in both matchdays with Tampines slotting 7 past Young Lions and Lion City Sailors racking up 8 goals against Geylang International. In this combined team of the week, we have a pretty diverse line-up from a range of teams.

We are including consistent performers in the team of the week but we also have special mentions for stellar performers in either of the Match Days.

As usual, your opinion may differ from ours, so let us know what you agree or disagree with and we’d happily engage in a friendly debate.

The Defence

Zaiful Nizam – GK

I think Zaiful deserves more praise than he is usually given. Yes, he may not have had kept clean sheets but he was pulling some really fantastic saves this week. His performances against Geylang helped the team to a 2-1 victory while he kept Balestier in the running against Hougang.

Yu Tokiwa

Another week and another fantastic display from the Japanese left-back. His assist against Tampines helped the White Swans even the score, and his defensive displays at the back frustrated the Tampines offense. An overall solid showing.

Shuya Yamashita

The Japanese centre-back scored twice against Lion City Sailors in the mid-week fixture to ensure the White Swans remain the only undefeated side in the SPL after 6 matches. Alongside Tokiwa and co, Yamashita also marhsalled out waves of Tampines attacks over the weekend.

Nur Adam

An Assist midweek and a sharp showing against Geylang side shows how mature he truly is as a footballer despite his tender age. At this current juncture, Nur Adam will probably become Singapore’s next long term left-back, much to the dismay of Harith Kanadi.

The Midfield

Diego Lopes

He came in with a hefty price tag. He’s showing why he’s the 3 million dollar man. It wasn’t just that he scored a hattrick or that he created 2 assists but rather, the Sailors looked a lot more expressive and confident when Diego plays for them.

Ryoya Taniguchi

Taniguchi has remained a dependable figure for Albirex Niigata this Game Week. Engineering attacking moves and notching in a goal in each fixture, Taniguchi has flourished in his new attacking midfield role this season (last season he was more of a centre-midfielder).

Gabriel Quak

Another week, another feature. Gabriel Quak is really cementing his place as the best winger in the SPL. While he was decent midweek, he was simply incredible against Geylang International. 2 goals and 2 assists against Geylang, he’s in the squad this week.

Reo Nisiguchi

The Japanese left winger seems to have finally settled in at Tanjong Pagar and scored brilliant goals in both fixtures. He is gelling well with the attacking half of the Jaguars and other teams need to watch out for him and Junior because they have finally found a steady rhythm together.

The Forward Line

Tomoyuki Doi

The Japanese forward already has 10 goals this season. It’s only been 6 games. Doi’s brace in the mid-week rescued a point for the Cheetahs and his 63rd minute strike against Balestier, secured another win to extend their unbeaten run to 5 games.

Luiz Júnior

I have always have been a fan of Luiz Júnior and it is delightful to see the 2020 Team Of The Year player finally find his scoring boots again. The Brazilian scored in the thrilling 3-3 draw against Hougang. While the Cheetahs may have denied him and Tanjong Pagar their first win in the mid-week, he bagged a brace against Young Lions over the weekend to help the Jaguars secure their first win in six years.

Stipe Plazibat

The Croatian Hit Man scored a brace against the 8-0 thrashing of Geylang International and scored a vital goal in the draw against the White Swans. Stipe may be 3 goals away from Doi, but as I have said time after time, never count him out.

Special Mentions Matchdats 5 and 6

All Photo Credits to Singapore Premier League

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Our Singapore Premier League Team Of The Week #1

My buddy Kim Ng co-wrote this one with me. Cheers Fam! The 2021 edition of the Singapore Premier League has finally kicked off, and what a thrilling first game week we’ve had. We want to start something new here at SoccerKakis, so we’re launching our very own Team Of The Week Series! Of course, your […]

Our Singapore Premier League Team Of The Week #2

Game Week 2 saw a ton of drama unfold, with Matchday 2 and Matchday 3 of the Singapore Premier League being played mid-week and over the weekends, respectively. To stress, we are featuring the players that have been consistent over the two matches. In that sense, don’t be that surprised about the sheer number of […]

Our Singapore Premier League Team Of The Week #3

We heaved a huge sigh of relief at end of the International break because we knew that the Singapore Premier League would finally resume again. And boy, it did not disappoint. This week, we have a more diverse team than the previous edition. While Hougang United have continued their incredible run, other players in other […]

UEFA’s Faustian Bargain

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Our Singapore Premier League Team Of The Week #3

We heaved a huge sigh of relief at end of the International break because we knew that the Singapore Premier League would finally resume again. And boy, it did not disappoint. This week, we have a more diverse team than the previous edition. While Hougang United have continued their incredible run, other players in other teams have also shone this week.

As usual, your opinion may differ from ours, so let us know what you agree or disagree with and we’d happily engage in a friendly debate.

The Defence

Mukundan Maran – GK

Mukundan pulled some important saves against Tampines and helped his team retain their resounding lead. If he keeps this up, a national team call-up could be in the works soon.

