Lethal hitman with a heart of gold – Lennart Thy ready to plunder goals for the Sailors

Ask Lennart Thy about the incredible gesture he is perhaps best known for, and he will likely respond with an unassuming shrug or a wry smile.

After all, over the past few years, the Lion City Sailors’ newest recruit has consistently downplayed the significance of his act, insisting it was nothing more than ‘normal’.

But what exactly was it that Lennart did which earned him widespread praise and recognition?

The year was 2018, and Lennart was playing for VVV-Venlo in the Dutch Eredivisie.

Ahead of a crucial match against league leaders PSV Eindhoven, Lennart received news that he was a DNA match for a leukaemia patient urgently requiring matching stem cells for treatment.

Lennart, who had joined the donor register in 2011 while playing for Werder Bremen in Germany, knew immediately what he had to do. With the blessings of Venlo, he agreed to donate his blood to generate stem cells for the patient’s transplant.

This decision meant missing the game against PSV – but it was all worth it, as Lennart’s blood saved the patient’s life.

“For me, it was just a normal thing to help others when I can,” said the 32-year-old. “But it became a big thing in both the Netherlands and Germany – much bigger than I expected. Nonetheless, the love and gratitude that I received afterwards was really heartwarming.”

Though Lennart missed the PSV game, his presence was still felt at the Philips Stadion – he was honoured with the Man of the Match award, and the players’ escorts wore t-shirts emblazoned with the message, ‘Follow Lennart, become a stem cell donor.’

The subsequent widespread coverage of Lennart’s selfless act also led to a massive increase in stem cell donations in the Netherlands, and he was ultimately awarded the prestigious FIFA Fair Play Award later that year.

When asked if he would do it again if the opportunity arose, Lennart replied without hesitation, “Of course!”

Lennart, however, is not just a hero off the pitch. The experienced forward has often been the saviour for his teams, with his heart-on-sleeve style of play making him a fan favourite at every club he has played for.

In addition to being a hardworking No. 9 who presses from the front and can often be seen tracking back to help his team during defensive transitions, Lennart also has an innate knack for being in the right place at the right time.

But what sets him apart is his ability to finish with both feet though primarily right-footed, Lennart scored eight of his 13 goals for PEC Zwolle in the recently concluded 2023/24 Eredivisie season with his left.

“My ability to finish with both feet wasn’t that obvious until last season, when people started coming to me saying ‘you’re better with your left foot’,” Lennart mused. “I said ‘No, no’, but in the following game I scored again with my left.

“I actually don’t dwell too much on which foot to use when I find myself in a scoring position, so perhaps going with my instinct makes it easier for me.”

Lennart’s footballing talent was evident from a young age. He was part of the Germany team – alongside the likes of Mario Götze and Marc-André ter Stegen – that won the 2009 UEFA European Under-17 Championship, finishing joint-top scorer of that tournament. 

He also featured in the UEFA Champions League as an 18-year-old, when he came on for the last 10 minutes of Werder Bremen’s 3-0 loss at White Hart Lane against a Tottenham Hotspur side that featured players such as Peter Crouch, Gareth Bale, and Luka Modrić. 

Unsurprisingly, he went on to enjoy an eventful and fruitful career in Europe. After his stint in the German top two divisions with Werder Bremen and St Pauli, he moved to the Eredivisie, where he played for three different clubs over the past decade.

Lennart finally bid farewell to the Eredivisie on 19 May, receiving a rousing reception from fans of PEC Zwolle – where he played over 100 matches – during their final league match of the season.

Now, Lennart is ready to embark on a new adventure – over 10,000km away, with the Sailors in Singapore.

He revealed that when the Sailors came knocking, the allure of being at the forefront of such an exciting footballing project in the Lion City proved too hard to turn down.

“I’ve always said I want to try to achieve something new in football outside of Europe,” said Lennart. “So, I was intrigued when the Sailors reached out to me. After doing my research, and speaking with the management here, it got me really excited about what the club is trying to build here in Singapore.”

The father-of-two added, “It’s also a great opportunity for me to go on a new adventure with my family.”

Outlining his ambitions with the Sailors, Lennart hopes to not only win silverware with the club, but also help the younger members of the squad become better players.

“I know the club is doing a lot in terms of youth development in the country, so I’ll do my best to help the young players at this club with the experience I have,” said Lennart, who once scored against Chelsea in a 2016 friendly

“We also want to compete in two regional competitions, and are determined to win the league. I’m here to help the team score goals, play good football and achieve our objectives. The biggest challenge now is the weather, but I think I can adapt really fast over the next few weeks.”


Mother, father, supporter – meet the driving force behind Asis’s rise

In honour of Mother’s Day, we shine the spotlight on Madam Samsinah Hassan, who has taken on the dual roles of both mother and father to our Sailor, Nur Muhammad Asis, since her husband passed away earlier this year.


Madam Samsinah Hassan appeared visibly nervous in front of the cameras, but she immediately relaxed when her son, Sailors midfielder Nur Muhammad Asis, asked her about his childhood.

“You’re actually a ‘gembeng’ (Malay word for crybaby) boy, you know?” replied the 52-year-old, as Asis looked on wistfully at her. 

“You used to cry over all the small things, so I was surprised to see how tough you are on the pitch… When the ball hits you or someone gives you a strong tackle, you just stand up and continue playing.”

Indeed, Asis has come a long way from being a ‘gembeng’ boy to becoming one of the most promising talents in Singapore football, as evidenced by his promising career trajectory thus far.

At the tender age of 19, Asis made his debut for the Sailors’ first team, showcasing his talent against Tanjong Pagar United in a Singapore Premier League (SPL) match in July 2023. Two months later, he was called up to represent Singapore at the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Under-23 Asian Cup.

Following his completion of mandatory National Service at the end of last year, he became the first player from the Sailors Elite Academy to sign a professional contract with the club.

Now, Asis is set on establishing himself as a key member of Aleksander Ranković’s squad.

Elegant on the ball and boasting bags of technical ability, it is clear that Asis has the potential to achieve big things in the game in the future.

However, Asis’s talent in the game might not have been realised if it were not for the support of Mdm Samsinah, who initially took a while to come around to the idea but eventually backed his aspirations – both emotionally and financially – to become a professional footballer.

“Asis was really crazy about football since he was two years old, but I wasn’t sure about him pursuing it, as he was quite a small child, even when he went to Primary School. So, I thought I’ll just allow him to play football recreationally,” Mdm Samsinah recounted.

It was only after Sailors Academy Technical Director Luka Lalić – then a coach at Turf City Football Club – spoke to Mdm Samsinah to convince her of Asis’s talent that she relented, and allowed him to further his development in the game from seven years old onwards.

