In Singapore where academic excellence is often emphasised, some parents stand out for going all out to support their children’s football dreams.
As the Covid-19 pandemic continues to ravage the globe, 14 journalism students who would in ordinary times travelled overseas for a reporting module focused on the national football project that set its sights on the 2034 World Cup. Off the back of Singapore's Unleash the Roar! project, the students reported on the local football scene and what it will take for Singapore to generate excitement and raise the standard of the sport here. The students were taking part in Go-Far (Going Overseas for Advanced Reporting), a journalism module of the university’s WKWSCI. Go-Far is supported by the Wee Kim Wee Legacy Fund
Ms Jenny Tan, 45, juggles two jobs and runs the household, but is clear about one thing: her daughters’ football dreams come first.
On some Saturday mornings, Ms Tan takes the girls to East Coast Park to play football. Photo: Bernice Yong
So she reworks her life to fit and provide for the schedules of Chloe Koh, 14, and Celine Koh, 11, who both train with the Lion City Sailors football academy and with the Under-16 and Under-14 national teams respectively. Chloe trains almost seven days a week, while Celine trains four times a week.
Sisters Celine (left) and Chloe love football and occasionally play together in an open field near their home. Photo: Bernice Yong
Ms Tan’s daughters first picked up football in Ngee Ann Primary School. Back in 2017, Chloe, then 10, had joined some boys playing football during recess, and was subsequently talent-spotted by Under-16 national team coach Chris Yip-Au.
Five years on, training has steadily increased as Celine joined the Lion City Sailors football academy with Chloe when she requested for extra practice. “I thought it was great that the girls found something that kept them outdoors and active,” said Ms Tan. A former student athlete herself, Ms Tan believes that playing a sport can help relieve stress, so even when Chloe sat for her PSLE, she continued to attend her training sessions five times a week.
Ms Tan recalled how other parents would ask why she allowed Chloe to play football then, but she would always say that it is impossible to study round the clock.
“All work and no play makes you dull,” said the mother of two with a laugh.
She says there has been little to worry about football so far. “They have some injuries here and there, but these can also happen to them even if they were walking along the street.”
In fact, the sport has taught them how to be self-motivated and have strong time management skills, she said.
In February 2021, Ms Tan returned to work after 10 years as a stay-home mum. She is a library assistant at Red Swastika School, and sells crocheted animals for extra income to support her girls.
Ms Tan crochets for three hours on weekdays while she helps Celine with homework. Photo: Bernice Yong
Every day after work, she crochets for about three hours, and her weekends are normally spent frantically crocheting to finish orders, averaging 10 hours a day. “Sometimes I have to reject orders because I simply don’t have the time to finish them all,” she said.
Her small business earns her around $200 of extra income each month, bolstering the $1,500 she earns from her day job.
The moonlighting is necessary, says Ms Tan. Besides paying for their living expenses, she needs $300 every three months for the girls’ football academy training. Before the pandemic, she paid an additional $600 every six months or so for the girls to participate in competitions
Ms Tan pays $600 every six months for both girls to play in competitions. Photo: Bernice Yong
Working two jobs, Ms Tan is no longer able to watch their training and matches, which she would never miss in the past.
“It’s a huge blow, because these are moments I treasure that helped me form a close bond with my girls.”
Instead, she shows her support for them with the little things, such as washing their jerseys and boots, waking up at 5am to drop Chloe off at an MRT and walking Celine to school.
Ms Jenny Tan, 45, is one of the parents who goes all out to support her daughters’ football dreams. Photo: Bernice Yong
On top of crocheting, her weekday nights are spent helping the girls with their school work. Both girls have no tuition, so for extra practice, Ms Tan tasks them with completing past year papers. In pockets of free time, she marks and reviews the girls’ mistakes with them.
Ms Tan is in the middle of a divorce and the legal fees have cost her $5,000 to date. She hopes to gain sole custody of her children.
