ONE of the most vivid memories Mohammad Khairy Shulaimy has of his late father was him in a bright yellow football jersey.
Jumari Mohamad was an active amateur footballer before he died 11 years ago, when Khairy (right), one of four children, was just five.
Later, his mother Roslinda Ulan told Khairy that it was his father’s dream to see him play for the national football team.
That dream came true after he entered the Football Association of Singapore’s (FAS) Centre of Excellence (COE) when he was in Primary 5, and then progressed on to the national Under-14 and Under-15 squads.
Roslinda recalled that when Khairy was younger, he used to stare out of the window and ask when is his father coming back.
“Now, I still miss my father sometimes,” said Khairy, 16. “But playing football allows me to relive the memories I shared with him and then I miss him a little less.”
While in the COE Under-14 and Under-15 teams, Khairy had the opportunity to represent Singapore in friendly tournaments in Jakarta, Japan, and Malaysia.
Unlike his father, who used to play as a striker, Khairy plays as a midfielder.
“I feel really honoured, excited, and happy when I get to represent Singapore,” said Khairy, a Secondary 4 student in Greenridge Secondary School. “And I’m glad that I’ve made my mother proud.”
One of his joyous moments was when, after one of the national age-group team’s matches, his mother, who watched from the stands, said: “I’m really proud of you, thanks for making me smile.”
But Khairy decided to leave the national age-group squad last year because he felt that he needed to put his studies first.
Even though Khairy has been in the top 10 per cent of his school’s Normal (Academic) cohort since Secondary 2, he felt he needs more time for his studies.
“I was very stressed in Secondary 2 as I didn’t have enough time to study,” he said. “Training with the national team used to take place from Thursday to Sunday at Simei and ended at 9pm.”
After finishing his schoolwork, he usually went to bed at around 2am.
Initially, Roslinda, who used to take up a second job to support her family, was disappointed with her son’s decision to quit the national side.
But after her son explained the reasons, his mother said: “I’m very proud of the maturity that he showed and his determination to do well in his studies.”
But he will continue to play for his school.
Khairy said: “I want to win something for Greenridge Secondary School, be champions of West Zone, and go on to the Nationals.”
As the captain of the school team since last year, he shouldered the responsibility of leading his teammates on and off the pitch.
“I felt really bad when we didn’t make it into the second round of the West Zone tournament last year,” said Khairy, who scored 17 goals in six matches in that tournament.
This year, he and his Greenridge teammates again failed to qualify for the Schools National Games.
“I’m really disappointed and sad that we were knocked out of the first round, which was a repeat of what happened last year,” said Khairy. “But I’ll still have one more chance next year and I’ll train harder and encourage my teammates to do better.
“It feels good that my teammates think highly of me, but when I don’t meet their expectations, I get very down.”
However, he rarely showed his frustration in front of his teammates.
Ahmad Fairouz, 16, said Khairy is a very patient and disciplined team captain.
“He trusts me enough to let me take the free-kicks, and when I do, he encourages me and believes that I can make a good delivery of the ball.”
Another teammate, Muhammad Haziq, 15, added: “Khairy is our role model, and we respect him a lot because he respects us too.”
During matches, Khairy will constantly encourage his teammates, and he always try his best until the last whistle, said Haziq.
Apart from football, Khairy’s other passion is music – he’s an avid guitar player.
Together with a few of his schoolmates, he has formed a rock band and they came in second in the school’s band competition last year.
Khairy said: “Initially, my mum told me that she can’t afford to buy me a guitar, but after getting into my cohort’s top 10 per cent in Secondary Two, she relented and bought me an acoustic guitar.”
When he repeated the same feat again the next year, his mother bought him his second guitar, an electric one.
But it is football that Khairy has set his sights firmly on.
His coach, Andy Tan, believes that the boy has what it takes to play professionally.
Khairy appeared to be quiet and hardworking on first impression, but Tan said:
“Even though he’s one of our best players, he never shows that he’s a star and he never gives up on the team.
“He takes losing very hard, and I remember he cries really hard sometimes when we lose a game.”
The coach has plenty of belief in Khairy’s ability.
“He has the potential to play professional football. I believe he’s an asset to Singapore football.”
According to Roslinda, Khairy has been approached by S-League club Singapore Armed Forces FC, but he rejected the offer because he wanted to focus on completing his O levels.
“I want to go to a polytechnic after my O level exams. And after serving National Service, I want to join an S-League club,” said Khairy.