Culture shock for Aleksandar on arrival at Queenstown
In these exclusive excerpts of his autobiography BEYOND BORDERS, the Bosnian-born striker Aleksandar Duric recounts his arrival in 1999.
I arrived in Singapore on May 1, 1999, signed up and ready to play for Tanjong Pagar FC.
I didn't know much about Singaporean football - in fact, I knew almost nothing.
Arriving just after the Asian financial crisis, I was paid only $4,000 per month in that first year.
Now, don't get me wrong, I know that most people in other jobs would be more than happy with that salary, I appreciate that.
But, for a professional footballer, this wasn't good money. It was peanuts. Still, beggars can't be choosers.
When I arrived, the S.League season was already underway.
The general manager of the club, Mr Richard Woon, picked me up from the airport in his white Mercedes.
Aleksandar Duric’s autobiography, Beyond Borders, will be available at $25 at major bookstores from Monday. Catch Duric at his book launch next Saturday (2pm) at Books Kinokuniya, Ngee Ann City, Level 4.
He told me he was going to show me the stadium where the club played. We pulled up at Queenstown Stadium and at first I thought there had been some kind of misunderstanding.
I noticed the lumpy grass pitch and the sad-looking terraces. I had to move to get out of the way of some elderly aunties strolling round the athletics track on their evening jog.
The players were just finishing their training session and Richard took me over to introduce me. He asked me what I thought of the facilities.
"Well, Richard, I guess it's not too bad for a training pitch. But where is the main stadium where we play our games? Is it far from here?"
Richard looked at me quizzically, trying to figure out if I was joking or not. Some of the players couldn't stop laughing.
When Richard realised that I was being serious he said, "Aleks, this is the stadium."
Oh. Welcome to Singapore football.
Okay, so the facilities weren't quite of the Australian NSL standard but forget it, I wasn't the sort of big-time Charlie to worry about that kind of thing.
I clicked with the other players right away.
I trained harder than anyone and I made conversation with everybody, playing and non-playing staff alike.
If the bus was late or if the kits weren't washed properly, I just laughed it off and never kicked up a fuss.
This was nothing special, I was just being myself, but teammates throughout my career often told me that they thought I was different to many of the other foreign players that came to Singapore to play.
I was more humble and more down-to-earth, apparently.
My first game in Singaporean football was against Geylang United and I found myself up against Mohd Noor Ali.
He would later become one of my closest friends, but let me tell you, there was nothing friendly about him in that game.
We clashed early in the game, in a 50-50 challenge. As I got up from the ground I heard him shouting at me. He said, "S**** you, go back to your own country!"
Bloody hell, I thought, what have I let myself in for here!
But that's football. At the end of the game, we shook hands and laughed about it.
We went on to be teammates for many years and he is now someone I call a very good friend.