New school football kingpins

Tanjong Katong Secondary School left few stones unturned when it came to coaching their football teams, including employing the services of former Lions Noor Ali (second from right) and Rezal Hassan (back row, fourth from right) to complement B boys'
Tanjong Katong Secondary School left few stones unturned when it came to coaching their football teams, including employing the services of former Lions Noor Ali (second from right) and Rezal Hassan (back row, fourth from right) to complement B boys' coaches Khidhir Khamis and Azahari Aziz (in black). PHOTO: ZAINUDIN DOLLAH

TKSS' shrewd investment in their teams pays off with double capture of B and C boys' titles

A dedicated four-man coaching staff including a specialised goalkeeping coach and two ex-national footballers, and video analysis of their opponents.

It sounds like the set-up of a professional outfit but this is the thorough approach Tanjong Katong Secondary School (TKSS) took en route to winning the Schools National B and C Division boys' football titles this year.

The last school to achieve the double was traditional football powerhouse Hong Kah Secondary in 2012.

A key reason for Tanjong Katong's breakthrough was an expanded coaching set-up after last season.

While Khidhir Khamis, 30, and Azahari Aziz, 37, handle the B boys, S-League club Geylang International's assistant coach Noor Ali, a former Singapore international, coaches the C boys and former Lions goalkeeper Rezal Hassan, 41, completes the quartet as a goalkeeping coach.

SOMETHING SPECIAL ABOUT THEM

After a while I found something different with the boys. They follow instructions, they know they need to work together. Usually there are some superstars but even the superstars transform to become team players.

NOOR ALI, ex-Singapore national winger, on coaching the Tanjong Katong Secondary School football players.

With more hands on deck, each of them oversees a different area. Pouring so many resources into the team also reveals the lengths to which the school is willing to go to develop the boys.

The teacher-in-charge, Roy Soh, 37, said: "It's not the norm. But it's ideal because we felt that it would benefit the boys. The coaches can help them to improve their skills and character with a greater focus."

Khidhir said: "It's difficult for just two coaches to manage both the C and B division teams. In one training you'd have 50,60 boys so it can be quite taxing. We've split the roles among us so everybody has their own responsibilities.

Ex-national winger Noor Ali, 41, volunteered to help the team when he noticed the boys' good attitude and hunger to learn.

He said: "I came here one day to help with the boys, but somehow, they really captured my heart so I thought I'd come to help on a part-time basis.

"After a while I found something different with the boys. They began to follow instructions, they know they need to work together. Usually there are some superstars but even the superstars transform to become team players."

Besides being more organised this year, the students benefited from the coaches' experience and expertise.

Said Secondary 3 right-back Ricky Chiam: "Coach Rezal told us before the semi-finals that he played in the Malaysia Cup before and how he felt so nervous and how we shouldn't let the pressure get to us."

C boys' captain Ahmad Redha, a defender, added: "They have played many types of opponents before, so they know how to use different tactics to counter different schools."

Focus is also given to grooming goalkeepers, whom Rezal handpicked through selection trials.

He said: "Usually in school competitions, they don't really focus on goalkeepers. They just take the ones that are tall and fat to become goalkeepers because they cannot run."

Rezal's specialised training paid off. In front of the school's Sec 1-3 cohort at Jalan Besar Stadium, C boys' custodian Nicholas Ong pulled off two saves in the penalty shoot-out during the final, helping his team edge out Jurongville Secondary 4-1 last month.

The Sec 2 student admitted that he was surprised to be selected to join the football team as he was new to the sport. But as a keen golfer and basketball player for Maha Bodhi School, Nicholas was adept in using his hand-eye coordination to his advantage between the posts.

"Switching sports was quite a crazy idea for me," said Nicholas, who watches YouTube videos of goalkeepers and keeps an autograph of national goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud in his wallet.

"When I first came to TKSS, I wasn't even sure I could make it to the team. I knew that I wasn't good enough. But coach Rezal didn't give up on me just because I was new to the sport."

As they bask in their new-found status as school football kingpins and the number of Instagram followers spikes after their success, they remain humble.

The C boys' competition's top scorer with 26 goals, Vasileios Chua, said: "Now we have the pressure to defend our titles; We are not invincible."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 04, 2016, with the headline 'New school football kingpins'. Print Edition | Subscribe