Dollah Kassim Award: Winner Joel Chew thanks supportive parents
With parents' support, TNP Dollah Kassim Award winner Joel wants to realise ambition of playing abroad
On the pitch, his slight physique makes him an easy target for bigger, stronger opponents.
But National Football Academy (NFA) Under-17 midfielder Joel Chew has learnt to look after himself. He overcomes the disadvantage in size by releasing the ball quickly and avoiding contact with opponents.
Off the pitch, the 17-year-old knows two people will always have his back: his parents, Celine Tan and James Chew.
That's why the 1.68m, 50kg teenager was quick to credit them after winning The New Paper Dollah Kassim Award during last Saturday's NFA graduation ceremony at Meridian Secondary School.
He beat seven other nominees Marc Ryan Tan and Vasileios Chua (both NFA U-15), Khairul Ikhwan Karim and Aizal Murhamdani Ahmad (both NFA U-16), NFA U-17's Rezza Rezky Ramadhani and NFA U-18 duo Danial Syafiq Mustaffa and Nazhiim Harman - the largest field in the award's eight-year history.
Besides getting a trophy, Joel will also go on a training stint at an overseas club.
Previous award winners had attachments with clubs such as England's Newcastle United and France's FC Metz and St Etienne.
Looking shellshocked when he was named the winner by Football Association of Singapore (FAS) president Lim Kia Tong, Joel staggered forward to receive the trophy, as his NFA U-17 teammates whooped in delight and chanted his name.
"I was in disbelief," Joel later told TNP.
"I always thought that the winner would come from the oldest age group and, considering Danial was nominated a second time, I thought he was the favourite.
"So I was really shocked when my name was announced - I didn't know what to do or how to react."
But he didn't forget who to thank. Said the waifish youngster: "I have to dedicate this award to my parents, because they've been very supportive of my footballing journey.
"They'll always make time to attend every game I play and I know, over the years, they have spent a lot on me as well."
Joel's parents have travelled abroad to watch their son don national colours in Asean Football Federation and Asian Football Confederation matches.
When he was younger, they even flew to Gothenburg, Sweden, to watch him take part in the Gothia Cup.
Their support for Joel's sporting dream does not end there.
They've also knocked on doors in a bid to secure high-quality training for their son.
Last year, their persistence paid off when Joel was among 12 local youngsters who had a nine-day training stint at Spanish club Valencia.
Joel was the only one among the dozen who was not a Peter Lim scholarship recipient.
He is set for another overseas stint during the year-end holidays, this time in Thailand with regional powerhouses Muangthong United, again through his parents' endeavour.
Said Tan: "Watching him over the years, we asked ourselves: How much can he learn here?
"If Joel really wants to be a professional, he has to get his basics right. So when the opportunity comes, he'll be ready.
"We want such trips to inspire him and make him motivated.
"At the same time, it'll open his eyes so he knows that football is not just about the Prime League (where the NFA U-17 team play) or S.League."
Tan, an accountant, was brimming with pride when she talked about Joel's win.
She added: "It feels like the award is not just a pat on his back, but on ours as well.
"It reminds us that, as parents, we should continue to support him, even with the understanding it is not easy to make football a career in Singapore.
"This is his dream and passion, and we will back him as far as he wants to go."
Said Joel: "This will push me even further. Emerging as the winner from the award's largest field of eight nominees shows just what I am capable of.
"It gives me confidence to go for bigger goals, and hopefully, play abroad one day."
The TNP Dollah Kassim Award - which is handed to the most worthy NFA player aged 18 and below - recognises both footballing excellence and character, both of which the late Singapore legend Dollah had in abundance.
Nicknamed "The Gelek King", Dollah was well-loved in the local football fraternity, and was widely regarded as one of Singapore's most skilful players.
He died at the age of 61 in 2010 and, shortly after, TNP initiated the award in partnership with FAS, in his memory.
Ammirul Emmran (2010, MF) Has been a regular with the Young Lions since 2014, and was part of the last two SEA Games squads.
Adam Swandi (2011, MF) Spent two years at French side FC Metz before returning in 2015 to make his national-team debut aged 17. Featured at last two SEA Games, and has had a good season at S.League title challengers Home United.
R. Aaravin (2012, DF) Broke into Home United’s S.League team in 2015, before knee injuries left him with a lot of catching-up to do.
Hazim Faiz (2013, FW) Tasted S.League action with Warriors FC and then Young Lions last season, before enlisting for national service.
Muhelmy Suhaimi (2014, MF) Was part of this year’s SEA Games squad.
Joshua Pereira (2015, MF) Underlined his potential with two goals and two assists against Hong Kong last year. But injuries curtailed his progress and he was only half-fit during the SEA Games in August.
Rusyaidi Salime (2016, DF) Recently got called up to the senior national team for the first time by coach V. Sundram Moorthy.
WHAT THEY SAY
“This award is a demonstration of the determination and discipline of a boy of a smaller physical stature than his peers. “It goes to show that in football, even though size counts to a degree, smaller players can work on other areas to beat others who may be bigger.”
— FAS president Lim Kia Tong
“I‘m happy for Joel. He has excellent ball skills and tactical understanding of the game, and he is capable of using his technical qualities well to deliver telling passes for his team.
“Despite his smaller physique, he knows how to get out of tight situations.
“For the other nominees, I’d say: Unfortunately, there can be only one winner. But they are not very far behind Joel, and they must have the ambition to improve next year and show even better performances with their teams.”
— FAS national youth teams head coach Richard Tardy
“Joel is a deserving winner. He has impressed the panel with his technical ability on the pitch, as well as how he carries himself off it.
“You could see from the reaction of his teammates when his name was announced, just how highly regarded he is within his team, too.
“I hope Joel will take this award, as well as the overseas training stint that comes with it, as added motivation for him to reach his goals in the game.”
— TNP editor Eugene Wee
“Joel embodies the spirit of the TNP Dollah Kassim Award.
“He has the character and talent to go far in the sport. I hope this award can spur him on to bigger things, which he is well capable of.
“If he continues to do what he has been doing, he will be on theright track.”
— TNP sports editor Gary Lim
“I hope Joel uses this opportunity to propel himself to greater things.
“I also hope the overseas stint helps him better his game, and that he brings back what he has learnt to inspire the present footballers, as well as the future generation.”
— Dollah Kassim’s son-in-law Navin Nambiar