Singapore floorballer Hafiz Zubir scores for Finland's Classic United
S'pore floorballer, 29, becomes first Asian to score for Finland's third-tier club Classic United
When Hafiz Zubir scored in his first home game for Finnish club Classic United earlier this month, the former national floorballer called it "one of the best moments of my life".
The joy of scoring for the Finnish third-tier side - and being the first Asian to do so - was all the more sweeter as he did not make the cut for Singapore's SEA Games squad, which was announced in August.
It did not take long for the 29-year-old to bounce back, though. In late August, he took up a 15-day trial offer from United, who are the feeder team to SC Classic, winners of the Finnish top flight for the last four years.
Hafiz, who caught the eye of United's officials during last year's World Floorball Championship (WFC) in the Czech Republic, duly impressed the Tampere-based side and signed a season-long deal last month.
On Oct 2, Hafiz experienced a surreal moment when he not only played in his first home game, but also became the first Asian to score for the team in a 9-4 win over KU-86.
"It was a great, wonderful feeling. It was one of the best moments of my life," the 1.73m forward told The New Paper in a phone interview.
"To be able to score a goal for one of the best clubs in the world is just amazing. And to be the first Asian to score for this club, I am so happy and proud."
United coach Jami Herrala, 39, told TNP: "When I saw Hafiz in Prague, I knew he was one of the best players in the Singapore team, so I asked him to consider coming over."
Hafiz, who worked as a coach at Youth Floorball Academy and turned out for local club Black Wondersticks, said it has been his dream to play in Europe since he picked up the stick at Northbrooks Secondary School.
He became the fourth Singaporean man to achieve the feat, after Timothy Quek (Finnish club Sb-pro), Samuel Nee (IBK Uppsala Teknologer, Sweden) and Rajiv Makalingam (Taby FC, Nacka Wallenstam IBK and Jarfalla IBK, all Swedish clubs).
Although his deal does not come with a pay packet - the club are helping him look for a job - being able to hone his craft in Europe more than makes up for it.
Hafiz added: "It has been a dream of mine to play for a European club.
"Also, my goal blows away the thinking that Asians are here to make up the numbers, or to just get the experience.
"We should not give up on our dreams. Yes, it has been tough. The training sessions are so intensive, everyone is so serious and focused in training that it can become very nasty at times.
"Then, there are external challenges like the cold weather, the high cost of living, lack of food choices the way we have in Singapore and, to a certain extent, the language barrier.
"But, I believe we can do it."
Although disappointed that he will play no part in Singapore's title defence at the SEA Games in the Philippines, Hafiz is determined to regain his place in the national set-up.
"It has always been an honour to play for the national team and, of course, I will do my best to earn a recall. I also have United's blessing should that happen," he said.
National coach Lim Jin Quan said both the Singapore Floorball Association and himself are very supportive of Hafiz's move, and that the door is not closed on him.
"He is still part of the national training squad," Lim said. "His decision to go overseas and train has been discussed among us and it is one that we encourage...
"I have been keeping tabs on his performance through video links of his games and that will help (in deciding the squad for the WFC 2020 qualifiers in March)."
For now, Hafiz is focused on improving himself, putting in extra gym sessions in the day, when most of his teammates are either in school or working.
"I hope to stay here for many seasons," he said. "When I'm done playing, I want to give back to the floorball community, both in Finland and my homeland."
"My goal blows away the thinking that Asians are here to make up the numbers."
- Hafiz Zubir, after scoring in his first home game, a 9-4 win over KU-86