Small-sized Yazid is one of the biggest stories in S.League history
Geylang goalkeeper Yazid is the only player left from S.League’s pioneer generation in 1996
One by one, he has seen his peers drop out of professional football.
But, almost two decades after he made his debut, Yazid Yasin is still going strong.
As it stands, the 35-year-old goalkeeper is the only player left from the pioneer generation of the inaugural S.League season in 1996.
He will represent Geylang International in the 20th season of the S.League, which will likely kick off in March.
Yazid's national youth teammates from the 1995 Lion City Cup - Indra Sahdan and Ahmad Latiff - are also from the pioneer batch but will not feature this term.
Indra decided to call it quits and accept a youth coaching position with his long-time club Home United, while Latiff's club Tanjong Pagar closed shop and decided to sit out the coming campaign. He has been knocking on the doors of several S.League clubs, but to no avail.
So what keeps the 1.69m-tall Yazid, who has defied the naysayers who said he was not big or tall enough to be a top goalkeeper, going all these years?
Yazid picking the ball out of the net during his debut S.League season in 1996.
"I think it's because I still enjoy the game a lot," he told The New Paper over a cup of coffee near his Bukit Panjang home earlier this week.
"Be it playing professionally or just socially with friends or family, I still have a lot of fun when I play and train.
"That's my main driving force."
He cannot help but feel sorry for his brothers in arms like Indra and Latiff, who became indirect victims of the S.League's proposed rule that would have restricted each local club to not more than five players over the age of 30. The age-cap rule was eventually scrapped.
Said Yazid: "The ruling had a huge impact on local football. Some of the senior players still have something to contribute to Singapore football.
Yazid in futsal training ahead of the Tiger 5s in 1999.
"It was such bad timing that the S.League came up with this rule, after Tanjong Pagar decided to sit out and Woodlands Wellington merged with Hougang United.
"Personally, I don't agree, because of obvious reasons. If you're good enough, the spot is yours.
"You can't give the spot to another person because of his age... I'm glad they turned it around, but it should never have happened in the first place.
"Nothing surprises me any more. When you've been here so long, you realise some things happen only in Singapore football."
If anyone is proof that age is no barrier, it is Yazid.
Yazid with Lionel Lewis at national Under-23 training in 2001.
After all, he made his debut as a scrawny, shaven-headed 16-year-old for the now-defunct Sembawang Rangers in a 2-2 draw with Police FC (now Home United) on April 27, 1996.
He has since gone on to make over 400 S.League appearances.
"I got the opportunity because at the time Sembawang weren't doing so well," he explained.
"We were leaking goals, and the two senior goalkeepers ahead of me - Stephen Ng and Wong Whee Khong - were suffering from a lack of form.
"I was nervous but I was also on a high because we had just won the Lion City Cup in 1995 and I was one of the top performers."
Yazid topped his debut by starring in Sembawang's 3-2 win over northern rivals Woodlands Wellington, who had the likes of V Sundramoorthy and fearsome import strikers Jan Janostak and Ervin Boban in their line-up.
But in his third game, the Stallions were spanked 6-2 by SAFFC (now Warriors FC).
"After that, I was dropped. That's the life of a goalkeeper," he lamented.
But he bounced back stronger and, over the years, he has established himself as one of S.League's household names.
Apart from his call-ups to the national team, he also starred in the Tiger 5s futsal tournament in December 1999, limiting then world champions Spain to a 10-0 win despite the Spaniards registering 75 shots on goal.
Yazid was also hailed in 2012 for reporting a match-fixing attempt to the authorities, after being offered $6,000 by two former South Korean teammates to throw an S.League match.
But he admitted that it wasn't smooth sailing early in his career.
Yazid with the Man-of-the-Match award in the RHB Singapore cup final in 2009.
"Initially, every time I played, I could hear opponents shout, 'Send it into the goal!, and teams would start hitting long balls towards me," recalled Yazid.
"I struggled a bit at first, but I overcame it with guidance and training from my coaches.
"There was also one incident, in the early part of my career, when a top, title-chasing club with a new foreign coach wanted to sign me.