“Luka was really sincere, so I finally allowed him to go, even though it was far for us to send him from our house in Pasir Ris to Turf City a few times a week for training,” said Mdm Samsinah.

“He also went to Europe for overseas attachments a few times, which meant we had to fork out extra time and money for that. It was tough on us, but we happily did it because we wanted to support his dream.”

It proved to be the right decision, as Asis’s talent and potential became increasingly evident as he matured, garnering attention from European clubs such as Feyenoord and Galatasaray in 2016 when he was just 12. He then went on to join the Sailors Academy four years later, where he was reunited with Luka.

However, Asis’s life took a devastating turn earlier this year when his father, Mr Junaidi Karim, tragically passed away at the age of 55. This loss came just eight months after Mr Karim was diagnosed with Stage Four gastroesophageal junction (GOJ) cancer.

GOJ cancer is a relatively rare type of cancer that occurs where the oesophagus meets the stomach. It can significantly impact a person’s ability to eat and swallow solid and dry foods.

Mr Junaidi’s passing not only meant the loss of their family’s primary breadwinner, but also deprived Asis of his “biggest supporter and advisor” in life.

“His dad was always there for him… Whenever Asis came back from a game, his father would offer him advice on what he should or shouldn’t do, how he could improve, and so on. As for me, I may not understand the game as much, so I can only act as his cheerleader,” shared Mdm Samsinah.

Watching his once-rugged dad weaken day by day was a heart-wrenching experience for Asis, and it naturally took him some time to come to terms with the reality of his passing.

Asis, with two married sisters, has also had to step into the role of the proverbial ‘man of the family’, and assume the weighty responsibilities of caring for his mother.

“I’m the only son and guy in the family, so it’s only right that I’m the one taking care of my mum. I have to watch over her, make sure she’s well, and most importantly, make sure she’s not feeling too lonely. I want to ease her burdens as much as possible, and I’ve been trying to spend more time at home with her as well,” said Asis, who is now 20.

Similarly, Mdm Samsinah, a senior logistics coordinator at DHL, has taken on the dual responsibility of being both father and mother to her children following her husband’s passing. However, she acknowledges the near-impossible nature of this task.

“I’ve been trying to fill the void left by my husband, but I know there are certain things that I won’t be able to advise or help with,” she reflected. “So, sometimes I enlist the support of my son-in-law or brother-in-law to talk to Asis.

“I just want him to know that I’m always here to support him when he needs me, whether in football or in life.”


Meet the women driving the Sailors’ professionalism at the Sailors Elite Academy

In the spirit of International Women’s Day (IWD), which is celebrated annually across the globe on 8 March, we delve into the lives and experiences of our Sailors Women to better understand their struggles, challenges and inspirations as they strive to make their mark in a traditionally male-dominated sport. 

In this special feature, we turn the spotlight on Amanda Cheong and Denise van Ewijk – sports trainer and performance nutritionist at the Lion City Sailors Elite Academy. 


It is a bustling day at the Lion City Sailors Training Centre, with the Sailors’ Elite Academy teams going through their various training sessions. It is a typically male-dominated football environment but amid all the thorns stand two roses, steadfastly carrying out their respective duties.

In the gym, sports trainer Amanda Cheong is running through a series of exercises for the Under-12 boys while in one of the meeting rooms, performance nutritionist Denise van Ewijk is going through a nutrition program with one of the boys. 

These two women play an integral role in driving the Academy’s professionalism day in and day out, and the Sailors are proud to have them in our ranks. 

Taking the road less travelled

Not many have taken the path that they chose, but the duo was very much determined that it was the right one. 

While Amanda was pursuing her Bachelor of Science in Exercise and Sports Science at Edith Cowan University, the ratio of males to females was much higher – about one female to every four males. And while most of her female counterparts went on to work in personal trainer roles, she was determined to carve out a unique journey in football.

A four-month internship with the National Youth Sports Institute (NYSI) in her final year only served to harden her resolve as she was involved in the launch of the national Unleash the Roar! project, working on performance evaluation for metrics such as 40-meter sprints, vertical jumps, Yoyo intermittent recovery, anthropometrics, and GPS tracking among top youth football athletes in Singapore. 

Undeterred after an unsuccessful first application to join the Sailors Academy, Amanda, now 25, dabbled in personal training and worked in the golf industry as a strength & conditioning coach for eight months, before succeeding at her second bite of the cherry and came onboard in July 2023. 

“The sports and exercise sciences industry is still quite niche in Singapore and my parents weren’t that supportive of me pursuing this dream initially, but I’m here to prove them wrong,” she stated. 

As for Denise, her motivation stemmed from witnessing nutrition being an ‘underappreciated’ part of professional sports and wanting to change that. 

After graduating with a Degree in Nutrition and Dietetics from The Hague University of Applied Science in the Netherlands, she started her own sports nutrition company before flying to Singapore with her husband Mike Kerklaan – the Sailors’ current Head of Rehabilitation – when he joined the Sailors Academy in October 2021. 

As fate would have it, the club was looking for a nutritionist as well. Denise fitted the bill, and has stayed on in the Lion City since. 

Her current role entails overseeing and planning the pre and post-match meals for the U13 team all the way up to the First Team, studying how the players’ nutritional habits and patterns affect their on-field performance, as well as conducting individual education talks with the Academy’s players and their parents to ensure they are eating right – huge responsibilities indeed. 

“Nutrition and having a proper meal plan is a big part of an athlete’s foundation, that’s the message I wanted to get out there,” said the 29-year-old, who also conducts nutritional workshops and presentations for an overall improvement of nutritional knowledge within the Academy. 

“Being attentive to food can help in a lot of aspects; it can make you faster, less tired and recover more quickly. There is the misconception that people should only come to me if they have a high body fat percentage and need to lose weight, but there’s so much more to it.”

Amanda’s sports trainer role is varied, stretching across both the medical and performance aspects of the Academy’s work – she leads the U12 and U13 teams in strength & conditioning training and corrective exercises, while also supporting the Under-21 medical team for match-related and rehabilitation duties. 

Her scope of work means that she is regularly in close contact with the males, leading her to be very mindful of the boundaries that should not be crossed. 

“Sometimes when there are injuries near the groin, I’ll remind them that I’ll be checking the area so that they are mentally prepared. It’s important to make sure there’s communication and to get their permission,” she emphasised. 

“I’ll put myself in their shoes – I’d feel intruded if someone didn’t communicate that to me properly, so I always try to bring my point across very clearly.”

In the right environment to succeed

Working in a male-dominated environment could be intimidating and challenging for some, but Amanda and Denise are two strong-willed women who can stand their ground and put across their beliefs. 

