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NEXT-GEN STORIES: How one magical Kallang night changed the lives of Abirami and Daania forever

They were once some of the top footballers of their time. But even though they may have retired, football remains in their blood. Meet these ex-internationals and their next generation of young footballers - sons and daughters of former national players who are keen to follow in the footsteps of mommy and daddy.

Like any former international footballer, Abirami Segaran always had hopes that her only child, Daania, would follow in her footsteps.

While Daania would have dolls and other toys to play with growing up, a ball was never far away. Abi, as she is affectionately known to friends and teammates, even went to the extent of enrolling Daania in a football club when she was seven years old.

Daania (left) and mom Abirami save a deep passion for football. But it was not love at first sight for Daania. In fact, she preferred netball growing up. Photo by Ng Chong Meng.

But no matter how hard Abirami tried, Daania just did not take to football.

"As she was so young then, she found the sport too aggressive and didn’t have a continued interest in it," said Abirami, 38, a former national Under-19 women's footballer.

But on Christmas Day 2021, a little bit of football magic at the National Stadium accomplished, in just under three hours, what Abirami had been trying to do for close to a decade.

Mother and daughter were among the 10,000 fans at Kallang for the Singapore-Indonesia AFF Suzuki Cup semi-final match.

With the first leg all square at 1-1, there was all to play for in the return match - and it turned out to be one of the most dramatic nights in Singapore football history.

After Indonesia took the lead, the Lions came back from a goal down and a man down to draw 1-1 at the National Stadium, only to have Irfan Fandi also see red.

But against the odds, and to the delight of the crowd, midfielder Shahdan Sulaiman powered home a freekick to give nine-men Singapore an unlikely 2-1 lead.

However, there was no Christmas miracle on the night as Indonesia broke local hearts by snatching an equaliser with four minutes to go to force the match into extra time. Indonesia would then take advantage of their numerical supremacy to win 4-2 on the night as the Lions ended the match with just eight men.

But although the Lions lost, the tenacity and courage they showed that night won over the fans who proudly cheered on the players even in defeat.

Initially heartbroken with the result, despair would turned into elation for Abirami.

"At the end of the game, Daania turned to me and said, 'This is what I want to do mummy'," said Abirami, who is an International Coordinator with KK Women's and Children's Hospital.

"I asked her what she meant. She said she wanted to play football. At first, I was naturally shocked because I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.

"So I asked again, 'Are you really sure about this? You are already playing netball for your school team and the Singapore Netball Academy. But she said 'Yes Mommy. This is what I really want to do'."

Netball's loss was football's gain.

Daania, 12, took to football with renewed interest and vigour. Within two years of joining the Lion City Sailors Football Academy, she established herself as one of the more promising young female talents.

Playing with the U-13s, her team came in second in both the JSSL National League and JSSL 7s this year. The St Margaret's Primary School student's efforts also earned her a call-up to the Junior National Development Centre U-12 squad.

In just two year, Daania (left) has progressed from someone who did not know how to kick a ball properly to being a member of the Junior National Development Centre's Under-12 girls team. Photo by Ng Chrong Meng.

But Daania admitted that it was not a case of love at first sight with the sport.

Being the only child of two footballers, dad Sukoor played for Sengkang Marine in the then Prime League and S-League, it was inevitable that they would try and introduce the game to Daania.

Said Daania, whose initial interest in netball made the concept of football quite foreign: "I was like, "Why are they using their feet? Why is the pitch so big? Why is there a huge square box?

"But they (mom and dad) helped me understand the game. And once I understood it, I just fell in love immediately. I started learning how to play the game and I absolutely fell in love with it."

Abirami sees much of herself in Daania - especially when it comes to being self-disciplined and working hard. Rest and diet are two things Abirami does not compromise - Daania is in bed by 8:30pm everyday and eat lots of fruits and vegetables.

As Daania truly discovered football only at 10, she had some catching up to do compared to her peers. While she was already athletic, having been a promising netballer, she was lacking in both footballing ability and the understanding of the game. So Abirami and Sukoor decided to train her on their own initially, bringing her for runs and taking turns to help her improve her football skills.

And Daania responded, putting in the hard work and sacrifice to better herself.

Said Abirami: "When I saw her during the Unleash The Roar! trials (for the Junior National Development Centre), I cried because I felt that it's like watching me going for trials when I was younger.

"I think she has what it takes to be a national player. But even for what she's accomplished now, I'm very proud because it's her own effort that she's put in, her own hard work that one day will hopefully allow her to build a legacy of her own."

Daania, however, realises that all the progress she has made so far would not have been possible without the efforts of her parents, especially her mother.

Abirami (left) credits Daania's discipline and hard work for helping her pick up football so quickly. Photo by Ng Chrong Meng.

She said: "Mom could be resting at home and just doing nothing, but instead she chooses to take me to the park so that we can do passing drills. She devotes her time and effort into teaching me to do new stuff. She also puts a lot of effort into my studies.

"If I didn't do well in a match, she would tell me how I can improve in future matches."

Abirami is under no illusions that the road for Daania to follow in her footsteps and don national colours will be filled with ups and downs.

But whatever the outcome, she is grateful of how football has enabled her to bond with her daughter in ways she never thought possible.

Said Abirami: "I played football for so many years, but my parents never came down to even watch one match or even a training session.

"It was a different time then. But I've learned how to change myself rather than following what my parents did.

"The music that she listens to, her sense of fashion, the TikTok trends that she watches, I experience it with her to understand how she sees the world."

Their shared love for football has become a uniting force that has brought mother and daughter closer, whether for walks in the park together, watching movies or just having daily conversations.

Added Abirami: "I think that that's one of the things that makes my family extremely strong. The carefree nature and the security that Daania gets in our family to share anything about her day, her feelings, her thoughts.

Football has enabled Abirami (left) and Daania to have a mother-daughter relationship they never thought possible. Their shared passion for the sport has helped them enjoy a deep connection, whether it be about football or about life. Photo by Ng Chrong Meng.

"I've learnt that to give Daania that best chance of succeeding in anything she does, the most important thing is communication.

"I'm glad we have that with her."

Story by: Mashidayat Maszeni

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