Disillusioned ex-footballers haunted by lack of job security

This article was first published on March 1.The boots were stuffed in a box, the folded jerseys buried deep inside a drawer. The socks and shinpads lay scattered in the depths of a store room.

After 10 years, former Singapore international Qiu Li's love affair with S-League football is over. 

The 33-year-old, who won the 2012 Asean Football Federation Suzuki Cup with the Lions, is one of 16 players who will bid farewell to the S-League because of a policy change.

Last November, on top of trimming the league from 12 to 10 clubs, the S-League introduced an age-restriction rule, which limited each club to five outfield players over the age of 30.

The controversial rule was rescinded within three weeks after anti-discrimination watchdog Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices expressed concern.

But by then, some players could not keep their jobs.

Qiu, who lives in a condominium with his wife, son, and mother, told The Sunday Times: "It was too late. By the time I started calling clubs, many told me they had already finalised their squads.

"I'm not very educated, I can't just find another job like most people. Now, all of a sudden, I am jobless, with a family to support.

"I'm disheartened. I've fallen out of love with football."

The forward, who received a 100 Goals Special Award at the S-League Awards Night in November, added: "It's laughable. Where else in the world will you see a 100-goal striker struggling to find a club?

A major bugbear among S-League players is the practice among some clubs of offering 11-month contracts.

The players say this is a way to avoid paying them the 13-month bonus. The short-term deals also mean that once the season is over, there is a scramble to secure a new contract.

It is this lack of job security that bothers some veterans.

Sazali Salleh, 35, said all these uncertainties left him feeling so disillusioned and jaded with the local football scene that he quit the league, even after finding a new team.

After his former club, Tanjong Pagar United, decided to sit out this season, the midfielder signed for Tampines Rovers.

But three weeks into his contract with the Stags, Sazali quit and is now a building facilities technician.

He explained: "For the first time in my career, I would wake up each morning and dread going for pre-season training.

"It became like a job, going in to work to just collect a pay cheque. It was a horrible feeling."

He took a 50 per cent pay cut but he is enthusiastic about his future.

"At least I have job security now and I have a chance to work my way up the ladder," he said.

Rosman Sulaiman, 32, was also without a job when his 11-month contract with Woodlands expired in November.

"Players like me are not high profile and maybe not so highly regarded. When we disappear no one notices," sighed the utility player, who worked part-time as a delivery man and a car valet when last season ended.

The father of one is now on attachment as a fitness trainer at Singapore Polytechnic and Ramada Hotel as part of his sports and exercise diploma course work.

Qiu - who became a naturalised Singaporean in 2010 and was capped 26 times - is saddened that he is suddenly expendable.

He said: "I know naturalised players are a sensitive topic, but I moved my family over, started a life here, gave everything for the national team, and this is what I get?"

He said he did not receive any information about the S-League's Career After Football project, which sought to pair the affected footballers with local companies like SMRT, Courts and Great Eastern.

Now looking for a job, he added: "I'm not saying football owes us a living, but after everything, no one bothered to see if I was doing okay. Even a call would have been enough.

"It's just very sad and disappointing."