And at the Sailors, the club has the robust structure and support system to help them succeed in their roles. 

“I can’t do this alone – at the end of the day, I’m there to help the players – and the coaches – by making sure the team is as fit as possible,” explained Denise, who has previous experience working with players from Ajax Amsterdam and ADO Den Haag back home in the Netherlands. 

“Fortunately, all the coaches are onboard here and there’s a lot of communication. For example, if there’s a player with an injury and the medical department feels nutrition can be helpful to him, they’ll send this player to me. If, say, this player has been very slow lately and often getting tired, then I’ll look at the case – sometimes it’s the case that he is just gaining a bit of weight which is not beneficial for his performance.” 

Indeed, instead of feeling overlooked as a minority in the workplace, both Amanda and Denise feel comfortable and are embracing the plus points that comes with being female – such as simply looking more approachable and having a softer side. 

“I think mindsets are changing so people are not so curious any more when there’s a female sports trainer around. Parents are often very receptive to me, and are quite open with sharing their experiences with their kids,” shared Amanda. 

“I can see they’re very relaxed and accepting of things I explained to them, such as what to do when their kid suffers a concussion, where else they can do to help, etc. That’s very heartwarming for me.” 

Denise agrees wholeheartedly that having a softer side is an advantage, and perhaps the strongest reason for having greater diversity in the workplace. 

“I think the world is already hard enough, especially for these boys. We demand a lot from them at our Academy and I’m definitely strict in the moments that I have to be, but I think it’s important to provide a listening ear and be someone they can come to when they’re facing issues,” she added. 

Pushing ahead

Denise is proud of the progress she has made since joining the Sailors Academy – from taking one year to assimilate into the local culture and understanding Singaporeans’ eating habits, to now building up a proper system and approach to sports nutrition. 

All the boys in the various Elite Academy age-group teams now have their post-training meals – focused on providing them more protein – at the Sailors Training Centre, which gives her more control over the players’ dietary habits. Denise is determined to keep changing mindsets and perceptions, even though there have already been significant improvements. 

“It’s not easy in the hustle and bustle of Singapore life, where there is a huge culture of having takeaway food and the food habits are focused on efficiency. There’s also a stigma that healthy foods are not tasty, but that’s totally not true,” she emphasised. 

“I would say that overall, the players’ curiosity has improved. They now take the initiative to come up to me, wanting to know more about their own bodies and what they can do to improve their nutrition – and I hope to see more of that.”

Both Denise and Amanda are determined to forge ahead in their journeys – with the latter hoping to make the step up to support the club’s First Team one day – and hope their stories can inspire greater inclusivity, which is the theme of International Women’s Day 2024. 

“I want to set a good example to other females who aspire to work in the sports industry. Probably if there’s more females in and around this environment, they will not feel so intimidated. For me, just come in and do it!” said Amanda. 

Echoing these sentiments, Denise is proud of the women in the Sailors ranks – lauding the courage and growth of Amanda as well as Nur Ain Salleh, the first female scholar of the Sailors Elite Academy. 

“We have strong girls here raising the bar each day and that’s an inspiration to the other females. It does not take that much for women to break the barrier – the key is having a clear idea of what you want to achieve and a  vision of what you set out to become. 

“As long as your dreams and the organisation’s objectives are aligned, I don’t think it matters if you’re a male or a female.”


Older and wiser – battle-hardened Song is ready to set sail again with the Sailors

As Song Uiyoung stepped into the Lion City Sailors Training Centre ahead of his official unveiling as the club’s latest signing, his eyes lit up at the sight of the familiar crest adorning the entrance.

“Wow, I’ve missed this (place),” he exclaimed with a grin on his face.

The wide smile on Song’s face said it all as he greeted the Sailors’ first team, Academy, and corporate staff on his way in.

He was home. The Sailors’ favourite son had returned.

“I’ve been here for many years; I’m very familiar with the staff and management here and we created many good memories together – winning the SPL (Singapore Premier League), competing in the ACL (Asian Football Confederation Champions League) – so there are no doubt or hesitation in my mind about coming back here,” said Song.

“I really feel like I’m back home and back to the family now, so I’m very happy.” 

When Song left for Nongbua Pitchaya in January 2023, he mentioned in his farewell interview with the Sailors that he hoped to get the opportunity to play for the club again one day. By his own admission, however, his return to the club just 14 months on had come slightly earlier than expected. 

“Honestly, I thought I’m going to be overseas for at least two or three years before coming back to Singapore. But this is the life of a footballer, you know? Nobody knows what’s going to happen in the future,” he mused.

“But I’ve no regrets. I’m very happy to be back. I’m ready to work and fight together with my teammates here.”

Song’s journey post-Sailors saw him play in two of the most football-crazy Southeast Asian nations Thailand and Indonesia last year.

Song scored on his Nongbua debut against Bangkok United, and played a total of eight games in Thai League 1. But the club’s relegation to the second-tier meant he was allowed to leave on a free transfer due to a clause in his contract.    

The Singapore international went to Indonesia in mid-2023 to join Persebaya Surabaya. His signing proved to be popular with the Persebaya fans, such that security had to escort him out of the venue following his unveiling at a club sponsor event. The shop was reportedly filled with over 200 fans, with more clamouring to squeeze in.

In the Liga 1, Song scored one stunning long-range match-winning goal against PSM Makassar and made a total of 17 appearances. The majority of his appearances saw him play in a deep defensive midfield role, and he was even deployed at centre-back for one game.

“It was a great experience for me – I had the opportunity to learn from players and coaches from a totally different culture as compared to Singapore,” Song recalled.

“I had to learn and adapt to play in different team formations and tactical shapes. It gave me a better and broader perspective of football. I also felt I matured and became a better person outside the pitch as well. So, I have to say it was a good choice for me (to venture out of Singapore).”

Song had previously spoken about getting out of his comfort zone as the motivation to leave Singapore – a place he has called home for the past 11 years. 

“Obviously I needed some time to adapt and I did struggle a bit in Thailand and Indonesian football,” Song admitted. “I felt insecure, but at the same time, I really tried my best to learn as much as I coulds and give my best every day.

“Looking back now, I feel these challenges have made me a better person and a better player. I wouldn’t say I succeeded there, but I also wouldn’t say I failed. For me, it was a great learning experience, and I’ve no regrets.”

Having played for the Sailors since its inception, Song has remained a fan of the club throughout, even when he was away. He revealed that he watched most of the Sailors’ games via live stream, and was delighted to witness the team make history at the tail-end of 2023 with their first-ever Singapore Cup triumph.  