The family gets a hint of their old life on weekends, when Ms Tan sends the girls for training, and sometimes stays on to cheer and take videos.
Ms Tan films Chloe at her academy training for review later. Photo: Bernice Yong
She knows her daughters’ teammates by name, and cheers as they score goals during a mini game. During their water breaks, she chats with them and shares a laugh or two.
“I’ll cheer for the other girls as loudly as I would for my own children because not everyone’s parents are free to come down for the games or training,” Ms Tan said.
When training ended at 10.30am on a Saturday, Ms Tan was the only mother among fathers picking up their daughters.
“To me, it’s not about whether they have a future in football. It’s about the passion that keeps them going and doing what they do,” said Ms Tan on her girls wanting to play professionally.
She said that Chloe aims to score a football scholarship overseas.
Ms Tan and her two daughters Celine (L) and Chloe. Photo: Bernice Yong
“If that is her dream, I will do everything I can to support her,” said Ms Tan. When she first began supporting the girls alone, Ms Tan applied for subsidies for their training and tried to take on more crochet orders to supplement her income.
Mr Affendi drops Nazhan off at his training at football academy JSSL Singapore for goalkeeping training on Saturdays. Photo: Bernice Yong
Mr Affendi Bisri, 42, rejected four job offers with greater promotion prospects to spend more time with his two children — Nadia, 15, and Nazhan, 14 — mostly by driving them to and from football training.
The children train an average of three times a week, with Nadia attending school, academy and Under-16 national team training sessions and Nazhan training with the Tampines Rovers youth team and football academy JSSL Singapore.
His current job, as a work accident claims investigator with the Ministry of Manpower, allows him flexible working hours and understanding supervisors.
“Choosing to further my career would mean I would lose all of this flexibility and get busier, leaving me with less time to spend with my family,” said the ex-police officer. Mr Affendi left the police force in 2008 after the shifts and long working hours took a toll on his family life.
He always stays to watch his children train after dropping them off. Even on busy days when he has errands to run, Mr Affendi makes it a point to watch at least 30 minutes of their training. “I’m a football fan myself, so I generally enjoy watching football and all the more so when it’s my own children playing,” he said.
It is also a point of conversation, he said. “So when I ask them about training, I can relate easily. If they had a rough day, I know exactly what happened, or if they accomplished something they are proud of, I was there to see it and celebrate with them.”
After doing this for five years now, Mr Affendi has his personal favourite training site — Our Tampines Hub. After dropping Nazhan off, Mr Affendi parks the car and heads up to Tampines Regional Library, where there are sofas that overlook the field.
From his spot in the Tampines Regional Library, Mr Affendi watches Nazhan train.
Photo: Bernice Yong
“The view is amazing, I’ll just grab a magazine and pretend to read it while watching Nazhan train.”
But hitting pause in his career progression meant that his wife, Ms Siti Raudhah Ishak, needed to work harder at her job to keep the family finances stable. Ms Raudhah, 42, is a Malay language teacher at Telok Kurau Primary School and a football fan.
Both parents encourage their children to play, but are wary about the future of professional footballers in Singapore.
Mr Affendi said Nadia has expressed her dreams of playing professionally. “The local women’s football scene probably needs about 20-25 more years to grow, but that wouldn’t be Nadia’s time anymore.”
But after reading about the two Singaporean girls — Putri Nur Syaliza Sazali and Yasmin Namira Mohammad Yusman — who snagged overseas scholarships to the United States earlier this year, it has become Nadia’s goal as well, he said.
The Affendi family love football and are fans of the local leagues. Photo: Bernice Yong
Ms Raudhah said: “I’m fine with it if they want to become professional footballers. They just have to show me that they have a realistic backup plan in place and can prove that they will still be good Muslims.” “Ultimately our parenting philosophy is to just give them as many opportunities as we can, and guide them in their chosen paths,” she said.
Mr Affendi said: “Family is the most important thing to us, so things like money and career will always come second to our children.”
By Bernice Yong