Football: Last man standing

Football: Last man standing

One by one, he has seen his peers drop out of professional football.

But, almost two decades after he made his debut, Yazid Yasin is still going strong.

As it stands, the 35-year-old goalkeeper is the only player left from the pioneer generation of the inaugural S.League season in 1996.

He will represent Geylang International in the 20th season of the S.League, which will likely kick off in March.

Yazid's national youth teammates from the 1995 Lion City Cup - Indra Sahdan and Ahmad Latiff - are also from the pioneer batch but will not feature this term.

Indra decided to call it quits and accept a youth coaching position with his long-time club Home United, while Latiff's club Tanjong Pagar closed shop and decided to sit out the coming campaign. He has been knocking on the doors of several S.League clubs, but to no avail.

So what keeps the 1.69m-tall Yazid, who has defied the naysayers who said he was not big or tall enough to be a top goalkeeper, going all these years?

"I think it's because I still enjoy the game a lot," he told The New Paper over a cup of coffee near his Bukit Panjang home earlier this week.

"Be it playing professionally or just socially with friends or family, I still have a lot of fun when I play and train.

"That's my main driving force."

FEEL SORRY

He cannot help but feel sorry for his brothers in arms like Indra and Latiff, who became indirect victims of the S.League's proposed rule that would have restricted each local club to not more than five players over the age of 30. The age-cap rule was eventually scrapped.

Said Yazid: "The ruling had a huge impact on local football. Some of the senior players still have something to contribute to Singapore football.

"It was such bad timing that the S.League came up with this rule, after Tanjong Pagar decided to sit out and Woodlands Wellington merged with Hougang United.

"Personally, I don't agree, because of obvious reasons. If you're good enough, the spot is yours.

"You can't give the spot to another person because of his age... I'm glad they turned it around, but it should never have happened in the first place.

"Nothing surprises me any more. When you've been here so long, you realise some things happen only in Singapore football."

If anyone is proof that age is no barrier, it is Yazid.

After all, he made his debut as a scrawny, shaven-headed 16-year-old for the now-defunct Sembawang Rangers in a 2-2 draw with Police FC (now Home United) on April 27, 1996.

He has since gone on to make over 400 S.League appearances.

"I got the opportunity because at the time Sembawang weren't doing so well," he explained.

"We were leaking goals, and the two senior goalkeepers ahead of me - Stephen Ng and Wong Whee Khong - were suffering from a lack of form.

"I was nervous but I was also on a high because we had just won the Lion City Cup in 1995 and I was one of the top performers."

Yazid topped his debut by starring in Sembawang's 3-2 win over northern rivals Woodlands Wellington, who had the likes of V Sundramoorthy and fearsome import strikers Jan Janostak and Ervin Boban in their line-up.

SPANKING

But in his third game, the Stallions were spanked 6-2 by SAFFC (now Warriors FC).

"After that, I was dropped. That's the life of a goalkeeper," he lamented.

But he bounced back stronger and, over the years, he has established himself as one of S.League's household names.

Apart from his call-ups to the national team, he also starred in the Tiger 5s futsal tournament in December 1999, limiting then world champions Spain to a 10-0 win despite the Spaniards registering 75 shots on goal.

Yazid was also hailed in 2012 for reporting a match-fixing attempt to the authorities, after being offered $6,000 by two former South Korean teammates to throw an S.League match.

But he admitted that it wasn't smooth sailing early in his career.

"Initially, every time I played, I could hear opponents shout, 'Send it into the goal!, and teams would start hitting long balls towards me," recalled Yazid.

"I struggled a bit at first, but I overcame it with guidance and training from my coaches.

"There was also one incident, in the early part of my career, when a top, title-chasing club with a new foreign coach wanted to sign me.

"When he saw me for the first time, he said, 'Oh, are you a goalkeeper? You're not as tall as I thought you were'.

"Talk about first impressions. I knew straightaway that he didn't think much of me. I didn't get offended, but it didn't feel right so I didn't sign for that team.

All the negative comments about his size and question marks over his reliability between the sticks only made him work harder to build up his mental toughness.

"My mantra is you don't give up on the ball until it's in the back of the net," said Yazid.

"Over the years, there were days when I went to training and felt like a spring chicken. I felt like I could make all sorts of saves.

"On other days, I felt tired and wanted to take it easy. That was when I pushed myself a little bit more.

"The simple reason being, if I take it easy in those situations, what happens if I wake up on match-day feeling tired or not so good?

"I had to break that barrier and train harder."

ICON

It is this resilience and discipline in training that has made Yazid a role model in the S.League.

The shot-stopper said that he might even prolong his career beyond this year.

"I will start assessing around July," he said.

"It will depend on how I feel and how the club feel. It works both ways.

"At the moment, I feel good.

"I don't have to drag myself to training and that's the most important thing.

"The day I have to drag myself to get on to the field... I think that will be the day when I say enough is enough."


This article was first published on January 5, 2015.
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