Even so, Song admitted to being pleasantly surprised at how much the club has changed over the past year or so.

For one, the Sailors Training Centre is now up and running, with the first team training mainly on the hybrid pitch. The team is now also taking shape under the tutelage of former FC Utrecht assistant coach Aleksandar Ranković, and boasts the addition of several players with European pedigree such as Bart Ramselaar, Toni Datković and Rui Pires.

The infusion of youth talent – with players like Nur Muhammad Asis and Nathan Mao making the step up from the Sailors’ Elite Academy to the first team – also means Song will be tasked to take these youngsters under his wing.  

“I can see a very good picture for the future of what we want to build as a team here. This is the proper process – developing young players from the academy to be a big part of the professional team one day,” Song reflected.

“Being one of the senior players, I want to help these young players explore and achieve their maximum potential. But at the same time, I feel I can also be positively influenced by them as well. I’m looking forward to working together with them, while having healthy competition with them for a spot in the first eleven.”

With Song turning 31 in November, he is looking forward to winding down his career with the Sailors and helping the club achieve more in the coming years.   

“If I retire with the Sailors, I’ll be a happy man. But for now, I’m ready to put my best efforts for the club – this coming season, we want to win all three domestic trophies and do well in the ACL2. We want to be one of the top clubs in the region and I’ll do everything in my power to help us get there,” he emphasised.

And Song is already champing at the bit to walk out at Bishan Stadium again in the Sailors’ signature white and blue colours.

“I’m looking forward to that moment already – it’s like a child waiting for a picnic, you know?” he joked. “I’ve been so blessed with the big support from the fans – when I’m playing abroad, I’ve received many messages from them (on Instagram) telling me to come back and play for the Sailors in the SPL.

“Now I’m back, I’m really looking forward to seeing these familiar faces at the stadium and I promise that I’m going to try very hard on the field to make them happy.”


I can see the diamond now, the pain is behind me: Dorcas Chu

Throughout the time Dorcas Chu spoke about her injury nightmare, her smile remained unwavering – a far cry from when she first went down with a complete tear of the Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL), as well as second-degree tears to the Posterior Cruciate and Lateral Collateral ligaments, in her left knee.

Recalling the night of the incident, the Lion City Sailors Women’s forward had no idea at the time that her outlook on not only the sport, but also her life, was about to change.

“While icing my knee after coming off injured, I had time to myself when everyone went back to focusing on the game. I prayed for my knee but the next morning, they told me I had torn my ACL. I felt angry and asked God why he could heal others but not me. I kept thinking ‘why did it have to happen to me?’” she recounted.

“But my faith was what got me through. I realised that to purify a diamond, it has to go through fire. For me, the injury, the loneliness and the hopelessness was my fire. If not for my faith, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”

Dorcas recounted the incident, which happened in a training match against the Sailors’ Girls Academy squad, with great clarity, as if the moment had been forever etched in her memory.

“I got injured on 29th September 2022. I remember the date because it was my mum’s birthday,” she laughed.

“When I got the ball, it was just me and their goalkeeper. I had so much time to think ‘okay, I’m going to shoot this into the right corner. I’ll definitely score this because it’s one on one.’ But the moment I was about to shoot, a defender came in from behind really quickly. My left knee hyperextended and I felt it snap.”

Able to walk off the pitch on her own, neither Dorcas nor her teammates would find out about the severity of her injury until the following morning. It was National Team physiotherapist, Nurhafizah Abu Sujad – or Fizah as she is more commonly known — who guided her through the excruciating day.

Dorcas’ hopes of a mere sprain were dashed in the instant Fizah took one glance at the struggling forward.

“She hadn’t even touched my knee when she said ‘oh dear, that’s not good,’” Dorcas recalled.

Following an examination, the physiotherapist brought Dorcas to the doctor. As the medical professionals looked more closely into Dorcas’ injury, she quickly realised that she was facing a potentially career-altering injury.

And any glimmer of hope she was desperately holding on to was ripped away later that day.

“I was at home when I got a call from Kak-Fizah. The moment I heard that she had bad news, I knew what it was. After she told me I’d torn my ACL, all I heard was the ringing in my ears. I couldn’t hear anything else she said after,” she recounted, still smiling albeit with a hint of sadness in her eyes.

“When the call ended, I went into my room and cried. I poured it all out. It was very painful to accept.”


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Getting over the initial shock of the diagnosis was only the first step. What came after was a long, arduous journey of internal conflict marked by blood, sweat and a river’s worth of tears.

And it all started on 1st November 2022: Surgery Day.

Without her mother — who had to tend to Dorcas’ ill grandmother in Thailand – everything felt harder than it already was. For the first time since she began retelling the ordeal, Dorcas’ voice trembled ever so slightly.

“I only had my dad who I’m very thankful for because he really showed up for me. My sister also meal-prepped for me and everything,” she shared.

“I also have to give credit to my teammates who were there for me. They came to my house, watched TV with me and brought me food. Beatrice (Tan) and (Ho) Hui Xin often encouraged me when I looked upset.”

Going from the highs of a historic SEA Games campaign with the Singapore national women’s football team to rock-bottom was jarring for Dorcas, then 20. It made it even worse that she was forced to miss the Asian Games.

These were all moments, though, that brought Dorcas closer to the one thing she felt – at her core – mattered most.

“It was very lonely. I would have lost my hope and motivation to continue with football because my own willpower was not enough. I had to accept that I couldn’t even run and was so broken. So in these moments, I went to God and I felt He was here for me,” she shared.

It was in July 2023 that it all came to light for her. While attending a church service, a thought —one she never imagined she would have — crossed her mind and changed her life.

“I remember saying to myself, ‘I don’t care if I ever get to play football again because all I want is You.’ I was shocked because I had been so heartbroken about not being able to play football,” she recalled.

“Everyone asked what the highlight of my career is, and it was the game against Laos at the 2022 SEA Games. The bonus was that I was the MVP, so I hold that memory very dear to my heart. Then not long after, everything was stripped away. So when I told God that I didn’t care if I could play again, he was teaching me that he didn’t care about my achievements, all he wanted was my heart. I felt so loved despite feeling like I had nothing at the time. It was the healing I needed.”

Dorcas made her return to football last season when she competed in the Women’s National League (WNL) with Mattar Sailors. Having learnt to walk again, the now 22-year-old sees the game in a whole new light.

“When I was on the way to my first WNL game, I was just thinking about my entire recovery journey from the moment that I tore my ACL, to my surgery, to my first steps and finally to kicking a ball. All these memories just came to my mind. It made the moment so much sweeter, thinking about everything I’ve been through,” she recounted.

“It was not for nothing. I felt so grateful to be able to play again.”