Maksat Dzhakybaliev

The Kyrgyzstani defender put in another solid display at the back and his 67th-minute header was truly the icing on the cake. Maksat has truly established himself alongside Lionel Tan as Hougang’s primary central defensive pairing and his performances against the Stag demonstrate why.

Jorge Fellipe

In an impressive debut, Jorge proved to be a solid rock in the Sailors defense, making multiple crucial clearances and generally stifling the Young Lions’ offense. What’s more, the game provided a sneak peek into his aerial prowess, almost scoring on 3 separate occasions with thundering headers. Was unlucky not to net one, but one would think that his time will soon come.

Yu Tokiwa

The Albirex left-back put in a fine performance against Geylang United over the weekend. Making 73 passes with a 88% passing completion rate is certainly impressive and his contributions both in defence and attack helped Albirex to win.

The Midfield

Harhys Stewart

In a game where the Young Lions seemed to have the Sailors’ number (for the first 20 minutes), Harhys was a constant driving force in all 90 minutes of the game, and seemed to be ever-present in both halves of the field. Provided crucial challenges and solid link-up plays, and should have gotten at least one assist should his forwards been more clinical. 

Kaishu Yamazaki

The “engine room” of the Hougang midfield once again was a constant presence against the Stags. The box to box midfielder became a central figure in the attacking moves by the Cheetahs. The Kaishu-Fabian partnership seems to have clicked really well. Other clubs beware.

Gabriel Quak

If there was anyone who doubted Gabriel Quak’s form, the reigning Player Of The Year definitely showed that he was to be a Sailors mainstay with a powerful display last Saturday, as he was a key piece in the LCS’ offensive moves. Beaten to the chase for the year’s first hat-trick, but was very close on numerous occasions, and had to settle for a brace.

Shafiq Ghani

Shafiq Ghani was Hougang’s lightning to Doi’s thunder. Would have been a crime if he had not scored in the game, as he well deserved a goal, but was redeemed with a lovely curling free-kick effort to put the cherry on the cake for a strong Hougang showing.

Kristijan Krajček

Against a poor Tanjong Pagar, the Tigers were constantly on the attack and that was largely thanks to Krajček. The Croatian orchestrated most of the moves, and scored 2 goals. If his form continues, the Tigers could realistically claim an AFC spot this campaign.

The Forward Line

Tomoyuki Doi

Doi once again demonstrated why he is arguably the best striker in the league right now. Notching the first hattrick of the season, Hougang have certainly filled the void left by Stipe’s departure last season. Doi already has 7 in 4 games and he is surely going to add more.

Stipe Plazibat

1 goal and 1 assists this week, Statement Signing Stipe put in a decent showing this week to feature in our Team of the Week. Plazibat notched in his 4th goal of the season and I still believe the Golden Boot award is up for grabs despite Doi’s form. Never count Stipe out.

Photo Credits: Hougang United, Lion City Sailors, Singapore Premier League

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Our Singapore Premier League Team Of The Week #1

My buddy Kim Ng co-wrote this one with me. Cheers Fam! The 2021 edition of the Singapore Premier League has finally kicked off, and what a thrilling first game week we’ve had. We want to start something new here at SoccerKakis, so we’re launching our very own Team Of The Week Series! Of course, your […]

Our Singapore Premier League Team Of The Week #2

Game Week 2 saw a ton of drama unfold, with Matchday 2 and Matchday 3 of the Singapore Premier League being played mid-week and over the weekends, respectively. To stress, we are featuring the players that have been consistent over the two matches. In that sense, don’t be that surprised about the sheer number of […]

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Our Singapore Premier League Team Of The Week #2

Game Week 2 saw a ton of drama unfold, with Matchday 2 and Matchday 3 of the Singapore Premier League being played mid-week and over the weekends, respectively. To stress, we are featuring the players that have been consistent over the two matches. In that sense, don’t be that surprised about the sheer number of Hougang United players that feature in the squad. Let’s be honest. The Cheetahs were simply unstoppable this week.

Last week we had fans forum contributor, Kim Ng. This week we have Lions Of Asia creator, Sakda Chan. Follow Lions of Asia on Facebook and Instagram!

As usual, your opinion may differ from ours, so let us know what you agree or disagree with and we’d happily engage in a friendly debate.

The Defence

Mukundan Maran – GK

Even though Mukundan made two howlers (one in each game), the custodian really redeemed himself in both fixtures with some fine saves. He makes the cut this week because of his undeterred resilience to carry on.

Lionel Tan

Known for having the shortest shorts on the block, Lionel was stellar this week in both fixtures. Scoring a goal against the Sailors certainly was the icing on the cake for the centre-back.

Irfan Najeeb

Irfan has really done well since returning to the Stags and he has been pretty stellar at right-back. Turning only 22 this year, the future looks bright for young Irfan, and it will be exciting to see how this season pans out for him.

