The fitness test

Fancy yourself as a pro? Think again

The 2.4km run, which used to be the mandatory fitness requirement for footballers, will be replaced with the Yo-Yo test. It will be conducted two or three times throughout the season.

On a cool, summer night in 1994, a courier from Milton Keynes named Steve Davies was pulled from the stands by Harry Redknapp and inserted into the West Ham team. The first thing he realised was that league football is seriously fast.

Twenty-four years later, on a hot March evening, I got an equally alarming first-hand education into professional football.

You might holler at Singapore Premier League (SPL) players on your television for being too slow and weary but, as I painfully discovered, they are far fitter than you are now or ever were.

Or me, for that matter.

On March 12, in an explicable moment of bravado, I joined some players from Balestier Khalsa and Home United to take the league's new mandatory fitness test, the Yo-Yo Test.

Of course I failed miserably.

I am 37, my hair is greying, I don't qualify as overweight at 62kg and, three months ago, I even managed to obtain some semblance of a six-pack as part of a friendly wager with an over-confident friend.

  • 1.88

    Kilometres each outfield player has to run to pass the Yo-Yo test.

Some SPL club officials whispered in my ear that the test is a walk in the park, too easy for the league's professional players, that anyone could pass it.

The problem is, since they hang around elite athletes all the time, they have a slightly warped idea of fitness.

The Yo-Yo test requires players to run 20m shuttles, with a 10-second break before repeating the run, with less time given to complete the shuttle as the test progresses through its stages.

The passing mark was at stage 18.4. I managed only 14.3 before my legs started to do what was a very good impression of former Liverpool goalkeeper Bruce Grobbelaar facing a Roma penalty.

To pass the test, each outfield footballer needs to cover 1.88km.

I managed only 14 shuttles for a grand total of 560m. By the end, it was close to embarrassing because the simple act of putting one foot ahead of the other required all my focus and my heart sounded as if it was ready to break out of my rib cage.

On the day I did the test, all the SPL outfield players passed.

Then to add insult to my injured pride, so did all the goalkeepers, some of whom had distinctly more around the waist than I did but still managed about twice my distance.

I am admittedly a heavy smoker and, in these days of sports science, a sedentary amateur has no chance of surviving for more than even 20 hectic minutes in elite-level football, much less pass its mandatory fitness exam.

Which was what Davies found out the hard way.

Mouthing off at West Ham players in a pre-season friendly against Oxford City in 1994, he caught the attention of Redknapp, then the Hammers' assistant manager.

Struggling with injuries and a lack of players, Redknapp asked Davies at half-time: "Oi, can you play as good as you talk?"

And so at Court Place Farm, 96km east of London, Davies pulled on West Ham's famous claret and blue jersey and came on for forward Lee Chapman.

Perhaps no player on the field had warmed up like he had: by sucking on a cigarette and working his way through two beers in the 30 minutes before he was called up.

He told the Guardian in 2013: "After the first five minutes, my legs were shaking. This wasn't like park football. Defenders didn't leave you alone."

Then he put the ball in the back of the net in the 71st minute.

I wasn't as well prepared as Davies, who at least had enough beer to give him Dutch courage.

I had only two cigarettes as a warm-up. But I will definitely be better prepared if Balestier Khalsa chairman S. Thavaneson comes through with his promise to give me a spot in his team if I can pass the mid-season Yo-Yo test in June.

So in the name of all you mouthy football fans in the country, who think that any average Joe could walk into an SPL team, I am going to give it a go.

And, if I pass the test and Balestier keep their word, my plan is to do better than Davies.

His goal was disallowed. Mine won't be. I just need a chance.

Shamir Osman

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 31, 2018, with the headline 'Fancy yourself as a pro? Think again'. Print Edition | Subscribe