"When he saw me for the first time, he said, 'Oh, are you a goalkeeper? You're not as tall as I thought you were'.
"Talk about first impressions. I knew straightaway that he didn't think much of me. I didn't get offended, but it didn't feel right so I didn't sign for that team.
All the negative comments about his size and question marks over his reliability between the sticks only made him work harder to build up his mental toughness.
"My mantra is you don't give up on the ball until it's in the back of the net," said Yazid.
"Over the years, there were days when I went to training and felt like a spring chicken. I felt like I could make all sorts of saves.
"On other days, I felt tired and wanted to take it easy. That was when I pushed myself a little bit more.
"The simple reason being, if I take it easy in those situations, what happens if I wake up on match-day feeling tired or not so good?
"I had to break that barrier and train harder."
It is this resilience and discipline in training that has made Yazid a role model in the S.League.
The shot-stopper said that he might even prolong his career beyond this year.
"I will start assessing around July," he said.
"It will depend on how I feel and how the club feel. It works both ways.
"At the moment, I feel good.
"I don't have to drag myself to training and that's the most important thing.
"The day I have to drag myself to get on to the field... I think that will be the day when I say enough is enough."
'I deserve more than one cap'
1 How did you get started in football?
I played for the youth team of Gibraltar Crescent (the precursor to Sembawang Rangers) because they trained at my neighbourhood field at Chong Pang in Yishun.
When I was 14, I used to hang around the first team's training session and help out by carrying and pumping the footballs, things like that. Actually, I wanted to train with the seniors!
Sometimes their goalkeeper would be late, so I would always be hoping: "Got goalkeeper or not? If not, maybe I would get my chance". After a while, the coach Yow Tian Bey asked me to come down regularly.
The senior goalkeepers were happy I was there - more goalkeepers meant less work at training!
Then, when the S.League started in 1996, I was one of those selected to play for Sembawang Rangers.
2 What do you miss most about the early days of the S.League?
The crowds. The interest generated back in the first four or five seasons was huge.
For me, staying in Yishun, playing for Sembawang was a very big deal.
Your kampung friend, your school friend, the coffeeshop makcik, all came to see Sembawang play.
It was a privilege to play for them.
3 Despite always being touted as one of the best local goalkeepers around, you have only one international cap for Singapore, against New Zealand in 1999. Do you feel like you should have had more?
The New Zealand game was an eye-opener for me.
I've always said height is not a problem. But, when you play against a team like them, whose players are huge, it's a struggle.
Personally, I feel like I deserve more than one cap. But, then again, Rezal (Hassan) was in front of me then, and he was a top goalkeeper at that time. Then Lionel (Lewis) came in.
But I have no issues or regrets. I'm someone who can accept that if there's someone better ahead of you, he deserves to play.
4 Which striker did you hate most to play against?
Nicodeme Boucher formerly of Tanjong Pagar. He was the only one whom I have always struggled against.
He was one of those who was not just tall (Boucher stood at 1.97m), but could also jump really high.
He was one of those strikers who didn't just challenge high balls for the sake of it, he really wanted to win it, like Didier Drogba.
Plus, he was also good with the ball at his feet, so he was definitely someone I didn't fancy playing against.
5 What's your best moment in football?
That penalty save in the 2009 Singapore Cup final that won Geylang International the trophy against Bangkok Glass.
It was nothing special but something that you dream of.
You're in a final, you're having a great game, your team are the underdogs, and you save a penalty in the last few minutes to help your team win... It's like a fairy tale.
I've made better saves but, all things considered, this was the best moment.
6 What are your plans after football?
Hopefully, I'll go into coaching, specifically goalkeeper coaching. It's something I enjoy.
It would be the ideal situation, so I can share my experience with the next generation of shot-stoppers.
I currently have an AFC B licence and an AFC Level One goalkeeping coach certificate.
I've been very lucky that all the goalkeeper coaches who I've trained under over the years are not selfish and have shared everything they know to try and better my game.
Given the opportunity, I would do the same.