Baihaiki Khaizan

As usual, the Singapore icon was consistent this week and came close to scoring as well, with his header bouncing off the framework in one of the fixtures. Ever-reliable, it is bewildering to think that Bai is 37 years old.

The Midfield

Fabian Kwok

The man known as “The Truck” in the Hougang camp was superb in both fixtures this week, and his presence in the middle of the park certainly aided the Cheetahs in their resounding victories over Sailors and Geylang.

Kaishu Yamazaki

The “engine room” of the Hougang midfield, Kaishu, who usually featured as a central defender alongside Tajeli Salamat at Lion City Sailors last season, was a real constant presence throughout the Cheetahs’ midfield in both fixtures this week.

Idraki Adnan

In his first season with Hougang, the former Young Lions player has certainly impressed. An exciting player down the right flank, Idraki really contributes with his off the ball play, and his link up play with the Cheetahs’ attack this week was stunning to see.

Farhan Zulkifli

Like his fellow winger Idraki, Farhan put in another outstanding performance over the course of the week. Still only 17, it’ll be interesting to see how he grows this season. With 2 assists in 3 games, Farhan will surely add to this tally and notch a few goals this season. It’s only a matter of time.

The Forward Line

Tomoyuki Doi

What a talent. What an absolute joy to watch. Doi was in red hot form this week as he notched 4 goals and 2 assists over the two fixtures. It may be early days, but my money is on Doi clinching the Golden Boot at the end of the season.

Boris Kopitovic

1 goal and 2 assists this week, Big Bad Boris put in a decent showing in both fixtures to make it into our Team of the Week. Kopitovic should be scoring more, but it’s only a matter of time until the Montenegrin begins to be racking up the goals.

Gilberto Fortunato

The Brazilian may not have scored many goals, but his hold up play has been instrumental for Hougang’s attack. The Doi-Fortunato partnership has immediately set off, and the rest of the league need to be cautious of this seemingly lethal partnership. Hopefully the duo keep it up.

Special Mentions MD2 & MD3

Here are some honorable mentions – standout performers in each day but could not crack into our combined team because of the consistency of the 11 players we selected.

Photo Credits: Singapore Premier League, Tampines Rovers,
Photo Credits: Singapore Premier League, Tampines Rovers

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Hearing From The Interviewees – Thoughts On the New Season

The 2021 Singapore Premier League Season is going to kick off in less than 24 hours, and while it’s a real shame that fans are unable to attend the matches in person, there is a lot of hype for this campaign. Several clubs have made high profile signings, and it’ll be interesting to see how these stalwarts fare this season in Singapore. Besides that, the return of the Singapore Cup and continental football means that there is a lot to look out for this season.

Yet, I wanted to ask some players how they felt regarding the new season and so I reached out to some players I interviewed. Here is what they had to say:

Photo Credits: Singapore Premier League

Tajeli Salamat

Tajeli had a fantastic season with Lion City Sailors last season and even featured in the 2020 SPL Team of the Year. While hoping to continue his fine form, the Sailors’ defensive dynamo does admit that he is feeling a little nervous because “with the new season, there comes new goals.” That being said, Taj is excited and hungry for the league to kick off.

“After the delay of the league start date, I have been really looking forward to the start, and now that it’s already March, I can’t wait to play.”

“Regarding changes from last season, I think we have improved together as a team both physically and mentally. The bonds between us are also getting stronger each day. It’s important that we remain as one unit. As the saying goes, together we stand, divided we fall.”

“I really put in the hard work last season, and featuring in the team of the year really meant a lot to me. This year is going to be no different. I will continue to work hard and I hope to achieve more for the team and individually. Oh, and of course, going far in the AFC! End of the day, whatever I am doing, I am working hard for my family – my wife, my newborn son and my parents – cause I am a family guy now. I am doing this for them.”

Photo Credits: Singapore Premier League

Delwinder Singh

Like the rest of Tanjong Pagar, Delwinder had a season to forget in the 2020 campaign, where the Jagauars finished in last place. That being said, the club has done some serious business in the window and they are looking to make a statement this year.

“Definitely feeling great and excited about the start of a brand new league! We didn’t do well or rather of what we thought we could be able to do. Hence, I’d say it’s redemption time and to get things straight from the start starting with this Sunday’s game. We as a team believe in our philosophy and hence, it’s about continuing and believing in it with our football and showcasing it.”

“We’ve brought in experienced heads who can help in terms of pushing us to our limits and even beyond! Apart from that, it is some minor changes in terms of our football philosophy and to be honest, we’re raring to get this going and to put all our hard work at test. On a personal note, apart from club training, I’ve started working with Rory from Edge of the Box Mentoring, and the sessions has been excellent in terms of getting me physically and mentally ready for the challenges ahead, so I hope I can use it efficiently to help me deal with the various challenges that I’ll face.”

“As a team, I’d say at least qualifying for the AFC would be a good stepping stone. This will only lead to greater things in the future. On a more personal note, firstly would be to do my upmost best to help the team by restricting the opponents. By doing well, hopefully it opens the door back into the national team again as there’s AFF Suzuki Cup to look forward to.”

