S'pore cerebral palsy football team salute support after bronze triumph

S'pore cerebral palsy football team salute support after bronze triumph
The Singapore team (above) are hoping that the support they receive will continue even after the ASEAN Para Games.
PHOTO: The New Paper

When the final whistle went, Khairul Anwar dropped to his knees, while Suhaimi Sudar fell, back first, on to the pitch at the National Stadium.

The Singapore cerebral palsy football team had just completed a 2-1 win over Malaysia to claim the bronze medal at the ASEAN Para Games and, after a few solitary seconds soaking it all in, Zainudeen Hassan's charges stood in a line to salute the crowd, walking every part of the stands where red-clad Singaporeans were seated, their hands raised above their heads, clapping.

They could not get enough.

"It was a good experience to play on home soil," said Singapore goalkeeper Peter Kam.

"And (more so) when it really feels like home," he added, paying tribute to the roaring support shown by local fans during these Games.

Kam was registered as a defender, but was thrown in goal during Monday's final group game against the same opponents, as Singapore ran out 4-2 winners then.

Kam turned in an equally good shift in yesterday's 2-1 win, with Khairul patrolling the backline and Mubarak Rastam a constant thorn in the Malaysian side.

It was Shafiq Ariff who opened the scoring, within 51 seconds of the kick-off, but Malaysia replied through Sobri Ghazali four minutes later, then went on to threaten throughout the first period.

But after a fiery tongue-lashing from Zainudeen at half-time, the hosts came out with more fire in their belly, with Mubarak drilling in the winner 13 minutes after the restart to cap an excellent performance.

Zainudeen was emotional after the game.

"What you saw out there was a culmination of (six years of work), we didn't just come here suddenly to be part of this," said Zainudeen, his voice quivering as he recalled how this side came together through a learn-to-play programme.

NOT EASY

"It was tough... I had to beg for jerseys and balls for these boys. It's not that the Singapore Disability Sports Council (SDSC) didn't support us, but it's just not easy to run a football team," he added, acknowledging that the backing in the lead-up to the Games was "fantastic".

He pointed to Sport Singapore's allocation of proper training facilities, including post-training meals, which he believes helped the team bond.

Khairul, whose cultured left foot was responsible for five of Singapore's 10 goals over the course of the tournament, echoed his coach's sentiments.

"We've got a lot of memories together, not as a team, but as a family. In these six years, we've been through some hard times, but playing in front of this crowd is definitely worth it," said the 29-year-old.

"We could really feel the crowd giving us that extra push. It was really thanks to them that we could go the extra mile."

The wish is that the support continues.

"This (bronze medal) was a result of a process, and there are a lot of things we need to get in order," said Zainudeen.

"This is a national team, not a football club in Geylang Serai. I hope this (bronze) gives an indication that we are deserving of more support."

But it was gratitude for the support already shown that seemed to be the order of the day.

"In the dressing room, I've put up all the articles (that have been written about the team) over the years. They are an inspiration to the players... and I have to thank you for all your support," said Zainudeen, addressing the members of the media.

"We needed the awareness that these Games have given us... and I hope the same support continues."

shamiro@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on December 10, 2015.
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