Halfway through The New Paper's chat with veteran S.League defender Noh Rahman at the Jurong West Stadium last Friday, Tampines Rovers coach V Sundramoorthy entered the room.
The 50-year-old coach, nicknamed the Dazzler because of his status as one of Singapore's biggest football stars of the '80s and '90s, couldn't resist a quip.
"Do you know, all those years ago, he (Noh) was marking me," said Sundram.
"Soon after that, I retired. I couldn't beat him."
Sundram's playful jibe illustrated just how long Noh, now 35, has been playing professional football.
Ever since he made his debut for Geylang International as a 16-year-old in 1997 - coming on as a substitute for future Iranian World Cup player Hamidreza Estili, no less - Noh has seen it all.
But, even after winning S.League titles, Singapore Cups and two AFF Suzuki Cups with the national team, he still has not lost the hunger for the game.
He left Home United to join star-studded Tampines in what will be his 20th season as a professional.
Noh told TNP: "As long as I wake up in the morning with the passion and drive to look forward to training and games, and I feel I can contribute to the team, I will keep going.
"Also, at Tampines I feel I have Sundram's trust. He brought me here and told me I have an important role in guiding the youngsters."
Noh admits that reality hits every morning with the little niggles and muscular aches.
But, he added: "The good thing is I've been taking care of my body.
"If I didn't look after myself when I was in my early twenties, I don't think I'll be here, still playing today."
Indeed, he breezed through the S.League's mandatory 2.4km fitness test on Friday and wore the captain's armband for Tampines in the second half of their 2-0 friendly win over Hougang United the next day.
Over the years, Noh has earned a reputation as one of the most professional local footballers around and is widely respected by his peers and coaches.
Mentors like former internationals Kadir Yahaya and Sudiat Dali, who were in the twilight of their careers at Geylang when Noh was breaking through into the first team, played vital roles in shaping him.
"I'm very grateful because I learnt so much from them," said Noh.
"It was the best education I could have hoped for as a young kid. When you play in the S.League, of course, you must have some sort of talent and ability. But it's not enough.
"Watching (Kadir and Sudiat), I realised how important dedication, discipline and commitment are to a footballer.
"They were very good role models for me back then and now that I'm at the same stage of my career, I try to emulate them."
Tampines are touted as one of the favourites for this season's Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League title, having signed a host of LionsXII players including star goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud.
They have also created a buzz by taking former Arsenal and Liverpool winger Jermaine Pennant on trial.
Noh understands he won't get to play in every match, but says its hardly a problem.
"Obviously you want to play as much as possible but, with the inclusion of several young players in the team this year, we have a lot of options," he said.
"And with a lot of games this year (Tampines are also in the continental AFC Cup competition), I don't mind waiting for my turn to play.
"If we want to do well as a club, the whole squad must play an important role."
This article was first published on January 13, 2016.
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