Hanafi Akbar – A young Singaporean fighting back from his drug and prison hell
The first thing Hanafi Akbar remembers are the loud knocks on the door. Though in his befuddled haze, he wondered if he’d dreamt it. Then suddenly, it all happened in a flurry.
A group of plain-clothed police officers from the Central Narcotics Bureau raided the room at Singapore’s Golden Dragon Hotel back in 2015.
Within minutes, a 19-year-old Hanafi and two of his friends were arrested for drug offences.
You can only run away for so long. Sooner rather than later, we all have to face up to our wrong decisions in life
So what happened? Let’s first go back to a memory from seven years ago, when a gangly youngster with confidence that belied his physique was delightfully jinking his way past much bigger Montenegro players with ease.
If dribbling was an art, a 15-year-old Hanafi was illustrating his pedigree on the Jalan Besar Stadium canvas.
By the end of this night in 2010, his two-goal performance helped the Singapore under-15s to a bronze medal in the inaugural Youth Olympic Games (YOG).
A star was born and Singapore suddenly heralded the hopeful birth of its next local football standout.
Now, fast forward to that night at the Golden Dragon Hotel. Sadly, that would prove only a minor incident compared to what followed.
Eventually released on that occasion after an investigation, Hanafi didn’t heed the warning.
A few short months later, he was caught for drug offences again and this time a drug test revealed Hanafi had been consuming methamphetamine, a drug commonly known as ice.
This time there was no escape. He was sentenced to one year in Changi Prison.
“The moment the officer told me I was positive, I knew that was it,” recalled Hanafi, shaking his head while munching on his lunch at Fika Cafe in Arab Street, not too far from the scene of his first arrest.
“You can only run away for so long. Sooner rather than later, we all have to face up to our wrong decisions in life.”
The wrong decisions, he says, were influenced by his disenchantment with football, caused largely by false promises. That and choosing to keep some amoral company.
Hanafi lamented: “Too many empty promises, there were just too many of them.
“After the Lion City Cup (in 2011), some staff from the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) approached me.
“They told me that they had spoken to officials from Juventus and Tottenham Hotspur and that I should be expecting to leave in a few months to go on trials with either one of those clubs.
“For a young player like me who watched European football week in and out, that was an unbelievable thing to hear and for the next few months I gave my all in training because I wanted to build up to a good stint abroad.
“I waited and waited but in the end when I went back to FAS to ask for an update, they told me the move had broken down.
“Look, I am not blaming anyone because these things happen and I’m sure they did try their best on my behalf, but imagine how I felt after getting my hopes up so high.”