Photo Credits: Singapore Premier League

Anders Aplin

COVID-19 prematurely ended Hougang’s maiden AFC Cup voyage, and after tasting it once, they are probably hungry for it again. Hougang coach Clement Teo may have stated that Hougang are “not looking at the title as of now”, but with their recent transfers, the Cheetahs are a serious threat to any opponent. At the heart of their defence is Anders Aplin, the self-declared Offensive CB.

Anders briefly mentioned how he’s “really looking forward to the start of the season. It’s been a long and tough pre-season so we’re definitely eager to get going.”

“I’ll take each game at a time. Collectively, I suppose AFC would be something we want to qualify for.”

Photo Credits: Tampines Rovers FC

Gavin Lee

Despite narrowly missing out on the title, Gavin can surely be proud of what the Stags accomplished last season. This season offers a new opportunity – the AFC Champions League.

“The team and I are very excited for tomorrow’s first game. We have prepared well and the boys have applied themselves well throughout the pre-season. I think besides some new faces in the team, not a lot has changed. We are still the same motivated group and we want to achieve what we missed out on last year. Plus we continue to believe in our playing principles as it forms a big part of our processes, as well as continue to develop strong brains required for a successful season.”

“The goals for a club like Tampines remains constant every year. It is our duty to do our very best to achieve them. We like our big games but every game in the league poses different challenges. We enjoy playing against the various opposing strategies and we are ready for this new season!”

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Working Hard to Reach His Potential: An Interview with Ignatius “Iggy” Ang

To many ardent Singaporean football fans, Ignatius “Iggy” Ang is a familiar name. The midfielder has played for several local clubs and even signed for Lions XII in 2014. While he was a youth player, his coaches regarded him as a star for the future. However, he hasn’t been able to reach that potential. Throughout his professional career, Iggy has been on the peripheries of the national team and is still without a cap. Well, that’s the case for now. I think in due time, Iggy is on course for his first senior cap with the national team.

I had the opportunity to chat with Iggy the past week, and it was fantastic to chat with the player, who currently plays with Tanjong Pagar United FC. I remember Iggy well. He turned out for Warriors FC, my beloved club, in 2016 and again from 2018 to 2019. He played an integral part of the Warriors team that miraculously reached the finals of the 2019 Singapore Cup despite the club’s dire financial situation, where several wages were unpaid for months on end. This is his footballing story thus far.

Beginnings in Football

Like many of us, the midfielder started playing football when he was very young. Usually playing around his neighbourhood, he recounts tales of his friends accidentally smashing window panes and also making too much of a ruckus, which often led to neighbours lodging complaints. However, his footballing journey truly begun at Bendemeer Secondary School.

“I met my then coach, Patrick Mancha, who was a Nigerian player in the NFL. He told me one thing – that I’d play for the national team one day. Even after he left the school, he used to give me calls to check on me. He was really the first one who showed me the way of football.

“He always told me to score at least 1 to 2 goals each game and whatever he advised me to do, he was already doing in the NFL.”

Unfortunately, Iggy lost contact with Mancha and he wants to reconnect with his former coach to update on what has transpired so far.

Besides starting football properly in Bendemeer, Iggy also began to develop a keen interest in the S.League during this period. Staying opposite Toa Payoh stadium, he was an ardent Balestrier fan growing up. In addition to heading down to watch the matches live, he was also a ball boy. He even was part of the Balestier supporters group and played a significant role in creating an excellent matchday atmosphere for Balestier by playing the big drums.

As a 15-year-old, he signed up with the club he had supported years before and linked up with Balestier Khalsa’s youth team in 2007. Current Balestier head coach Marko Kraljević managed the midfielder back then, and under the German-Croat, Iggy flourished. In his first Under-16 game, despite his rawness and lack of football maturity, he scored 2 goals. He enjoyed a relatively good season at Balestier before Kraljević told Iggy to attend the NFA Under-16 trials at the end of the season. However, while not one to shy from a challenge, Iggy was apprehensive about such an opportunity.

“When coach Marko told me to go for the trials, I didn’t want to go at first because I felt I wasn’t good enough and may not be on part with them because at only 15 years old then, they had beaten the Malaysia Under-16 team.”

Kraljević recommended Iggy for the trials, and thankfully, he duly impressed then NFA under-16 coach Abdullah Noor. He went on to sign up with the NFA Under-16 side, and it was thanks to Kraljević’s insistence and recommendation that his football career took on this trajectory. Iggy would then rise through the levels and feature at the NFA under-18 level before getting promoted to the Young Lions squad in 2011. However, his tenure with the club would be a short-lived one, and after 6 months of finding a lack of opportunities, Iggy headed to Italy.

