As the likes of Adam Swandi and Ikhsan Fandi prepare for their maiden AFF Suzuki Cup adventure, we track down the Golden Generation known as the YOG boys who should have been here…
Fandi Ahmad has continuously stated that youth is the way forward for Singapore football. With that in mind, what happened to the supposed Golden Generation known as the YOG boys?
The National Football Academy Class of 95 needs no introduction but none of them are involved in the senior squad as Singapore prepare to go into Suzuki Cup battle mode.
Eight years ago, a talented bunch of 15-year-olds captured the imagination of Singaporeans by playing an attractive brand of football en route to a bronze medal at the inaugural Youth Olympic Games (YOG) held in the Lion City.
It was thought that many of them would go on to form the backbone of the senior Lions squad in the years to come, but none of the 18 were named in Fandi Ahmad’s 2018 AFF Suzuki Cup squad.
Five of them are currently registered to Singapore Premier League (SPL) teams, but what about the rest?
We track them down to see what they are doing…
Nicknamed “The Bear” for his imposing presence in between the sticks, Fashah was the undisputed no. 1 goalkeeper throughout that YOG campaign. His stock rose the following year as he put up a Man-of-the-Match performance against the Flamengo Under-15s in the 2011 Lion City Cup final.
The 1.87m custodian was actually the first player amongst this batch to sign for Young Lions in 2013, but never made an appearance in his three years there before joining Tampines Rovers in 2016. He lasted just half a season with the Stags, before returning to Young Lions where he finally made his SPL debut later that year.
He joined Warriors FC in 2018 and started in six out of 24 games in the recently-concluded SPL season.
An agile goalkeeper with good reflexes, Fashah’s backup can count himself unlucky to be the only player from the 18-strong squad that never played a single minute throughout the YOG.
He then featured regularly for the National Football Academy (NFA, now known as FAS Football Academy) Under-17s in 2012 and played for the Singapore Cubs (Under-19s) in the Prime League two years later, before joining Balestier Khalsa in 2017 upon completion of National Service (NS).
However an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury ended his chances of involvement last year and he would tear the same muscle again in the off-season – prompting him to call time on his short-lived professional journey.
Hamzah is now a technician at REC Solar, while still playing at the amateur level.
A centre-back who reads the game well and has good physical attributes, Lightfoot was the Captain Marvel of that batch as he scored a vital headed equaliser to lead a famous 3-2 comeback win against Montenegro in the group stages.
However he never made it onto the professional scene, although he did play for the nation till Under-19 level and even donned the armband during the 2014 AFC U19 Championship qualifiers. The defender then played for Warriors FC’s Prime League team for half a year in 2015 before enlisting for NS and did not get a contract with Young Lions despite training with them for the latter stages of 2016.
Proceeding to complete a degree in communications, he is now coaching kids and also in charge of media and marketing communications at local football academy JSSL Singapore.
A robust centre-back who was unafraid to put in a challenge, Radhi complemented Lightfoot well at the heart of defence during the YOG, but missed the subsequent 2011 Lion City Cup due to a metatarsal injury along with the latter.
He then recovered well enough to get a contract with Home United’s Under-18s in 2012 and was singled out as “one of the team’s most consistent performers” by coach Hairil Amin, but left the following mid-season and rejected an offer to join Tanjong Pagar United’s 2014 Prime League team due to a newfound hobby in cycling.
Radhi’s passion now is firmly on two wheels as he targets a future as a professional track cyclist for Singapore in the near future.
One of three players who was not selected for the 2009 Asian Youth Games (AYG), the energetic right-back fought his way back to be included for the YOG squad but was sent off in the 2-0 loss against Haiti the semi-finals – thus missing the 4-1 win over Montenegro in the bronze medal playoff.
Lee then impressed as a centre-back in the 2011 Lion City Cup and remained in the national age-group set-up until joining Warriors’ Prime League in 2015. He then signed for Young Lions in late 2016, before making his SPL debut the following May and subsequently playing in the 2017 SEA Games as a midfielder.
Reverting back to defence in 2018, he was an ever-present in Hougang United’s backline as he started in 20 out of 24 league games and is touted for a maiden Singapore call-up in the near future.
On Illyas’ opposite flank was Dhukhilan, who shone as a roving left-back in the opening few games but also impressed as a centre-back in the thrashing of Montenegro in the bronze medal playoff. He further proved his credentials by deputising well for Lightfoot in the heart of defence as team skipper during the 2011 Lion City Cup.
