Over 30, not over the hill yet

The S-League kicks off its milestone 20th season tonight, as defending champions Warriors FC take on Singapore Cup winners Balestier Khalsa amid much fanfare. Yet, there has been much upheaval, in particular the age-restriction rule that came and went in three turbulent weeks last November. While some over-30 players managed to side-step the fallout from the controversial rule and continue to play, there are others who are now jobless. Chua Siang Yee and Jonathan Wong speak to a few of these veterans. Veterans eager to play on after age-rule saga, even if they have to hold onto three jobs

This article was first published on March 1.

When the whistle blows for the start of the 20th S-League season tonight, one man will be counting his lucky stars that he can begin his 20th season in the league.

Former national striker Indra Sahdan Daud, 35, will be donning Tampines Rovers colours this season, after signing a one-year contract with the Stags last month.

This, after he had announced his retirement after the league had implemented the short-lived, age-restriction rule last November, which limited each club to five outfield players over the age of 30.

When the controversial rule was rescinded three weeks later, Indra had already begun coaching at Home United's academy, before Tampines coach V. Sundramoorthy managed to persuade him to lace up his boots again.

Said Indra: "If not for the age ruling, I would not have retired at the end of last season.

"I was ready to move on but I'm glad that coach Sundram still trusts in my ability.

"My target now is to win all three domestic titles with Tampines."

The ex-national captain added he did not have to take a pay cut to continue playing for Tampines, who now have seven players above the age of 30.

Out of 41 over-30 players affected by the rule, 24 managed to find a club and continue their careers.

One of them is ex-Singapore international Hafiz Osman, although it is not without some sacrifice.

As his previous club Tanjong Pagar are sitting out this season, the right-back joined Geylang International after lowering his wage demands by almost 75 per cent.

The father of one is now juggling three jobs to make ends meet.

Besides playing, he also coaches school football teams and is a fitness instructor.

Said the 31-year-old: "I can still get by if I don't play football but I'm not going to hang up my boots because of some ridiculous decision-making.

"I had to explain to my wife but, thankfully, she was very supportive, even though it means I work 12 to 14 hours daily now.

"I love the game so much, I still want to keep going and I am very grateful to Geylang for giving me a lifeline.

"They were very understanding and I will give everything to help the club achieve their targets."

After introducing the age ruling, the S-League extended help to the affected players with its Career After Football project, which offers positions with port operator PSA, SMRT, Courts and Great Eastern.

It did not reveal how many took up these jobs but said more will be done in the future to better help players make the next transition in life.

An S-League spokesman said: "The job options provided by the companies who participated in our Career After Football programme aim to help retiring players to return to and adjust to working life after professional football.

"We are thankful to these companies for coming on board, and we leave it to the retiring footballers to decide whether they want to pursue these options.

"Moving forward, we will be looking for more ways to help our players transit to their next career when they retire from professional football."

However, one problem that players highlight is the unsuitability of the jobs offered under the project.

Hafiz suggested: "Instead of jobs, maybe the league can organise courses for us to upgrade our skills and become more well-rounded.

"That way we can have more options."


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