Picture Credits: Playmaker (playmaker_sg)

Sembawang Soccer Academy Fiasco and H-TWO-O Dream Team

I remember the Sembawang Soccer Academy Fiasco really well. Long story short, the Sembawang Soccer Academy launched an ambitious local initiative where it would send a squad of 24 players to Italy under the charge of Singapore icon Fandi Ahmad. The players would train at Genova International School of Soccer (GISS) with the opportunity of becoming professional footballers. However, financial issues plagued the club and they were unable to pay GISS the agreed-upon amount. GISS, unable to pay for the accommodation of the Singaporean players, then booted out the players, who were residing in a hotel in Pisa.

“I went to Italy with coach Fandi. I honestly don’t know how I went to Italy and got back [home]. We were kicked out of our hotel but we weren’t really stranded. We kept on moving from place to place for two whole months.

“It was a really ambitious project. They gave us a $1,500 allowance and we were meant to tour Italy for longer than 2 months by right. Given National Service requirements, however, we couldn’t stay out of the country for more than 2 months at a time. So, the plan was two go to Italy for two months, come back to Singapore for a week, and then we were supposed to go to Germany.”

Picture Credits: Playmaker (playmaker_sg)

After coming back from their Italian adventure, some players went to pursue their interests. On the other hand, others from Sembawang Soccer Academy would then form the H-TWO-O Dream Team, who Fandi Ahmad managed. The team played friendly matches throughout the year, and the finale of that year was when the Dream Team faced up against Iggy’s old outfit, Young Lions.

“It was 2-2, but then we lost on penalties. I did score the first goal, and it was kind of special because I was playing against most of my teammates.”

The Sembawang Soccer Academy may have seemed like a disaster initially, but it is a blessing in disguise. After all, it allowed Iggy to learn from a national icon like Fandi Ahmad and also kick start his professional career.

Early Years in the Professional Career

The following year in 2012, Iggy signed up with S.League side Hougang United, where he played in both the S.League and Prime League. Iggy would look back at his time at Hougang with fondness because this was the club where he scored his first professional goal in the S.League. After a single season with Hougang, he returned to Young Lions in 2013 but opportunities were limited yet again and he needed a move elsewhere.

Then, in 2014, the biggest move of Iggy’s career happened. Lions XII, the Singapore XI that participated in the Malaysia Super League aiming to capture the footballing glory days of the 20th century, came calling, and Iggy answered that call without a moment’s hesitation. However, instead of pushing Iggy’s career into the stratosphere, the move did the exact opposite.

Yet again, he linked up with Fandi Ahmad, but this time, he never once featured for the Lions XII side throughout the season. Iggy’s confidence took a big hit.

“Maybe I was raw, or maybe I did not show coach Fandi enough? After all, Fandi knew me from my time with the Dream Team. He told me how I was a different player [from the time he was with the Dream Team] and that I needed to prove to him that I can do it. Throughout the whole season, I just kept on training, but I didn’t feature once for the team.”

In hindsight, rejoining the Young Lions was a wrong career move. At Hougang, even though he was signed as a Prime League player, Iggy was featuring consistently for the S.League team under Nenad Baćina. When Baćina moved to manage Tampines at the end of the season, the Croatian was keen on bringing Iggy with him.

Picture Credits: Playmaker (playmaker_sg)

“I remember meeting coach Baćina at Clementi Mall and he wanted to bring me to Tampines but I felt that since most of the national team players were there, there was too much competition in the squad [for my liking]. I thought I wouldn’t have the chance to play. I thought by moving to Young Lions, I would have much more chances of playing.”

In 2015, after his uneventful stint with Lions XII, Iggy linked up with Marko Kraljević yet again. Marko offered Iggy a lifeline to rejuvenate his career and gain some much-needed confidence. On top of that, he guided Iggy throughout the season. He would call Iggy into his office and go through what areas the midfielder should work on – be it whipping in more crosses or making more passes. These sessions with Marko went on to have a major impact on the player’s career.

“I think he still saw the potential in me as he once did when I was 15 years old. That season, he gave me a lot of opportunities and shouted at me a lot. I mean that year, I was nominated for the Young Player of the Year Award. To me that was a big achievement, imagine not kicking a ball in 2014, to being nominated a year later.”

Warriors, National Service, & Financial Saga.

After a stellar season with Balestier, Ignatius moved to Warriors for the 2016 S.League campaign but only would feature for half a season because National Service came calling that June. Iggy had delayed his national service call-up because he wanted to obtain his polytechnic diploma. The midfielder finished his NITEC, Higher NITEC, and then proceeded to complete his diploma in 6 years. This extended educational track explains why he was pretty old when he enlisted. Focusing on his education also gave Iggy the time to focus on his football because he still had free time on his hands.

However, enlisting put a temporary stop to his footballing career because he didn’t get released to play and train with Warriors FC, whom he was still under contract. Juggling National Service commitments and their sporting careers is a common problem that many male athletes face in Singapore. Singaporeans are called up anytime between 18 to 25, which are critical years for footballing development. A total break away from the sport can seriously hinder the efforts of footballers who aim to reach their potential. Thankfully, his footballing development was not completely stunted because he managed to play for the SAFSA (Singapore Armed Forces Sports Association) team that played in the National Football Division. Furthermore, Iggy also enjoyed his National Service because he enjoyed his vocation.