The rehabilitation process is widely known to be just as painful, if not more so, than the surgery itself. It was no different for Dorcas, who counted on her little victories and used them to propel her towards a full recovery.

“Little victories are so important because if you don’t focus on them, you will always feel discouraged. You can’t just look at the amount of stairs you need to take. It’s one step at a time and eventually you’ll get there without even realising it,” she said.

“For me, the biggest victory every day was showing up to rehab.”

Dorcas is finally poised for her long-awaited comeback to the top flight this season as the Sailors gear up to face Tiong Bahru in their 2024 Deloitte Women’s Premier League opener this Saturday (9 March). While the title defense and favorable results remain paramount, Dorcas is focused on her pure love for a game that she can no longer take for granted.

“Today when I play football, I’m so thankful for the opportunity. Now that I know what it’s like to not be able to walk and play, I cherish every single training session,” she shared.

“I can see the diamond and how beautiful it is. I see the clarity now and the pain is behind me. I did it.”


Ay Caramba! Bart’s here to deliver his best years in Singapore for the Sailors

Bart Ramselaar was at the Lion City Sailors Training Centre taking photos and doing video interviews, when someone off-camera suddenly made a reference to his famous namesake, Bart Simpson.

That cheeky comment drew a chuckle from the Dutchman, who remarked, “I get that a lot wherever I go!”

While many are familiar with Bart Simpson as a mischievous character from the popular American animated television series, The Simpsons, the Sailors’ second signing of the 2024/25 campaign is anything but. Unlike his fictional counterpart, known for his disruptive behaviour and disregard for rules, the 27-year-old prides himself on being a consummate professional.

After establishing himself as one of the most promising talents from the FC Utrecht youth system in the Netherlands and accumulating nearly a decade of experience in the Dutch Eredivisie, Bart reached a critical moment of self-reflection last year: “I’m becoming too comfortable here, and this stagnation won’t benefit my career.”

Thus, when the offer to join the Sailors in Singapore came calling, it did not take long for him to decide his next career move – one that would take him more than 10,000km to make a new mark in his football journey. 

While it was not an easy decision to make, Bart is adamant that it is the right one, as he aims to begin a new chapter in his football journey.

“After almost 10 years in my country, I think it was time for me to get out of my comfort zone and try something new,” said Bart, who made a total of 192 Eredivisie appearances since 2015, with 130 of those coming for Utrecht. 

“It was hard because I played so many games for the Utrecht first team and we’re located close to my hometown (Amersfoort) where my family lives, but I knew I had to go.”

And what was Bart’s first impression of Singapore? “It’s a really clean and safe country. I noticed it was raining very heavily when I just arrived – in Holland, it rains like a full day but not as heavily as here.”

Bart has already achieved many milestones in his career  – he won the league title with PSV Eindhoven in 2018, and has made three appearances for the Dutch national team between 2017 and 2018. This included a start in their 3-1 World Cup qualifying win over Luxembourg in November 2016, where he played alongside the likes of Virgil van Dijk, Wesley Sneijder, Georginio Wijnaldum and Arjen Robben.

Despite his impressive résumé, Bart comes across as a genuine character who has the absolute respect for his new club and league that he will play in. 

“I know there are high standards set at the Lion City Sailors – we want to win league titles, and there are ambitions to become one of the top clubs in the region, so that’s why I’m very excited to be here,” he said with steely blue-eyed determination.  

The Aleksandar Ranković connection was the most obvious pull in luring Bart to Southeast Asia, with the pair working together at Utrecht in the 2022/23 season, when the Sailors Head Coach was still assistant at the club. 

But that is not the only connection Bart has with the Sailors – he has also played with Sailors forward Richairo Živković for Holland at the Under-21 level. One of the more memorable games they played in was a 3-0 UEFA Euro U21 Championship qualifying win over Ukraine in October 2018, in which Bart captained the side while Richi scored a brace. Bart also revealed that he knows Maxime Lestienne through mutual friends. 

“I spoke with him (Richi) last week. He spoke very positively about everything, but I’ve already made the decision to sign anyway!” he joked. “I didn’t play with Max – I only joined PSV the season after he left – but he has a lot of friends there who are also friends with me.” 

However, one of the biggest pull factors for Bart is the Sailors’ playing philosophy and robust youth development program, which ensures a pipeline from the club’s Elite Academy to the first team. 

“I know this club places great emphasis on nurturing youth talent, which is evident in their investment in the development process and the construction of an impressive Training Centre – reminiscent of football culture in the Netherlands. I made the step up from the Utrecht youth team to the first team, so it’s nice to see youth players developing like this as well,” said Bart, who made his Eredivisie debut as a 17-year old in Utrecht’s 0-0 draw with Feyenoord in March 2015. 

“Utrecht was a club that gave youth players a chance, and that was so important for me. I was only turning 18 when I joined the first team, and was one of the youngest players there. It was really beneficial for me to train and play with the more experienced players, to see how my level compared to them, and that helped me a lot in my career.” 

Turning 28 this June, Bart still has his best footballing years ahead of him. And he is determined to give everything to push the Sailors a step closer to the club’s aspiration of being amongst Asia’s elite.  

“People always say 27 to 28 is the age where you’re at your best, and I hope to prove that. I’m a creative player who can create chances for other players and also score,” said Bart, who has recorded 31 goals and 18 assists in the Eredivisie.

“I want to show my qualities here and help to attract more people to the stadium. I’m here to win trophies with the team, and I want to help the team do well in the AFC Champions League 2.”


Toni ‘El Sicario’ Datković: The hardman with a tender side

Sporting the archetype of a battle-hardened Eastern European, Toni Datković’s body is a canvas of tattoos and blemishes – each mark telling a story of battles fought. 

It therefore comes as little surprise that Toni has been affectionately nicknamed El Sicario – a Spanish term that translates to “The Hitman” in English.

However, beneath Toni’s hard-as-nails exterior lies a soft core – a facet of his personality he would like to emphasise.

“When people first hear the term ‘Sicario’, they often think I’m a dangerous guy,” Toni elaborated “But after getting to know me, everybody says I should have nothing to do with the nickname. 

“I’m a family-oriented guy. After training, I’ll just go home and play with my kids. I’m also someone who likes relaxing at the beach and going fishing. One day, when I’m done with football, I’ll go back to the island (Pag Island) where I was born, buy a boat, and enjoy a calm life there!”

So how did the El Sicario nickname come about?

According to Toni, it originated in 2019 when he joined LaLiga 2 side SD Huesca on loan from NK Lokomotiva Zagreb – his first big move out of Eastern Europe. 

