F-17 boys return home to Singapore safe and sound
Mothers relieved sons got flight out after being stranded in Antalya Airport, days after attempted coup
They could not eat or sleep until they heard their sons' voices on the phone.
The worried mothers had waited anxiously for news of their sons, who were in Turkey soon after the chaos of a failed coup.
Madam Siti Fatimah Salim, Madam Sita Chhetri and Madam Haslinda Shariff, all in their early 40s, have sons in Fandi Ahmad's F-17 Football Academy's team of youth footballers.
The 13 players, aged between eight and 14, their coaches and some accompanying parents were stranded at Antalya Airport in Turkey on July 15 after their Turkish Airlines flight was diverted there instead of landing in Istanbul as scheduled.
It was part of their stopover en route to the Gothia World Youth Cup in Gothenburg, Sweden.
But all that anxiety was swept away in a stream of hugs and tears yesterday evening when the F-17 boys landed at Changi Airport.
A large group of families and academy staff waited eagerly outside the arrival area, bearing a large yellow welcome banner and gifts for the boys.
Recalling the harrowing days after the attempted coup, Madam Siti Fatimah told The New Paper in Malay: "When I woke up in the morning (of July 16) and saw the WhatsApp messages (from parents who had accompanied the boys), I felt so scared and began shivering.
"I knew that as long as my boy doesn't come out of Antalya, I can't eat."
Her close friend, Madam Sita, said: "I was very scared. I didn't sleep properly all night. I was relieved only when they flew out (of Antalya Airport)."
Excited family and friends of the F-17 Football Academy team wait at Changi Aiport Terminal 1 for the boys' arrival yesterday evening. TNP PHOTO: PHYLLICIA WANG
The team eventually got a flight out to Istanbul on July 17, after a harrowing night stranded in Antalya.
Madam Haslinda said the support of her fellow mothers got her through the ordeal.
She said: "We counted on each other."
The three mothers and their 11-year-old sons, Fairuz, Aryan and Haziq, respectively, are close friends.
Another parent, Mr Mohamed Faizul, 42, was concerned but optimistic that his son could take care of himself.
He said: "I woke up and saw more than 100 WhatsApp messages on the team chat. I come from a military background, so I knew that although it was dangerous, they would be safe together in the airport."
His son, Amirul, called home 15 hours after he left Singapore.
Mr Faizul said: "That was my biggest relief."
Another F-17 supporter waited anxiously for coach Habil Hakim's return.
His wife, Madam Nina Chua, 26, joined the welcome party with their 19-month-old daughter, who was clutching a handmade welcome banner for her father.
The pregnant Madam Chua said: "I cried when he called me to tell me (about the flight diversion). I had to Google what happened to tell him because he had no Internet."
The boys returned in high spirits, unaffected by the political upheaval in Turkey. Most of the parents TNP spoke to chose not to go into detail about the political situation in Turkey with their young children.
The team lost their first match against Ghana, played on July 18, just hours after they arrived at their Gothenburg hostel.
Madam Sita said: "They were tired and did not have enough rest."
Russell Tan, 11, his younger brother, Oliver, eight, together with their father, Mr Dan Tan, were met at the airport by their relieved mother and younger sister.
"I had a very fun time. I scored two goals in the game against Peru. This was a better trip (than last year's) because I did well," Russell said.
HOW THE F-17 SQUAD FARED
F-17 Football Academy took part in the Gothia World Youth Cup in the Boys 11 category with 114 other teams from 36 countries. The teams were divided into 28 groups.
F-17 lost 0-6 to Ghana's Lizzy FC, then put 10 goals past Sweden's KF Velebit 1 without conceding. They then beat Peru's Markham School 3-1 to place second in their group.
They were knocked out in the next round after losing 1-8 to Germany's SC Nienstedten.