Meticulous kit king Omar finds an extra gear

He is the invisible man of Singapore football. You might notice him at training sessions, inside the locker room at stadiums, on the bench during matches, but you would not know his name.

And that is exactly how kit man Omar Mohamed prefers it.

The 55-year-old former air-conditioner repairman has been part of the national set-up for almost a decade, since impressing Fandi Ahmad with his work ethic while servicing the units at the former Lions captain's home.

On Fandi's recommendation to his former national team-mate Kadir Yahaya, Omar joined Kadir and his NFA (National Football Academy) Under-15s in 2004, and within two years was promoted to oversee the national team.

"I didn't know anything about being a kit man but football was always my passion so I tried my best to learn," he told The Straits Times. "Thankfully I've not lost a single jersey so far."

Now responsible for the national and Under-23 teams, the LionsXII and the Courts Young Lions, Omar looks after the gear of almost 100 players.

It can be a herculean task for just one man but to Omar, who occasionally employs a part-timer to assist him but otherwise handles everything himself, it has never been a chore.

He said: "Watching the boys grow up, especially the NFA ones like Hariss (Harun), Gabriel (Quak), Hafiz (Sujad) and Izwan (Mahbud) achieve something on the field, that makes me happy."

First in, last out is a motto Omar lives by. For a home fixture, he usually arrives five hours before the players to ensure that everything is ready for their arrival.

Jerseys and shorts have to be laid out - two sets are needed as players tend to change their perspiration-stained kits at half-time - while the socks have to be correctly matched to their owners.

Most players wear an extra pair of socks underneath the full-length match ones and add their own individual markings which can be confusing to the untrained eye.

"Some like Shahril (Ishak) and Safuwan (Baharudin) cut an 'L' shape onto their socks while others cut straight lines. You have to remember the pattern for each player," laughed Omar.

But while his duties include handling dirty laundry and collecting training cones and balls after each session, the father of three is also an emotional pillar in the locker room for many players.

"He's been like a father figure to me, encouraging me through it all, telling me that there would be better days ahead" said Hariss, who was sidelined for a year in 2008 after tearing his knee ligaments.

"He's an important member of the team and I hope he gets the recognition he deserves."

Such attention, though, would horrify Omar, who had to be persuaded by team manager Visakan Subramanian to have his picture taken during last week's photo call with this paper.

"I do my job quietly and that's enough for me," said the soft-spoken man, who celebrates his 56th birthday next Monday, the day after Singapore's Suzuki Cup opener against Thailand.

Unsurprisingly, he has begged everyone not to make a fuss about it.

But while local football's invisible man may be happy to remain in the shadows, his contributions certainly cannot be ignored.

No load's too heavy for him

Kit man Omar Mohamed typically checks in five to seven pieces of luggage when he travels with the Lions for an away fixture. Here is what he has to pack and be responsible for:

20 footballs (deflated)

30 training bibs (in three colours of yellow, green and white)

100 playing jerseys, shorts and socks (two sets each of home and away kits)

4 sets of spare home and away kits (sizes S to XL)

About 25 warm-up T-shirts

Captain's armbands

Electric ball pump and spare manual pump

Slide projector and marker pens

CD of the Singapore national anthem

Singapore national flag

40 training cones in four different colours

FAS pins and souvenirs to give away

This article was first published on Nov 20, 2014.
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