He explained: “When you arrive in Spain and you say that you come from Croatia, everyone’s first thought is that of war. And when I take my clothes off, I have a few scars on my body, so I look a bit like someone who’s always fighting. That’s why my teammates started calling me ‘Sicario’.

“The nickname stuck wherever I went and soon nobody was calling me by my actual name anymore. But I liked the nickname from the first moment, so I was perfectly fine with it.”

As further proof of Toni’s sentimentality, he revealed that each tattoo holds its own meaning. On his right arm is a picture of Pope John Paul II – who he calls his guardian angel – as well as his 5-year-old daughter, Luce. Across his right chest is the shape of Pag Island, as well as selected lyrics from a Croatian song that depicts a love of home.

What’s currently missing? A tattoo of his 2-year-old son, Roko.

“I need to do one for him soon, so maybe I’ll do it here (in Singapore)!” he exclaimed.

Throughout the interview, Toni made several references to Pag Island, clearly demonstrating his pride in how far he has come from his humble beginnings to carve out a successful football career.

It is a career that has seen him don the Croatian national team colours, win the LaLiga 2 title, as well as make a century of appearances in the second tier of Spanish football. Along the way, he has even crossed swords with internationally acclaimed stars like former Manchester United star Javier Hernández (Chicharito) and Chelsea forward Nicolas Jackson.

Toni’s football adventure has taken him to Slovenia, Greece and USA. But it was in Spain where his experiences moulded him into the El Sicario who endeared himself to the fans with his heart-on-sleeve attitude and warm personality off the pitch.

Indeed, 75 of his LaLiga 2 appearances came at FC Cartagena, where he cemented his reputation as a reliable and steady defensive presence on the pitch, while building up synergy with the fans. This led to him winning the Fans’ Player of the Year award for the 2022/23 season.

Toni left at the end of that campaign due to matters out of his control, but he remained popular with the fans. Chants of “Sicario, Sicario” from the Cartagena faithful echoed around the Estadio Municipal Cartagonova when he came on as a late substitute for Albacete Balompié in a 1-1 draw against them last November – just a couple of months after his switch of club.

That moment led to the emotional scene of the hard man tearing up at the final whistle as he went over to acknowledge his former fans.

“Cartagena is the most special club in my life; the way the people there loved me and still love me after everything is just amazing,” said Toni, who also has a FC Cartagena-related tattoo on his right leg. “The love they gave really fired me up and provided me with the energy to fight for them on the pitch, so that was huge for me.”

Unfortunately for Toni, his move to Albacete did not work out the way he envisaged it would, leading him to seek new opportunities. 

That was when the Sailors came calling – a call that he had no hesitation answering.

“When my agent told me there was interest from Singapore, I started to do some research and speak to some Croatian guys who used to play here – one of them is Mirko Šugić (formerly from Tanjong Pagar United), who I played with a while in the youth academy of Rijeka,” he recounted.

“The club shared with me a really good vision of what they want to do in the future. I see a lot of potential, a really big will in what they want to achieve, so it fired me up, and I didn’t think much in agreeing to this deal.”

It might seem like a brave move to take the road less travelled. But it is nothing new for Toni, who left his home in Pag Island to go to the city of Rijeka at the age of 13 to pursue his footballing dream.

“It’s a big thing to leave a small village and move to a big city at that age – living alone, learning to cook and taking care of yourself,” said Toni. “But I did everything for football from the first day, so taking risks – this is how I’ve always lived my life.”

Toni envisions going back to relax in Pag after his career, but for now, he is keen to write a new chapter with the Sailors – and to strike up synergy with the club’s faithful fans, The Crew.

“I want to contribute a lot of energy on the pitch – energy that will move fans and help my team win matches. I’ve heard about the tremendous support from the Sailors fans, and I want to witness that for myself,” he stated.

“If we play good football and do well in competitions like the AFC Champions League 2 (ACL2), more fans will come to the stadium. I want to promise the fans that they’ll get everything from me and I’ll try to pass on this energy to the other players. Together as a team, I’m sure we’ll make this a really good season.”



Happy 4th Birthday Sailors, the best is yet to come: Badri Ghent

As the Sailors celebrate the fourth anniversary of the club’s founding, Sporting Director Badri Ghent reflects on a memorable 2023 campaign while looking ahead with optimism to the new 2024/25 season. 


Today, as the Lion City Sailors celebrate the fourth anniversary of our club’s founding, I would like to take this opportunity to reflect on what a fruitful year 2023 was for us, and look ahead to the exciting changes that the 2024/25 season will bring. 

Last year ended with silverware for both our First Team and the Women’s Team. 

A glance in the rear view

Despite a challenging season that saw the squad depleted by injuries and players leaving to pursue studies abroad or overseas scholarships, our Women overcame the odds to clinch a second straight Deloitte Women’s Premier League (WPL) title

I am especially proud of the seven girls – Ardhra Arul Ganeswaran, Chloe Koh, Natasha Naszri, Josephine Ang, Cara Chang, Tia Foong and Madelin Lock – who made the step up from the club’s Girls Academy to help the team retain their crown.

The First Team also wrapped up the year by beating Hougang United 3-1 for our first-ever Singapore Cup triumph. It was just reward for the boys who worked hard all season for the team’s cause. 

We also continued to take steps forward on the regional front, producing several resilient and encouraging displays in the Asian Football Confederation Champions League (ACL) under Head Coach Aleksandar Ranković

While we were unable to surpass our 2022 tally of seven points from the ACL group stage, we did fly the Singapore flag high, defeating Hong Kong’s Kitchee SC in our first ACL game in opposition territory. And who will forget that night at Jalan Besar when we stunned nine-time K-League champions Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors 2-0

Of course, not being able to reclaim the Singapore Premier League trophy was a disappointment but it is one that has only served to fuel our determination to reclaim our place at the pinnacle of Singapore football in the coming campaign. 

Recalibrating for further success 

But it is not enough to simply have an insatiable thirst for success. We also need to constantly reinvigorate the team to ensure it stays motivated and well-equipped to challenge for honours.

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Diego Lopes, Pedro Henrique, Súper (Manuel Herrera López), Kodai Tanaka, Rusyaidi Salime and Rudy Khairullah for their commitment to the Sailors’ cause. They have left the club in a better place than when they first arrived, and we’ll want to build on that foundation. 

While it has been a quiet off-season for the club thus far, I can assure you that we have been working hard behind the scenes scouring the region and beyond for exciting talent who can take the Sailors to the next level. 

We’re currently in the midst of finalising our new signings for the 2024/25 season and will be able to share these in due course. 

