Die-hard Balestier Khalsa fan Li Huai Min believes the Tigers are weakened from last season, but nonetheless has faith in head coach Marko Kraljevic’s ability to motivate the troops.
Huai Min, 24, is no average football fan. He actually played for the Balestier Centre of Excellence and Prime League squads in his younger days, fuelling his interest in supporting the Tigers.
“I was there as a youth player from 2009 to 2011 and I still remember the club encourages us to watch the S.League team play,” he told FourFourTwo.
“I tried going for a few games and it gradually became a habit. From there, the passion simply grew bigger and bigger for me.”
While Huai Min failed to make the cut for the Balestier senior team, he became their 12th player off the field by going to almost every game to support them from the stands.
He also created a Facebook fan page titled ‘Tiger’s Troopers’, where he constantly updates bits of information in regards to the club.
We could have won the title if we did not draw so many games
Over the years, Balestier have risen from a club that usually finishes near the bottom to one that belongs to the upper echelons of the league – something that has thrilled Huai Min.
In 2015, the Tigers launched a surprise title charge and only faltered towards the business end of the season.
“The team did so well and could even have won the title if we did not draw so many games,” he reflected. “We lost key players from 2014 and everyone wrote us off, but still made it into a third straight cup final.
“Results aside, it’s a season full of memories. We (the fans) started the season going to Hong Kong for our first-ever AFC Cup campaign, travelled to Larkin and Malacca, then finished the season in Brunei with the team.”
Huai Min was keen to attribute the Tigers’ rapid rise to coach Kraljevic, who was nominated for the S.League Coach of the Year in the last two years – winning the gong in 2014.
“Marko is just amazing,” he quipped. “He does magic and has proven to everyone that he can work things out with limited resources.
“He focuses on teamwork and blooding youngsters like like Ho (Wai Loon), Hazzuwan (Halim), Ahmad (Syahir) & Nurullah (Hussein). That’s development for you.”
With the club losing a number of key players once again in the off-season, Huai Min is hoping that Kraljevic continue his Midas touch.
“We lost two foreigners in Igor (Cerina) and Tarik (Cmajcanin) and also local players like Poh (Yi Feng), Ridwan (Jamil), Jonathan (Xu) and ‘Iggy’ (Ignatius Ang),” he said. “That’s six solid players gone, thus there are big shoes for the new players to fit in.
“Of the new players, only Jamil Ali has caught my eye so far. Hopefully coach Marko can work his magic again and I think it’s realistic to aim for a top-three finish in the league and also qualify for the AFC Cup once again.”
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