“I was in 48 SAR, and I was a tankie. I really enjoyed my NS because I drove a tank for close to 2 years. People can say that they drive a car or a bike, but not many people can say that they drive a tank. It was just unfortunate that I couldn’t get released [to play for Warriors] throughout the whole time.”

Towards the end of his National Service, he did manage to train with Warriors periodically. Still, it wasn’t until he completed his National Service in May 2018 that he transited back to football full-time. However, it wasn’t a fairy tale return to the club, because he suffered an injury shortly after returning to football full-time.

“I was playing maybe 5 games. I scored two goals and assisted one in those 5 games. Then, I got injured just before Albirex. It was so disappointing. I was supposed to start against Albirex and [the way I got injured] was so stupid. We were doing some possession [drills], and I jumped for the ball, but I landed awkwardly and twisted my ankle in the process.”

Picture Credits: Playmaker (playmaker_sg)

National Service had prevented him from playing the first half of the season, and his injury meant he missed a good chunk of the second half as well. After he returned from injury, Ignatius told himself that 2019 was going to be his year. Up till the moment he enlisted, Iggy had always been a student-athlete. For once, he started a season without any additional academic responsibility bearing down his shoulder. However, after starting brilliantly for the club, Iggy came down with the flu and took Medical Leave. He was told to sit out for their upcoming trip to Brunei to recuperate. This marked the end to Iggy’s starting position in the Warriors squad. He was rarely selected after that. Competition for places in Warriors that 2019 season was incredibly tough, and no one was guaranteed a starting spot.

When it emerged that Warriors FC would have to sit out the 2020 SPL season due to their financial troubles, it rocked the Singaporean footballing community. While other clubs have pulled out of the league due to financial difficulties before, both players and fans were astonished when a massive club like Warriors suffered a similar fate.

“To be honest, no one saw this coming. You know, it’s Warriors! None of us expected this, and it showed us [players] that football is insecure [when it comes to job security]. People come and go. We can’t take it for granted.”

Iggy was one such player affected by the unpaid wages issue but thankfully is getting paid back now through an instalment plan.

“The last 6 months of 2019 was a bit tough for most of us but don’t ask how we went to the finals of the Singapore Cup. When we’re on the field, we just try to win and we try to forget the financial troubles off the field. We were helping ourselves and tried to push each other. In the end, I don’t know how we managed to go on 5 months without a salary.”

Fresh Start and New Role at Tanjong Pagar

After running down his contract with the Warriors, Iggy made a trip to Phuket for a much-needed vacation from football to take his mind off things. He usually travels with 3 of his close friends and flew from Phuket to Bangkok to meet up with them. Shortly after landing, Ignatius and his friends went to a shopping centre, having some Japanese food when his phone suddenly rings.

“It was Noh Alam Shah. I didn’t know why he was calling me, and I didn’t know whether to answer. After my friend asked me what I was waiting for, I picked up the phone. I knew Noh Alam Shah on and off previously. He called and asked what my plans were for the future. I told him I didn’t know and he told me that there might be that a club might be coming [to sign him].”

Picture Credits: Playmaker (playmaker_sg)

After that call, Iggy didn’t want to waste any more time. As a habit, he brings his running shoes whenever he travels and he hit the treadmill in the hotel gym the very next day. Over the next month, Noh Alam Shah was in constant contact with Iggy but he didn’t confirm Tanjong Pagar’s impending return. Thankfully, the club returned to the league and Iggy jumped at the opportunity to sign up with the Jaguars. The only regret he has is that some of his Warriors teammates had to leave professional football.

Iggy now finds himself in a unique position as a mentor to younger players in the club. When Tanjong Pagar rejoined the SPL, they were comprised almost entirely of Under-23 players, with Iggy being one of the few senior players in the squad. Usually known as a happy go lucky and playful individual, he tries his best to advise and set a good example for the younger players in Tanjong Pagar. Despite the youthful and rather inexperienced squad, Tanjong Pagar have done well for themselves. Drawing both matches against high-profile opposition, Iggy believes that the club’s future is bright.

Besides football, Iggy currently is looking to pursue a degree in Physical Education and currently holds an AFC ‘C’ license. He helps out with ActiveSG from time to time on his off days. He wants to either be a coach or an educator down the road but for now he has other immediate goals in mind.

What’s next in the immediate future for Iggy you might ask? Well, it’s simple – living up to Patrick Mancha’s assessment that he’ll play in the national team one day.

“Everyone wants to play in the national team. I’m already 28 and time is catching up. I really need to push myself now and try to earn a cap. If I don’t play for the national team, there is really nothing to talk about me. Some of my teammates in Young Lions have all gone on to establish themselves as national team players and there’s me, who’s yet to receive a call-up.”

