SINGAPORE PREMIER LEAGUE
Home United v Brunei DPMM
Bishan Stadium, today, 8.30pm
He used to sit around the pitch, rushing to pick stray balls as a ball boy for Singapore Premier League (SPL) side Home United.
Eight years on, Faizal Roslan has stepped across the line into the pitch and nowadays watches with delight as opposing goalkeepers collect the ball from the net.
The 1.81m defender is enjoying a good start to the season, scoring three times and cementing his spot in Aidil Sharin's first XI.
And Faizal hopes to build on his fine form when Home host Brunei DPMM at Bishan Stadium tonight.
Fans can donate to help late player's family
The Football Association of Singapore is raising funds for the late Nur Alam Shah's family at tonight's Singapore Premier League match between the Young Lions and Warriors FC at the Jalan Besar Stadium.
The fund-raising effort is in recognition of the former Woodlands Wellington player's contributions to local football through coaching young players, in particular the non-profit Combined Schools FC.
Fans and the public can make donations via the boxes placed at the stadium entrances and passed around during the game.
All proceeds from the match will go to his family to help them through this difficult period. Alam Shah, 38, died last week.
A minute of silence will also be observed. Fans can buy tickets at fas.org.sg/tickets/ or at the stadium today.
"I remember watching the team play as a ball boy, and (then Home forward) Frederic Mendy scoring some great goals," said the 22-year-old.
"I told my parents that one day I would play for this team, and to be finally playing for Home is a great achievement for me."
The SPL requires that the six local clubs field three Under-23 players in every match, but Faizal has even played - and scored - in the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Cup, which has no age quota.
Aidil said: "This rule has made things a little tougher for coaches because we have to put older players who can easily make the first XI on the bench, but Faizal is playing in the AFC Cup only because he has earned the spot."
Faizal should start against DPMM today and is a good bet to also play when Home face Philippine side Ceres Negros in August's two-legged AFC Cup Asean zone final.
It is a vote of confidence in Faizal, but he came very close to giving up the sport.
"I was in the Singapore Sports School and, when I was in Secondary 2, I was not selected for the Asian Youth Games squad. I played only one game the entire year and was really demoralised," he said.
"I transferred to Kent Ridge Secondary School, and was thinking of stopping entirely."
He was then encouraged to join the now-defunct Woodlands Wellington's U-16 side, before joining Home's U-18s, where he found new motivation. He was with the Young Lions last term before returning to the Protectors.
"It was hard to cope at the start, playing with all the senior players here. But it's very important for me to have players like Juma'at Jantan, Shakir Hamzah and Abdil Qaiyyim here, I'm learning so much from them," said Faizal, who tries to model his game after Singapore international Safuwan Baharudin.
And it is starting to get noticed.
"After Baihakki Khaizan and Safuwan, you don't see tall defenders like Faizal who are good with the ball at their feet, and a danger at set-pieces," said Aidil, who believes Faizal can improve even more.
The young centre-back dreams of a national call-up for November's AFF Suzuki Cup but, for now, he is focused on helping Home improve on their sixth position in the nine-team SPL. They are on eight points and five behind second-placed Balestier Khalsa. Albirex Niigata are top with a perfect 27 points from nine games.
"We must get better, more clinical in front of goal and more focused in defence," said Faizal.
"It will be a tough game, but we are confident."