The lanky defender joined Geylang International’s Prime League team in 2015 and got his first taste of professional action that May as he came on as a substitute for the senior team in a league game. He was promoted to the Eagles first team in 2016, but would leave for Young Lions in the mid-season transfer window due to lack of playing time.
Missing the 2017 SEA Games due to an injury sustained two weeks before the tournament, he then enlisted for NS and is now a full-time national serviceman in the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF).
A back-up to Dhukhilan, Irfan was given his chance in the bronze medal playoff against Montenegro and did not disappoint with a competent display at left back. Just like many others in this squad, he progressed through the ranks and was amongst those called up for the 2014 AFC U19 Championship qualifiers.
He then played for Geylang’s Prime League in 2015, before making his SPL bow the following year with the Young Lions and played eight SPL matches before NS enlistment. He has since returned to the local developmental outfit during this mid-season, but has not gotten the clearance to feature in any games.
The full-back recently represented the Singapore Selection squad for the Sultan’s Gold Cup in Malaysia, along with nine other Young Lions players.
Firdaus played just one game at the YOG, but it was an eventful one. Starting in place of the suspended Lee at right-back in the bronze medal playoff, he was summoned to play in the centre after just minutes into the affair due to Lightfoot coming off injured and eventually played a part in the big win over Montenegro.
He then went on to play with the batch till Under-19 level, before joining Hougang United’s Prime League team in mid-2014. He was handed a spot on the bench in the Cheetahs’ final game of that SPL season, but did not manage to make an appearance. Firdaus went to Warriors’ Prime League team in 2015 before NS enlistment.
He is now playing for Singapore Cricket Club in the National Football League (NFL) while working full-time as a trainer at Fitness First.
An aggressive and no-nonsense midfielder, Amirul played the role of ‘water carrier’ to perfection in that YOG campaign. He was then used sparingly during the 2011 Lion City Cup before playing for Tampines Rover’s Prime League team in 2013.
He did made it to the Singapore Under-22 squad in 2015, before being part of Home’s Prime League team that won a Prime League and FA Cup double the following year. However a lack of offers saw him leaving the scene and he started playing footvolley – a sport that combines aspects of beach volleyball and football – under the recommendation of his uncle.
Amirul recently represented Singapore in the fifth edition of the Asian Footvolley Championships, while working full-time with RedMart and doing a couple of other ad-hoc jobs.
An industrious worker who was always willing to put in the tackles and run to the ground, Ng shared midfield duties with Amirul during the YOG. Used off the bench in the 2011 Lion City Cup, he then made it to the NFA Under-18s in 2013 before becoming one of the earliest amongst the batch to quit the sport.
He went on to further his studies in 2014 before enlisting for NS the following May. After serving the nation, he started to assist his father in a company called Ektar Engineering and Construction Enterprises – which does electrical services for residential, commercial and industrial places.
Ng has since fully taken over the business since January 2018.
A neat midfielder with a great engine, Ammirul was one of the surprise starlets of that campaign – starting off by scoring a long-range humdinger within 11 seconds in the opening 3-1 win over Zimbabwe, before ending it by netting another two against Montenegro in the bronze medal playoff.
His career has since taken a steady although unspectacular progression. He was the first player amongst the batch to feature in the SPL as he started in the opening game of the 2014 season for Young Lions. He played for the local developmental side for four years and was called up for the 2017 SEA Games squad, before joining Warriors FC in 2018.
Ammirul started 18 out of 24 league games for the uniformed outfit, but have yet to net his first professional goal.
A speedy and skilful left-footed player who was deployed as a right winger, Koh famously scored the winning goal in a memorable 3-2 upset of Montenegro in the group stages. He then played as a full-back in the 2011 Lion City Cup and played with the team till Under-19 level, before joining Geylang’s Prime League in 2015.
His first SPL appearance finally came in 2016 when he started in a 2-1 away win over Home for the Eagles, but NS came calling thereafter. He then unfortunately tore his ACL while playing for SAFSA the following year and decided to call time on his short career.
Currently working as a medical technician at National University Hospital (NUH), Koh is also going to pursue a degree in life science in the coming months.
On Koh’s opposite flank was this fleet-footed winger with boyish good looks, who earned many admirers with his fearless running down the left wing.