From my interaction with Iggy, it is clear that he is going to do whatever he can to work harder and improve his game so that he can earn a senior cap for Singapore. That being said, he’s focused on helping his team first and foremost. Thankfully though, new coach Tatsuma Yoshida has breathed new life into the national team set up. While his predecessors have always chosen the same select few, the Japanese coach isn’t shy to experiment and provide call-ups to fresh faces. If Iggy continues his hard work and never give up attitude, I am sure that he’ll represent Singapore in due time.

When that happens, I’ll be sure to interview him again about that experience.

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Taking Roads Less Traveled: The Anders Aplin Story

Anders Aplin’s footballing story is an interesting one. In 2018, he made headlines when he became the first Singaporean player to sign with a Japanese team. Even though it was a loan move to Matsumoto Yamaga F.C, the deal caught my attention primarily because Anders Aplin was not a household name. 2 years earlier, Singapore’s very own Izwan Mahbud had a trial with Matsumoto. The club was interested in Izwan after his heroic displays for the national team in their 0-0 away draw with Japan, where he made a remarkable 18 saves. However, unlike Anders, the J2 outfit did not offer a contract to the national team custodian. Anders’s loan move piqued my interest in the defender, and never did I imagine that I would get the opportunity to interview him. Here is his story of taking roads less travelled.

A Slightly Different Route to become a Professional Footballer

Anders started his football career like most other professional footballers and gradually went up through the system.

“As soon as I can run and walk, I was kicking a ball with my dad. Then, it got a bit serious in primary school, with the school team and then sports school after that,” he reveals.

However, he started to fall out of the system after graduating from the Singapore Sports School. While many of his peers went to pursue a diploma or a NITEC certification, Anders decided to take the A-Levels route and entered Victoria Junior College. It wasn’t always smooth sailing and Anders would be the first to tell you that it was difficult juggling football and the A-level curriculum.

“The academic demands of A-levels is a little rough. I stuck it through but the grades suffered a bit. When NS came calling, that was it. Basically, my unit didn’t release me to play.”

National Service is a duty that all Singaporean sons are required to serve by law. While many aspiring footballers get drafted into units that allow them to attend training sessions of the National Football Academy or their various football clubs, Anders didn’t have that opportunity. Posted into the Commandos, his schedule was packed with countless mandatory training drills and exercises that it was impossible for him to gain time off to train with the NFA team. That marked the end of his association with the NFA and also put a stop to his ambitions of becoming a professional footballer. Despite this, it didn’t deter Anders from leaving football altogether.

“I took a break. Well, not really a full break. I still played social Sunday Football for a few years. Then, I got scouted back into the NFL (National Football League).”

Photo provided by Anders Aplin, Photo Credits: Heinkel Heinz

It was during his time playing in the NFL that he managed to impress earn a move to S.League side, Geylang International FC in 2016. However, he was yet again faced with a similar challenge of having to juggle his academics and football – although it was considerably tougher than his A-level days.

“I played a NFL Match against Yishun Sentek Mariners FC and they were coached by Noor Ali back then. At the end of the season [Noor made the move to Geylang as assistant coach], he called me down for a trial with Geylang. I was just entering my final year in [Nanyang Technological University]. The last time I juggled heavy academics and football, one of it suffered. Then again, I told myself that I might as well give it a shot – one last chance that is never going to come again – and so I did.”

One would expect to struggle making the jump from amateur to professional football but Anders was unfazed by the supposed disparity. In fact, he claims that it was a great feeling to be doing what he loves every day. Anders also says one reason why he quickly adapted to the level required at the S.League was because it suited his aggressive and physical style of play. Surprisingly, he also mentions that there isn’t as big a gulf between the NFL and S.League as one would think.

“At a team level, yes. There is a definite gulf in standard. But, when it comes to the technical skills and fitness of individual players, they are not very far off. They just need a bit more coaching and to do it more often.”

Anders finally returned to the football system after dropping out while serving his National Service. He had always kept tabs on the S.League because his NFA batch mates were featuring for their respective clubs. Now, it was different. He finally shared the same pitch as them, once again.

Juggling his Final Year in University and Playing Professionally

Photo by Lum3n from Pexels

In many ways, Anders is the ideal role model for Singaporeans who are passionate about pursuing a professional football career as well as earning a degree from a local university. Often, many Singaporean parents dissuade their children from becoming a professional footballer because they believe that it is an impractical career. Instead, most parents preach to their children that they should focus their time on earning a degree from a local university or a prestigious overseas one. Anders managed to do both, but it wasn’t easy playing professionally and studying at the same time.

“The hard part was travelling and time management because you know, NTU is in Jurong and Geylang is in Bedok. I stayed on campus when I was there and sometimes training was twice a day so I had to go for training in the morning, then rush back to class, and then go back to Bedok for training again.”

