Whether it was on the pitch as teammates or when they lifted the Deloitte Women’s Premier League (WPL) 2023 trophy, everywhere you looked, camaraderie oozed from the Lion City Sailors Women’s Team and it wasn’t only felt within the stadium.
The togetherness got them through their most challenging season yet, and once again – for the last time this season – it pulled them through to victory, solidifying their status as Invincibles for the second year in a row.
The Sailors breezed through with a 6-0 win against Tiong Bahru at Choa Chu Kang stadium on Saturday (25 November), finishing the season unbeaten with 17 wins and only one draw which came against Albirex Niigata (S) in June.
They scored a league-high 73 goals and conceded just two goals all season en route to a second straight WPL title.
The team made sure the pride was shared even with those outside of Singapore. Collecting their winners’ medals, the Sailors women paraded the jerseys of teammates who were either out injured or left the team midway through the season to further their studies or took up scholarships.
The likes of Madison Telmer, Paula Druschke, Ardhra Arul Ganeswaran and Chloe Koh were all not forgotten amidst a joyous night.
“It’s a very different season this year as compared to the last. We had more hardships to overcome this year so it will mean a little bit more this time,” said freshly-minted Deloitte WPL Coach of The Year, Yeong Sheau Shyan as she referred to their depleted squad.
Despite her years of experience, Sheau Shyan learned something wildly different from her players this season.
“There wasn’t much to manage on the bench due to our numbers, so it came down to how to motivate them on the pitch and how to manage their feelings. Those are things that I’ve never really needed to do, because it was always more about football,” said Sheau Shyan.
“But this year I learned how to be more human.”
Madelin Lock – who played her final game in a Lion City Sailors shirt – captivated the stands with a hat-trick, ending her football journey on a high. The 16-year-old has made a decision to focus on basketball, a dream that she hopes leads her to a professional career in the United States.
“It’s a great honour to be crowned champions – the feeling is indescribable. It’s something I will never forget,” said the Sailors Girls’ Academy graduate, who also represents Singapore basketball on the global stage.
“It feels very bittersweet. I’m going to miss my teammates so much and I’ll continue to support them whenever I can.”
It was clear the Sailors were firing on all cylinders and controlled the game in the first half. First blood was eventually drawn in the 19th minute, when Lila Tan’s cross was tapped in by a Tiong Bahru player.
Madelin got her first of the evening in the 34th minute with the help of Nur Syazwani Ruzi, whose driven pass into the box allowed for a straightforward tap in.
Nica Siy added a third just before half time when Ernie Sulastri Sontaril’s cross threatened Tiong Bahru’s custodian. Unable to hold on to the ball, it fell perfectly for Nica whose finish made it 3-0.
It took only five minutes after the game’s restart for Madelin to find the back of the net once more as the teenager’s curling shot from just outside the box found its way into the top corner.
Like clockwork, the goals began racking up. Lila – whose initial shot was bravely saved – made no mistake when given the opportunity for a rebound.
When The Sailors were awarded a penalty in the 63rd minute, they made sure the departing Madelin was given the chance to complete her hat-trick.
And take that chance she did.
“I didn’t expect the hat-trick. Shout out to my teammates, especially Ernie who let me take the penalty. I’m very grateful for that because she could have scored instead,” said Madelin, who finished an impressive season as the team’s joint third-highest scorer with seven goals.
“It was a testament to our closeness. This just shows that despite the challenges, if we have good team spirit, we can pull through anything. From everyone on the bench, to all our physiotherapists and coaches, everyone needed to believe that we can win.”
In what was a familiar scene all season, the Sailors only managed three players on the bench against Tiong Bahru, a test Sheau Shyan and her team could not escape.
“Halfway through the season, we realised we only had one or two substitutes for the remainder of the year. The biggest challenge was when we had none,” said Sheau Shyan sheepishly.
“The players had to execute the game plans, I can only come up with it. How well they followed them through, how they adapted and how they turned it around on the pitch, that was all them.”