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"I lived on $250 a month for football"

Date: 
Mon, 19 Sep 2011

“I lived on $250 a month for football”

For Tampines Rovers midfielder, Shukor Zailan, football was the only thing he ever wanted to do as a profession in his life.

Prior to the start of his football career, Shukor experienced many low points in which many of those almost made him quit the sport he loves altogether.

The 26-year-old missed several opportunities in life to kick-start his playing career but he braved on to reach the light at the end of the tunnel.

The first of which was the absence of football as an Extra-Curricular Activity (ECA) in his primary school.

The jovial lad, who started his academic years at Yishun Primary School, remembers starting late, when the peers around him have already picked up the sport.

“It was a little bit unfortunate for me as there was no football as an ECA. I really wanted to play football like most of the boys my age at that time, but I had to make do with some other ECA,” Shukor commented when asked what he meant by starting late.

He only started playing football regularly at the age of 13 when he attended Yio Chu Kang Secondary School and football was offered as an ECA. The young boy snapped up the chance immediately.

Not wanting to be left behind, Shukor wanted more than just representing his school. He decided to ask around for football trials that he could attend and was rewarded when he underwent his first football trial with Marine Castle and represented the club in the Under-14 category.

When the Centre of Excellence programme was introduced, Shukor had to switch to Sembawang Rangers, and that, he mentioned was the start of a long road to professional football.

“When I was at Sembawang Rangers, I didn’t get to play much. But I remembered, that one and only chance that I was given to play in the striker’s position, I came on as a substitute and scored within 30 seconds of my debut.” the 26 year-old said with a beam on his face, as he remembers that one significant match, which was played more than a decade ago, as if it was the day before.

That cemented his starting position as a striker, and shortly after, he was given the captaincy and led Sembawang Rangers Under-15 and 16 to two consecutive championships.

Despite being encouraged by his coaches to try for the National Football Academy, Shukor reluctantly admitted that his friends however, were not as supportive and encouraging.

“What I heard from my friends was really disappointing and disheartening. They mentioned that I would not be able to make it at the NFA as there were many others who were better than me, and this was very discouraging and made a dent in my dreams of one day making it as a professional footballer,” commented Shukor with a tinge of sadness in his voice.

This proved to be a blessing in disguise as he continued playing for Sembawang Rangers and was quickly hand-picked to join their S.league team by then coach, Vorawan Chitavanich.

Joy quickly turned to despair as the ‘Stallions’ was forced out of the S.league the following year due to unforeseen financial circumstances.

That year quickly became one that tested the mettle of the young aspiring footballer. It was a difficult time as Shukor grappled with reality. His confidence was at an all time low as he was contracted with the club for two years and had no choice but to stay with the club and play out the rest of his one year with them as a Prime League player.

“It was a difficult one year as I know I could have been playing in the S.league but I was patient enough, and I went as far as to defer my National Service and survived on a $250 allowance a month, just to continue doing what I loved.”

Time and patience paid off when he was spotted by ex-Malaysia Cup hero, Fandi Ahmad, who was at that time, Singapore’s Under 21 head coach. Shukor went on to play a couple of international friendlies, which exposed him to the world of international football.

“From then, I knew that I could be someone in football despite me being a late developer. I missed a few chances in life to progress in football, but I think this is my time and I have to rise up to the occasion and grab the chance.”

After Shukor received his first national call-up in 2010, he states that he will continue doing what he has always done when it comes to football – giving his all.

Shukor, who now plies his trade with S.league giants, Tampines Rovers, has been part of national team coach, Radojko Avramovic’s squad for most of 2011 and it sure seems to stay that way if the midfielder continues his barnstorming performances in the domestic tournaments in weeks to come.

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