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They Won The Hearts of a Nation



Relive those YOG moments again, when the same boys will represent the Singapore Under-16 team in the Lion City Cup which starts on 18 June. (Photo:SSC) 

Never had so much hope been placed by so many, on the shoulders of so few.

Eleven plucky boys were about to play the greatest match in their young lives.

The boys of the Singapore 2010 Youth Olympic Games (YOG) football team, who had lost their place in the football final of the YOG, had one last chance to claim a medal for themselves, and for their country.

They were up against Montenegro, a foe that towered over them and hungered for blood after tasting defeat at their hands once before. Barely six minutes into the match, had Singapore lost their captain, Jeffery Lightfoot to a head injury.

Lesser boys would have buckled under the pressure. But on 25 August 2010, the YOG football team proved themselves to be men. After half-time they charged back with the hunger of lions and blitzed all night, emerging victorious with a 4-1 demolition over their opponents. They had won the medal that they desired and through the journey, won the heart of a nation, instantly becoming the darlings of an entire nation.

Through this landmark victory and bronze medal from the inaugural YOG, the boys bagged another accolade when they were awarded the Sportsboy Team of the Year for 2010 in recognition of their efforts.

“I was surprised at the magnitude of the game and the support the boys got - through the media, the packed stadium and even from the various ministers who came out to support the team,” said the YOG football coach Kadir Yahya who fondly remembers the night.

But Kadir remembers that at half time, the mood was anything but jubilant. “At half time, the score was 1-1,” he recounted “but my main concern was for Jeffrey and his injury.”

Despite his injury, Lightfoot was adamant about playing with his team. But his injury was too great, and the captain was rushed away in an ambulance, separated from his men.

“I was very disappointed to not be able to play with the team,” said Lightfoot.  “I was confident that the team was going to do well because I knew what they were capable of. I had a feeling that we were going to bring back the medal.”

At half-time, emotions were high in the dressing room. And everyone knew the country’s last medal hope in football was on the line. In that sombre atmosphere, the coach sat down to talk to his boys.

“When I sat down, I didn’t talk about the goals, or who played well,” said Kadir, himself a former Lion, having represented Singapore from 1993 t0 1999.

“I said there were three things we needed to know. The captain, Jeffrey, was down. Their coach was down. And then the country was down - you have been the high point for the nation. You are going to have forty minutes. This is the only moment and it’s for Singapore. So they went out and immediately responded with goals. At the final whistle, I was in tears.”

The crowd at the stadium erupted with joy that had been built up through the days when the final whistle was blown. The fans rejoiced and embraced the team, whom they had adopted as their own, throughout the inaugural YOG.

Fans of Lightfoot and gang, who lit up the Jalan Besar Stadium during the YOG could well be in for a treat again, just a year after the event as Singapore is set to face Brazilian giants Flamengo and English side Everton in the 23rd Canon Lion City Cup in June. Many of the boys from the YOG squad will be lacing up their boots and playing together since they grabbed the bronze medal in August last year.

And Kadir, who is currently a youth coach at the Singapore Sports School, hopes that the boys will be able to bond as a team once again and relive the moments which brought a nation to its feet last year during the YOG.

“Almost 90% of the squad is there,” said Kadir. “The thing now is for them to gel together because they have not been playing together for quite some time, so they have to train hard as a team.”

He ended by saying, “The good thing is that the tournament is in Singapore. I hope the memories of the YOG will come back to Singaporeans and I hope the fans will come back to give the same support and cheer us again.”

The Singapore Under-16 team will open their Lion City Cup campaign against CR Flamengo (Brazil) on 20 June while the Under-15s take on Newcastle United (England) in the tournament’s opener on 18 June.