Deaf Team Seek Largesse To Continue Footballing Dream

Photo: Deaf United


Aaron Chan
Writer / Editor
The Unofficial S.League Podcast
sleaguepodcast@gmail.com


They pass the ball around the pitch with proficiency during a training session and the team is known around the local footballing circle for their tenacity and can-do attitude. However, there is something which sets the team of cheerful individuals apart from other social teams - Deaf United (DU) is made up almost entirely of, as the name may suggest, deaf players.

Players who are deaf face an uphill challenge whenever they step on the pitch - communication is evidently harder, players are not able to hear the referee's whistle and only a handful of coaches and officials know how to correspond in sign language. Flags instead of whistles are used during such games to alert the players whenever a foul has been committed.

However, this hasn't stopped the team from joining a number of competitive leagues against hearing players such as the AFL, X-League and even the ESPZEN Futsal League. While DU was only formally established in 2004, the players have known each other since their youth when they were a part of the Social Group of the Deaf (SGD).

"Deaf United was formed during the street soccer tournament held at Tampines SAFRA during the World Cup period in 2004. Subsequently, we came in second place in a beach soccer tournament that was held in Bintan and got featured in the newspapers. That was the first milestone for us." explains DU centre-back Eddy Sophiantoe through an e-mail interview.

The hearing impairment hasn't impeded their technical ability and some of their players had gone on to represent Singapore in the 2004 Asia Pacific Deaf Games and 2010 Asia-Pacific Deaf Futsal Championship. Apart from Deaf United, a majority of DU players had also plyed their trade under the Deaf Lions banner, which is linked to the Deaf Sports Association (Singapore). The Deaf Lions participated in the 17th edition of the Sukan Orang Pekak Malaysia Athletes (SOPMA) - essentially the premier sporting event for the deaf  in Malaysia - held in Malacca in 2014.

DU's involvement in the Deaf Lions helped them to unearth hidden gems such as Rahmat Roslee, who finished as the team's top scorer of the tournament and inspired them to a second placed finish. Ardent fans of local football would also be familiar with another player who used to play for Deaf United by the name of Muhsin Johari, who was a finalist on the first season of the Mediacorp reality football series, First XI back in 2012.

Photo: Deaf United

Apart from being an exemplary footballer, it is a little known fact that Muhsin had also represented Singapore in track-and-field during the Deaflympics.

The team was also coached by some high-profile names in its history such as former Tanjong Pagar United coach Tohari Paijan, who held the reins in 2004 when DU participated in the Asia Pacific Deaf Games, while Buhari Sarwan, who oversaw the development of the pioneer batch of the National Football Academy, took charge of the team during the SOPMA.

And having such accomplished coaches has indeed benefited the team as stand-out players such as Rahmat, Nahar Tan and Heiqal Hashim flourished under their guidance. Heiqal, who is one of two non-deaf players in the team, is a goalkeeper and emerged from the same batch of National Football Academy pioneers such as Baihakki Khaizan and Hassan Sunny. The other player is Mohamad Bazlee, who is able to interpret sign language as he has 2 deaf brothers who are also footballers.

"We rely on our sight and knowledge of each other’s strength and weakness. We usually discuss our tactics before the game and use sign language on the pitch whenever it is necessary." said Eddy, adding that the players have an almost telepathic sense of communication on the field.

While their passion and fighting spirit is inspirational, competitive football may become nothing more than a dream for DU as they are facing financial constraints to pay for league entry fees, equipment and even pitches for training. Our writer understands from Eddy that some of the social leagues have already closed their registration, leaving the Night League, Sports4u League or Hermoso League as their only options.

Eddy also had some inspirational parting words to uplift fellow budding athletes with disabilities. "Never let our disability stop us and don’t see the disability as an obstacle. Anything is possible when you dare to dream." he enthused.

Those looking to get in touch with Deaf United to offer sponsorships or assistance of any form may reach Eddy Sophiantoe at eddyzee78@yahoo.com. 




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