Monday, 20 February 2017

Singapore Veterans Futsal League: Playing into the second half of life

Friendly football league for those aged 40 and above reaches fever pitch with 160 players
By Ng Huiwen, The Sunday Times, 19 Feb 2017

He may be a 61-year-old grandfather of four, but Mr Saleh Ahmad feels young again when he dons his yellow soccer gear and dribbles a ball on the pitch.

Nearly every Tuesday evening for the past two months, the field service engineer has turned up at the Home United Youth Football Academy to play in a five-a-side football tournament. In fact, Mr Saleh is the oldest among some 160 players in the new SG Veteran5s League, which is said to be Singapore's first such tournament for those 40 years old and above.

The league also sports colourful team names such as Chapalang Football Club, Vintage Eagles, Zion Kings and Brickworks Old Boys.

"Age is nothing. I will still play as long as I am healthy and fit," said Mr Saleh, who started playing football as a teenager in his secondary school team.

His 15-man team, dubbed Hydratight Football Club, is led by former national player Ali Imran Lomri, 41, and comprises colleagues from Britain-based oil and gas company Hydratight.

Organised by local start-up PlayPal Group, the league is now into its second season, with the finals to run on Tuesday.

The first season kicked off last August with just five teams and one division, but it has since doubled to 11 teams and two divisions, said co-founder and chief executive Shaun Lin, 32.

The four founders started the free PlayPal football mobile app in March 2015, aimed at gathering social and amateur players to organise friendly games in the community. There are currently 3,400 registered users on the app, with plans to launch the app in other countries in the region.

Mr Lin said that they decided to start a veteran-friendly tournament after realising that there was "no well-organised or consistent effort made to engage senior players who still enjoy playing the game".

Most of the teams play in the league's Division 2, which "retains more of the social and easy-going feel", he said. Division 1, which comprises four teams, has a higher standard of play.

The games, which last for seven minutes or 14 minutes, are played round-robin style, and the team with the most points in each division wins a trophy.

Among those who have returned for a second time is nurse Jeffrey Ng, 53, who is playing for the first season's defending champions Vintage Eagles.

A former Toa Payoh United player in the 1980s, Mr Ng said that what he enjoys the most about the tournament is the level playing field and camaraderie shared among teams.

"If you play with teams in their 20s, you know you can't outrun them. Then, it is not fun," he said.

"There is more focus on the young ones, but among us veterans, some of us are die-hard footballers," he added. "While we want to play socially, a bit of competition spurs us on."

Financial adviser Miki Khoo, 47, and concierge officer Mohammad Rizal Mohd Sidek, 41, met as Everton supporters but, on the tournament pitch, they are rivals.

Mr Khoo is team manager of Vintage Eagles, while Mr Mohammad Rizal plays for Chapalang Football Club.

However, Mr Khoo is quick to add that it is "really not about who wins or loses".

He said: "It's more of the fellowship - seeing different races, nationalities coming together just for the common love of football."

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