He then played an integral role in the Under-16s’ run to the final of the 2011 Lion City Cup, before opting to join Geylang’s Prime League in 2014 and made his SPL debut in the same year. Tan went on to join Young Lions in 2016 and was a regular starting member for Balestier Khalsa in 2017, before enlisting for NS.
He is now playing for SAFSA in the NFL and is looking to return to professional football as he finishes serving the nation in August 2019.
Largely a bench warmer during the group stages, Neubronner was given his chance in the bronze medal playoff against Montenegro and duly delivered an assist as a right winger.
He then played as a full-back in the 2011 Lion City Cup, before becoming the first and only person amongst the batch to play overseas as he signed an 18-month professional contract with German fourth division club SSV Ulm 1846 in 2013.
He made six appearances and scored a goal for the club’s Under-19s, before returning to Singapore to serve the nation two years later. Losing his touch with the game during his NS stint as an officer prompted him to decide against pursuing a professional football career.
Neubronner chose to focus on academics instead and is now into his final year as a Business Economics undergraduate at the University of Liverpool.
Already impressing at the AYG a year ago with a stunning long-range goal against Iran Under-14s, Hanafi further proved his credentials with two superbly-taken strikes to inspire the 4-1 thrashing of Montenegro in the bronze medal playoff. His nifty dribbling skills and playmaking ability earned him the nickname of “Gelek Prince” as he was the pin-up boy of that tournament.
However his career has taken more twists and turns than a Hollywood movie ever since. Quitting the NFA Under-18 team in 2013 and being labelled a ‘rebel’ by some coaches, he was handed a chance by Balestier Khalsa and managed to make his SPL debut the following year despite signing on a Prime League contract.
The left-footed attacker was then arrested for drug offences in 2015 and sentenced to a year’s imprisonment, but Balestier handed him a lifeline after his release by re-signing him for the 2017 season. It looked like he was on the right track again as he made the SEA Games squad last year along with Lee, Ammirul and Muhaimin, but he then started skipping club trainings thereafter and was released by the Tigers.
Tampines Rovers swooped for his services in early 2018, but his habit of skipping training came back to haunt him as the Stags released him just a couple of months later. In May, he was hauled up by authorities for missing mandatory weekly urine tests and is said to be back in prison again.
Diminutive in stature but tenacious in his playing style, the electric forward won the heart of many fans and was affectionately nicknamed the ‘Chilli Padi’ as he scored three goals throughout the tournament and showed telepathic understanding with strike partner Hanafi. Fans would remember the then 1.55m forward holding off 1.92m Montenegrin centre-back Danilo Sarkic on a couple of occasions.
Muhaimin then netted against the Flamengo Under-15s in the 2011 Lion City Cup, before becoming the first player amongst the batch to score in the SPL with a tap-in for the Young Lions during the 2014 season.
He was also the only player amongst them all to have ever gotten a call-up to the senior national team during June 2017, although he failed to make an appearance due to injury. As the years went by, his height increased but his goals dwindled due to being deployed largely on the flanks.
In 2018, Muhaimin joined Hougang and with the majority of his 17 appearances coming as a right-back. He has also since started his own business called Beefolio Studio.
A physical and hardworking striker, Syazwan was used as an impact sub during the YOG and subsequently during the 2011 Lion City Cup. He continued with the team till Under-19 level, before joining Warriors’ Prime League in 2015 along with Lee, Lightfoot, Firdaus and Hazim.
He then played for Hougang Prime League for a couple of months the following year before enlisting for NS.
After ORD-ing in May, Syazwan laced up his boots again for NFL side Balestier United and is now interested to secure a professional contract next season. He will also start his Bachelor of Accountancy studies at the Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS) in January 2019.
Often berated by then Sports School coach Abdullah Noor for his poor positional sense and composure in front of goal back then, Hazim played supporting cast to the team’s success in the YOG.
A year later, he improved enough to be the team’s main forward at the Lion City Cup and famously scored two goals against Juventus Under-15s – with one of those a well-taken strike from a tight angle. He then banged in 27 goals for the Under-18s to win the TNP Dollah Kassim award in 2013, before making his SPL debut with Warriors FC in 2015.
He went on to score two goals in seven starts for Young Lions in 2016 then left midway through to serve the nation. Finishing his NS stint along with Syazwan a few months ago, he joined NFL side Tiong Bahru United and has scored his fair share of goals to help the team to win the Division One title.
Hazim is now yearning for a return to the SPL in 2019.