Fulham trainee Ben chases professional dream
Singaporean's father hopes authorities can help his son if he progresses in England
He is the first Singaporean footballer to earn a scholarship contract with a top-rated academy in England and, with the dream of playing professionally within touching distance, Ben Davis will do all he can to get there.
The former Singapore Sports School student hopes he can continue to pursue his dream in England as a Singaporean.
"The Sports School was the best thing for me then, but it's more intense at Fulham, more hard work - the (higher) standard of football is the biggest difference," Ben said, in an interview with local media at Cafe Football at Woodleigh Park yesterday.
"In my age group, all six of them (English boys) have been called up to England's age-group squad."
Ben's two-year contract with Fulham's academy started on July 1, but the attacking midfielder, who turns 17 in November, returned to Singapore yesterday for 24 hours to attend a National Service (NS) pre-enlistment medical screening and psychometric test.
"My motivation is to be better than the people in my age group. I know they won't slow down, so I can't either," he said.
"I want to play for Singapore but... I have to focus and stay in England and keep doing what I'm doing."
The teenager will return to London today to prepare for the start of the Under-18 Premier League this weekend, with Fulham facing his favourite team Arsenal.
The Fulham senior side may ply their trade in the second-tier Championship, but their academy is one of 24 that have received England's highest Category One rating, along with the academies of the likes of Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool.
Ben's father, Harvey, hopes his son will get NS deferment when the time comes, if he is given a chance to progress further in his football career in England.
"As far as options go, not serving NS is not something we want to consider," said Harvey, who runs the JSSL Academy in Singapore.
"We've lived here since 2006, my elder son has already completed (full-time) NS, and this is our home."
Ben, who has lived in New York and Singapore before moving to Harrow High School in London last year, received his Singapore citizenship in 2009.
Since then, he has gone on to represent various national age-group sides, and he will return in October to don Singapore colours at the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Under-19 qualifiers in Mongolia.
Harvey revealed that the family have the support of the Football Association of Singapore and have gone through the proper channels - national sports agency Sport Singapore and the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth - to request for NS deferment for Ben.
"We've kept the authorities in the loop since last year, asking them for their advice and support. We're doing things in the right way and, at the end of the day, we have faith in the system that it'll come good for us," said Harvey.
Joseph Schooling, the Republic's first Olympic gold medallist, was granted deferment in the lead-up to the 2016 Rio Olympics, and received an extension of that deferment to the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
Defence Minister Dr Ng Eng Hen told Parliament in 2013 that deferment "may be granted in exceptional circumstances to individual sportsmen, who are assessed to be potential medal winners at international competitions like the Olympic Games and bring national pride for the country".
While Schooling clocked world-class times in the lead-up to his deferment before striking gold in the 100m butterfly at the Rio Olympics last year, deferment criteria for athletes who play team sports remains unclear. It is something Harvey hopes his son can help change.
"Hopefully, the authorities will set in place some procedure or criteria for football or team sport athletes. Maybe Ben's case will be the right case to push that forward, like Joseph Schooling's did," said Harvey.
"Right now, if you're a sportsperson, you're developing your ability. But, at the age of 18, you can't continue it, and that's tough because it is an accepted fact that the ages between 16 and 21 are key (for a young athlete to make that critical jump to the senior level).
"We know he must do NS, that's clear. But he has an opportunity to achieve his dream, and Ben's at the level where he can go on and do that."