Many Singaporeans would agree that travelling from the West to the East in Singapore is a tiring affair and it was no different for Anders. It took a lot of discipline from him to ensure that he found a balance between football and his academics. To aspiring footballers, Anders urges them to pursue their academics as far as they can while finding a balance with their academics.

Representing the nation and Becoming the First Singaporean Player to play for Japan

Before long, Anders cemented his place as the starting centre-back in the Geylang squad. His performances caught the eye of then-national team manager V. Sundramoorthy, and he was called up to the Singapore squad in 2017. When he first informed that he had been called up to the national team, Anders didn’t buy it.

“I got a call from Leonard [Koh] who was back in Geylang. I thought he was bullshitting me. I was back in school and I told him ‘don’t [mess around], I’m damn tired, I’m trying to study.’ Then, the next day in training, he showed me the letter so it was a pleasant surprise.”

Photo provided by Anders Aplin, Photo Credits: Heinkel Heinz

2018 was also the year the Anders made history by securing a loan move to Matsumoto Yamaga F.C. In doing so, he became the first Singaporean player to play in Japan. It was an experience that Anders was grateful for because he learned a lot from his stint with the Japanese club. It was a very steep learning curve for Anders when he first arrived at Matsumoto.

“There was a gulf in class and standard between the SPL players. When you look at the Japanese players, I’d say they are one of the best in Asia. Alongside the Middle Easterns and the Koreans, they are really up there in Asia.

Besides gaining a lot of footballing experience from his stint with Matsumoto, Anders has also gained first hand experienced of the Japanese footballing system, something he regards as a model Singapore should follow.

“[Japanese footballers] start young and the whole set-up is ideal for their development from a very young age.That is something we don’t have here.

“We would do well if we were to look up to them and try and emulate what they were doing over there. Everything was very professionally run but that also translates to the players themselves. The players over there were really really very disciplined during training and even after training.”

The AFC Cup and New Goals with Hougang

After 4 seasons with Geylang, Anders decided that it was time for a new challenge and he felt that challenge was to play in the AFC. Age is catching up with the defender, and when the opportunity came from Hougang he couldn’t refuse.

Even though he arrived at Hougang as a new player, he was greeted by many familiar faces. Hougang United head coach had previously coached Anders when he was 18 years old, and some of his peers from the Singapore Sports School were also in the squad. Joining him from Geylang was Shawal Anuar, a good friend of Anders whom he roomed together when on national duty. Shawal is also a player who followed a similar career path. Like Anders, Shawal was snapped up by Geylang in 2014 while he was playing in the NFL.

This season was the first time Hougang United and Anders played in the AFC Cup. Even though the coronavirus has temporarily suspended the continental competition, Anders has relished his time so far and is raring to go when the season resumes.

Photo provided by Anders Aplin, Photo Credits: Heinkel Heinz

“It’s different from playing in the SPL. We go on a bus ride with a police escort. We’ve heard of stories where the bus gets battered and fans stop you from leaving the stadium. I mean we didn’t get any of that but it’s for precaution. [The experience] is quite fun.

“The football has been quite fun too. We played teams like Lao Toyota, Yangon United and Ho Chi Minh City – you know, good sides in Southeast Asia. The league is still our primary focus but seeing that it is our first venture into the AFC Cup, it is a good test for us.”

Even though Hougang have only won 1 of their 3 games in the group stages thus far, they can hold their heads high. After all, they beat Lao Toyota 3-1 away from home and only narrowly lost to Yangon and Ho Chi Minh. They’re still in the running for qualification. That being said, Hougang need to give it their all and win all three remaining games for any chance of qualification. That’s easier said than done, given the higher level of competition.

“There is no room for error there. When we played Ho Chi Minh, those guys were fast. We really had to be on the ball. It’s not something we get every day in the SPL.”

The coronavirus pandemic may have temporarily suspended football in the region but Anders is raring to go when everything eventually resumes. Meanwhile, he is training with his team weekly via zoom.

Anders is an underrated player but his backstory and the path he took to football makes him an exemplar for any aspiring footballer. Even though he joined the professional league late, he has reached several milestones through sheer hard work and determination. In an era where we have a small national pool, more players playing in the NFL would certainly benefit local professional clubs as well as the national team. When the league eventually resumes, look out for Anders when he plays for Hougang and while you witness his aggressive and physical playing style first-hand, just remember how he got there.

What a Small World We Live in

I could have chosen to left this part out but I felt it would be a shame to do that. Personally, I think it was kind of amusing.

As we were coming to the end of our zoom call, Anders was following me back on Instagram when out of the blue, he asks me, “How do you know Christer?”

Puzzled by the question, I hesitantly replied, “We were in NUS Stage together for a bit and we did a production together.”

Then it was my turn to inquire, “Why? How do you know Christer?”

“Christer is my brother,” Anders responds and nonchalantly adds, “I’ll tell him you said hi.”

I’m not going to lie. That little revelation at the end made me smile. What a small world we live in, indeed.