While we wait for the announcement of new arrivals, it is good to remember that we have kept a very strong local core in the squad. The likes of Zharfan Rohaizad, Lionel Tan, Hami Syahin and Zulqarnaen Suzliman are all maturing and entering the peak of their careers, and I am really looking forward to seeing their progress continue this coming season. 

With a combination of exciting new signings and local talent both experienced and up-and-coming, we are building a squad for the new campaign that you can be excited about – one that can make a splash regionally in the new ACL2 competition. 

This season also marks Coach Ranko’s first proper pre-season with the team, which will give him the opportunity and time to bring his football ideologies and philosophy across to the boys. Having already seen the positive impact he had after taking over midway through the 2023 season, I am confident that the team will continue to evolve and produce the attractive brand of football that he aspires to. 

A key facet that is driving the Sailors revolution is the launch of our hybrid pitch – with natural lawn grass reinforced by synthetic fibres – to complement the two artificial pitches at our Training Centre in the second half of 2023. It has given our first-team players the best possible platform to train and prepare for matches, and no doubt contributed to the improved levels of performance towards the end of last year. 

A continual push in youth development 

As a club, we’ve been investing a lot in our youth talents and preparing them for the eventual step up to professional football. Nathan Mao was a starter in last year’s Singapore Cup final at 15 years and 258 days old and gave a great account of himself – he is just one of four Academy graduates who made the step up to the first team last season, alongside Nur Muhammad Asis, Idzham Eszuan Shah and Jonan Tan. 

To support our youth development efforts, we have established a robust Elite Development Program to groom future football stars at Mattar Road, with these youth players benefitting from being embedded in a professional environment with elements of sport science, analytics and nutrition to bring their game to the next level. 

The Academy trainees have the opportunity to train under a combination of accomplished European coaches and experienced local coaches like Firdaus Kassim (pictured below), Tengku Mushadad, Hamqamaal Shah and Shahril Jantan. 

At the Sailors, we understand the key role we play in building Singapore’s football ecosystem and are committed to nurturing the stars of tomorrow who can become national stalwarts that wear the Singapore badge with pride.  

After a rigorous 2023 season which saw 36 games at club level as well as a number of high-level international matches for many in the team, the boys are getting a well-deserved break but will be returning for 2024 pre-season training very shortly. 

It’s been an unusually long and extended off-season, and I – like all of you – cannot wait for the start of the 2024/25 campaign that will take us to the club’s fifth anniversary.

 With that significant milestone on the horizon, we look forward to continuing our journey with you as we strive to become one of Asia’s elite clubs.

Happy birthday, Sailors!




Singapore’s top ACL appearance maker yearning to create more history

His start in the Lion City Sailors’ 2-0 defeat to Hong Kong’s Kitchee SC was his 18th in the Asian Football Confederation Champions League (ACL), a record for the highest number of appearances by a Singaporean player in Asia’s flagship club competition – surpassing Daniel Bennett (17) in the process. 

And throughout the 2023/24 ACL campaign, he has been one of the Sailors’ best performers, rolling back the years with a number of dominant displays in the middle of the park.  

However, in typical unassuming Hariss Harun fashion, the Sailors skipper downplayed his feats. 

“I never thought too much about this to be honest, but it’s definitely a proud moment for me. Since I was young, it has always been an ambition of mine to play at the highest levels for club and national team,” said the 33-year-old, who played all six group-stage matches for Malaysia powerhouse Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT) in 2019. 

“I’m grateful for these opportunities to pit myself against some top players in this region for a few years now and I’m just happy to contribute to my team. As captain, I try to rally the team and set a good example to the boys.” 

Also the Singaporean with the most ACL wins to his name with five – one more than teammate Adam Swandi, Hariss has featured in some memorable upsets over the years. 

In May 2019, he led JDT to a 1-0 win over then-defending champions Kashima Antlers. Last year, he led the Sailors to a 3-0 victory over K League 1 side Daegu FC. In 2023, he did it again with the Sailors in a stunning 2-0 triumph over two-time ACL champion Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors.  

Naming that Jeonbuk victory as the standout game of this year’s campaign, Hariss lauded the team’s fighting spirit that helped them overcome the odds. 

“Two weeks before, we lost to them in a really tough match in their stadium. But the boys were mentally strong in the week leading up to the rematch – we were all so focused and giving our 100 percent in training to carry out our game plan, and we executed that perfectly. Everyone played their hearts out that night,” he said. 

“It’s always special when we beat teams supposedly stronger than us or have a storied history in this competition – Jeonbuk is one of the strongest teams in South Korea. We put in so much effort in preparation for this game, and that win gave us the belief and confidence that we could possibly get out of the group.”

Coupled with an impressive 2-1 away win in Hong Kong against Kitchee earlier in the campaign, the Sailors represented Singapore football well in their second ACL voyage, albeit ultimately unable to better last year’s record points tally of seven. 

Nonetheless, Hariss is adamant that there are many lessons and experiences gleaned in a year that, all said and done, is an equally good campaign as the Sailors’ last one. 

“It’s generally still a positive campaign for us. A lot of the boys who haven’t played at this level previously came away with valuable lessons and learnt a lot from the games. The training sessions were tough because we knew we had to up our game against opponents from this region, but no one complained; everyone was willing to give their best and put themselves forward for the team,” he said. 

“What’s special about the ACL is the travels. When you go out away as a team and that feeling you get when you’re going out to battle together is something you can’t get here (in the Singapore Premier League). The boys really enjoyed this aspect and we’re looking forward to these in the future.” 

The Sailors Academy has been a beacon of pride, with a few players making the breakthrough to the first team this season – most notably 15-year-old Nathan Mao, a youngster Hariss has taken under his wing. 

“Given his age, he’s naturally very raw so of course the boys give him a bit of stick for that,” said Hariss, who made his Singapore national team debut at the age of 16 years and 217 days in 2007. 

“Being around him does make me recall the times when I was a young boy in the national team. That’s part and parcel of football, but the great thing is he takes everything in his stride. 

“He’s a boy who has a good head on his shoulders and a good temperature; he’s always eager to learn and that’s a good quality to have for the road ahead of him. He has many years of professional football ahead of him, so I’m excited to see him and the other boys in the Academy come through to be stalwarts of the club and the Singapore national team in the future.”

The fans’ support was another source of pride and energy for the team, with the Crew turning up in numbers even for the away matches in Hong Kong, Korea and Bangkok. 

“It’s really heartwarming to see the fans coming out to support us home and away, it’s something which we didn’t really expect. I know people are usually busy on weekdays, but they still made the trip down to support us and give us that boost. 

“That’s something which we sometimes don’t appreciate enough so we would just like to give our heartfelt gratitude to our fans.”

