NUS’ one and only S-League player
By Brian Higgs
Mar. 18, 2007
22-year-old Fabian Tan is one of a kind. Besides being one of the few Chinese players plying his trade in the S-League, Singapore’s professional football league, the Business School freshman is also the only S-League player currently studying at NUS.
“It boils down to the same old thing: a Chinese culture whereby parents want children to excel academically,” Tan said. “I’ve got quite a few (Chinese) friends who are good footballers, but they will not consider playing professionally because prospects are not that bright.”
“Those who can do well academically, not many will take the step forward to play,” he added.
“Why I did it was because it was my dream,” Tan explained. “If you believe that football or sports is what you want to do, then you have to work hard and be patient.”
Diehard Singapore football fan Mohammed Fazly, 25, believes Tan actually has a future in soccer.
“Just because he’s Chinese doesn’t mean he can’t make it big in soccer, or sports in general,” he said. “In fact, I think it is about time we had some local Chinese players represent Singapore.”
“If I’m not wrong, the last local Chinese player to play for Singapore was Goh Tat Chuan, and that’s like donkey years ago,” he added. “Even though the Singapore team at the recent ASEAN Cup had one Chinese player, he wasn’t Singaporean Chinese, but China Chinese (referring to Shi Jia Yi).”
With many of his friends playing full time, and football being their only source of income, Tan said the money they earn would not be able to sustain them in the long run.
“A footballer’s lifespan is very short: because of the length of the career you can only play till 32 (years old) at most,” he said. “In this span of 10-12 years it’s difficult to earn enough to cover you for the rest of you life.”
“You have to be prepared after your football career ends,” he added. “Not many will be offered new jobs like coaching.”
Tan, who normally plays as a left-sided or central defender, said he remembers playing football from a very young age, though he started off at unusual locations like the void deck of his flat.
It was not until Tan was in junior college that he finally had his first taste of competitive football. Having previously been in the cross-country team for Victoria School, he said he felt an affiliation to Victoria Junior College. To him, “it was natural to go over.”
“I was attracted to the achievements of VJC at that time and wanted to explore my potential,” he said. “I had a goal in mind: I wanted to play football for VJ.”
According to Tan, it was the time spent playing football in VJC that triggered his interest even more. He went on to play for the Singapore Armed Forces Sports Association whilst in national service, and it was during his second year there that he was called up by national youth coach Fandi Ahmad for the national under-21 squad.
Tan was eventually promoted to the national under-23 squad that plays in the S-league as the team called the Young Lions last year.
“It was an honour to be called up and pit my skills against full-time professionals,” he said. “I’m very blessed to receive this kind of opportunity to play at this level.”
“During Malaysia Cup days when I was young I will always watch heroes like Fandi and Tong Hai playing for the country,” he added. “Now that Fandi is my coach, it is kind of unbelievable.”
Tan said his greatest experience on the football pitch so far was when he made his debut against Woodlands Wellington Football Club. National players, midfielder Goh Tat Chuan and defender Daniel Bennett, were the captain and vice-captain of the team respectively then.
“It was initially quite exciting and nerve-wracking, but as the game went by, I kind of settled down and focused on the task at hand,” he said. “I think I did quite well, according to the coaches.”
While it was difficult striking a balance between studies and football when he entered NUS, Tan said his coaches were very understanding when he had projects due and had to be late for training as a result.
“I would say it takes a lot of discipline to juggle both,” he said. “It made me manage my time better.”
“It will affect me to a certain extent when sometimes after training I’m very tired and unable to complete my tasks,” Tan said. “But I’ve made a lot of good friends who helped me a lot, especially when I miss lessons.”
“You’ve just got to be very focused,” he added. “When you play, you play wholeheartedly; when you study, you study wholeheartedly.”
Tan’s role model on the football pitch is former national defender Lim Tong Hai, but the person he looks up to in life is his own father.
“He is very supportive in whatever I do, and is always encouraging me to strive in what I believe in,” he said. “Sometimes when I need to rush from school to training he will offer to send me.”
“My dad will always come to watch the games of the Young Lions even if I’m not playing,” he added.
Tan’s father Ronald Tan, 54, said he is often concerned about his son’s studies and health, but always advises Tan to do what he thinks is best for himself.
“He’s old enough to make his own decisions,” Tan senior said. “I can only support him in times when he needs me.”
Even though Tan knows it is difficult in Singapore, he wants to continue playing football even after he graduates from NUS.
“I will have to work, so hopefully I can find a job where I can also play,” he said, adding that he would not give up football completely since “there’s still the semi-league on weekends.”
Tan is currently recovering from an anterior cartilage ligament injury he suffered when he fell awkwardly during training. Now that he is not playing regularly, he finds that “life without football is different and not something I want.”
“I thought it wasn’t so bad, but when the analysis came I had to go for an operation which would keep me out for six months,’ he said. “It makes me treasure the time when I’m on the pitch running around playing football.”
To aid his recovery, Tan is seeing the Football Association of Singapore physiotherapist three times a week while he continues to attend classes in school. After the exams he will undergo intensive rehabilitation for three months to get back into playing condition.
“I’ve encountered many setbacks during these few years in football,” he said, adding that each setback nurtured his resilience.
Tan has set himself a target of returning to play in August.
“I’m looking forward to recovering and being back on the pitch again,” he said. “I have to do my best to repay the fans’ faith.”
Contributed by: OldVic in the previous OVA Forum