Esad Sejdic, Telling It Like It Is: From glorious goals to embarrassing crowds
History is made
I still remember that goal so clearly – the very first goal scored in the S.League, way back in 1996.
I was playing for Balestier and we were up against Police FC (now known as Home United) in the first match.
All the matches actually kicked off at the same time, so I was fortunate to score that early goal, which came after 17 or 18 minutes.
The ball came to me inside the box – from a man who is still my good friend, current Balestier coach Marko Kraljevic – then I flicked it and scored.
I had no idea at the time just how important that goal was. Then after the match there were so many journalists and television reporters that wanted to talk to me and I wondered why they were so interested.
Then I realised why as it was the first S.League goal, so it’s certainly something that made me very proud.
The following week I also scored the league’s first hat-trick in a 4-1 victory and I remember two of those goals very clearly – one was a header and the other a volley.
I still have many of those matches at my house on video and from time to time I’ll watch them again.
In the beginning
I played in the former Yugoslavia before I came to Asia. That was the time before the split and I played in the Yugoslavia league with Novi Pazar, a team that now plays in the Serbian league.
I then came firstly to Malaysia in 1992 and played two years with Perak and Negeri. Then in 1994/95 I played in Hong Kong with Marko at Hong Kong Rangers before I joined Balestier in 1996 for the first year of the S.League.
The Tigers’ chairman called myself and Marko about playing for them and that first season was great, with so many good foreign players from Europe, from Serbia and Croatia, and even Iranian national team players at Geylang – there were so many good foreigners.
There were only eight teams in the league, no foreign clubs like they have now, and everybody wanted to see the S.League after the split from Malaysia.
When I was playing we would get massive crowds at the National Stadium and other places, but now it’s embarrassing
That year we played so well, we finished third on the table and it was a good start; people still come to my bar and restaurants and want to talk about those days and those goals.
Now, I watch the S.League from time to time and I have some business interests with restaurants and other things, so sometimes I’ll bring players from my country to Singapore, but mostly I’ll watch on TV.
At the time when I was playing we would get massive crowds at the National Stadium and other places, but now it’s embarrassing, there are hardly any people watching the games.
I think part of the reason for that is they play these games on Saturday and Sunday and they come up against the English Premier League, which people in Singapore love to watch on TV.
Where have the stars gone?
There also aren’t as many good players in Singapore as before. Of course there are still some, but not the same number as in the beginning, so it’s different now.
You look at Malaysia and there’s a lot of space with pitches everywhere, but here in Singapore we have so many talented kids but the parents prefer them to study.
I suppose if you look at things, you can only get small money from playing football and if you get injured then there’s only so much you can do.
MORE PEOPLE TELLING IT
I just can't get enough
I still play now even after all these years – I play every week in local leagues, at least once or twice a week including five-a-side games and every week I must play, I must sweat, or otherwise I’ll go crazy!
All my life I’ve played, from the age of six years old when I started and so my body needs the game. If I don’t play for one week my body gets weak and I can’t eat and I can’t sleep, but when I play, after the match I can relax and be happy.
I started playing for my hometown team at 17 years old when I was still in school. Back then I scored a goal in front of 20,000 fans, they are some of my biggest memories in football.
But playing for Balestier and scoring that first goal and the first S.League hat-trick are also very strong memories of mine.