Hariss is acutely aware that at this level the devil is in the details as he recounted the two narrow losses to Thailand’s Bangkok United – 2-1 at home and 1-0 away – that ultimately killed the Sailors’ hopes of qualifying. 

“The lapses of concentration that cost us showed that you need to be on top of your game for every minute at this level. It’s a lesson to take away, in each campaign we play there’s always something to learn,” he said. 

“Now it’s on us to strive to better ourselves the next time we play in this competition.” 

Comparisons with neighbours JDT who qualified for the Round of 16 for the first time in 2022 will always be there, but Hariss insisted the Sailors focus on their own path and remain playing amongst Asia’s elite every season.

“To close the gap, we have to be consistent; we need to have a lot of belief and remember all the lessons that we learnt. We’ve shown in our last two ACL campaigns that we can mix it up with the big boys so I firmly believe we’re good enough to go further in the ACL,” he stressed. 

“Each and every one of us knows that we have to be on our toes and we know what’s the level we need to be at to compete at this level. So we’re definitely working towards something better in the future. 

“Be it ACL1 or 2, playing in this competition is the minimum for the club. To get there, we have to be the best team in the league every season so that we can keep coming back to this level to show our quality and create further history for the club and Singapore football.”


Sailors Women Class of 2023: A tale of indomitable spirit and tactical versatility

Injuries and players leaving for overseas stints threatened to derail the Lion City Sailors Women’s Team’s bid to defend the Deloitte Women’s Premier League (WPL) title they won in 2022, but Head Coach Yeong Sheau Shyan and her charges not only cemented their position at the pinnacle of women’s football in Singapore, they went a step further.

With 17 wins and a solitary draw, the Sailors finished 2023 as Invincibles for the second year running.

The women are already looking to challenge themselves even more, and their gaze is set beyond Singapore shores.

“The team and the players have voiced their ambitions loud and clear. They want a chance to compete in the AFC (Asian Football Confederation) Women’s Champions League,” Sheau Shyan said. “This is a big step and we need not just the club’s, but also the nation’s support.”

AFC had confirmed earlier this August of the entry principles and competition format of the inaugural AFC Women’s Champions League (WCL) which will see the region’s best women club sides take on each other from 2024 onwards.

Entry to the WCL is open to all AFC Member Associations including the Football Association of Singapore, who will need to meet a set of criteria to be included in the competition. Competition regulations of the WCL will be approved by the AFC Women’s Football Committee in due course, but with a clear baseline already set: each Member association will only be allowed to put forward one team to compete.

The competition will feature 12 teams in a group stage followed by a knock-out stage.

In 2023, the Sailors proved that they are the best women’s team in the country, despite struggling for numbers during the second round of the WPL. Indeed, the Sailors demonstrated that they had more than quality in their ranks – they had steel.

There was tactical versatility on the pitch, but in the face of adversity, it was competitive grit that came to the fore.

After the first round of matches, attacking powerhouses Paula Druschke and Madison Telmer left Singapore for further studies, while defensive anchors Umairah Hamdan and Fatin Aqillah were sidelined by knee injuries. Youngsters Ardhra Arul Ganeswaran, Chloe Koh and Natasha Naszri were awarded Unleash The Roar! (UTR) scholarships for overseas stints in the United States and Spain.

The departures raised real concerns for skipper Ernie Sulastri Sontaril: could the women even defend their title?

“We had a long league break and with players injured and taking on the UTR scholarships, that really broke our team’s momentum and game plan,” Ernie said. “Also, with insufficient training days together due to the FIFA window, this made us worried about our team play, but Coach Sheau Shyan always had a plan for every game.”

Vice-captain Ho Hui Xin found it challenging for the team to stay consistent throughout what was a long season peppered with long breaks of play.

“We had many ‘pre-seasons’ this year because of the packed international calendar and it really took everyone — from coaches to players to management staff — to work together to work things around,” Hui Xin added. “The target at the start was always to retain the title and there’s a saying — it’s harder to keep a title than to win a title. I remember thinking this season would be more competitive than the last because of how other clubs were shaping up.”

Sheau Shyan echoed similar thoughts on the increased competitiveness of the league, with clubs like Albirex Niigata (S), Tanjong Pagar United and Hougang United bolstering their teams with foreign signings and national team players. “The gap between the top half of the table shrank so much, so that consistency became a much bigger factor, the key factor, in fact.”

She added that the low point for the team came during the second half of the season after the transfer window when she realised that the team would be struggling with numbers for all the remaining matches.

Yet, trusting the mettle and determination of her charges, she singled out the 1-0 win against Tanjong Pagar United — where Nur Syazwani Ruzi scored the lone goal from a penalty — as a massive morale booster in their championship bid.

“We beat TPUFC with an injured goalkeeper and two other injured players on the bench. I think that game gave us the confidence that we could overcome all odds,” Sheau Shyan said.

Her players shared similar sentiments.

“Coach had asked me to man-mark (2022 WPL Player of the Year) Manami Fukuzawa. Despite knowing what a tough match-up this would be, I was still unprepared for what I had to face,” said Madelin Lock.

“She is an extremely quick and smart player, despite me putting my best efforts into following her, she could still impact the game effectively. Luckily my teammates helped to cover me so we could still contain her. The game was neck-to-neck and a hard-fought battle as the opponents showed no sign of backing down,” added the 16-year-old.

For Hui Xin, that match marked a turning point for the team.

“I was on the bench and I saw how everyone stepped up in that game. Usually it sucks to be on the bench but I felt like I was on the pitch with them when I saw how hard the girls fought and stuck to the game plan. That 1-0 win was precious.”

Sheau Shyan lauded one big improvement that the team has made this year: versatility in their attacking plays. “We were very much just scoring through the middle last year,” she added. “But this year, we came from both flanks, through the middle, from short, penetrative passes to direct crosses and long ball switches.”

As captain, Ernie rallied the team to fight for each other. “I kept reminding the players before the game that we are here for one another and that it is okay to make mistakes. We will cover for one another until the final whistle,” Ernie said. “Thanks to our fitness trainer Chloe Alphonso too, who conducted team bonding games once a week to keep the team spirit high.

“One thing was very clear this year: every single player is important to the team.”

It is this spirit and quality that gives Ernie the confidence that the Sailors can compete and proudly fly the Singapore flag in the AFC Women’s Champions League.

For Hui Xin, she hopes that the Sailors can become the “Barcelona” of the WPL.

“My one goal for next year for this team is to play like how we train, as much as possible. Sometimes opponents are set up in a way that doesn’t really allow that but we must still be able to play our brand of football,” she said.

“I hope that our team can get to the Barcelona level of playing with a style that is immediately clear to everyone watching.”