Lim Chan Yew, Telling It Like It Is: I trialled and could have signed with Bournemouth

Former Malaysia defender Lim Chan Yew had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to join English club Bournemouth for pre-season in July 2005. Nothing more was ever going to come out of it because of work permit issues, but the defender never knew about it until he got there...

I was so happy to see Bournemouth get promoted to the English Premier League in 2016. Seeing them on television now brought back plenty of memories.

Current manager Eddie Howe and assistant Jason Tindall were playing for Bournemouth back in 2005. Steve Fletcher and Luke Young’s brother, Neil Young, were there too.

And so was I.

It was still beneficial though, in terms of tempo. It was unbelievable how fast they are compared to Malaysian football, where you can have five seconds before passing the ball.

It all began in 2004. Towards the end of the year, several Malaysians were shortlisted for a training stint with English club Bournemouth.

One goalkeeper (Syamsuri Mustafa), a midfielder (Fadzli Saari) and a defender, me. We went during winter in January 2005 and were accompanied by a cameraman, a reporter from Harian Metro and Bastien Onn, one of the guys who arranged the trip.

It was a three-week training stint sponsored by political party UMNO, but the league was still running so we usually joined in during warm-ups and were left out when it came to match preparation and set-pieces. We would be standing outside and could only watch.

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Lim went on a training stint with two others

There were no friendly matches as well because it was not pre-season. Only two-sided training that was deemed a fun activity.

It was still beneficial though, in terms of tempo. It was unbelievable how fast they are compared to Malaysian football, where you can have five seconds before passing the ball.

That doesn't happen there. Even before the ball reaches you, there is someone on your back.

Months after the stint, Bastien received an email from Bournemouth saying they wanted me to come back for the 2005-06 campaign pre-season.

It was a totally different experience but that was about it during my first trip.

The second trip however, that I went all by myself, was where I really got a feel of Bournemouth’s standards.

Months after the stint, Bastien received an email from Bournemouth saying they wanted me to come back for the 2005-06 campaign pre-season.

I remember it was the month of June. Bastien then spoke to the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) general-secretary Tan Sri Ibrahim Saad.

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Lim actually played in pre-season games for Bournemouth

A budget of RM26,000 was quoted to FAM but it was cut down to RM18,000. The exchange rate was times seven at that time so it came to about £2,500.

Luckily it was enough in the end, largely because I got a discounted rate from the landlord and I cycled to the training ground, which was 30 minutes away, every day.

With the budget allocated, I set about on my journey and got to Bournemouth three days later than I was supposed to and had to miss the first match against Charlton Athletic.

This was because of the London bombing and my family, especially my mom, was afraid. The club initially laughed at my request to postpone the trip but it worked well in the end.

I asked him if he was going to send me to training and he said: “No, I have a bicycle. The tyre is flat so you have to take it to the shop in town first thing in the morning and then cycle to training.”

As compared to the first trip, this time I was all alone. There was no sending off by FAM and no accompanying media personnel. That’s probably why much of my second stint was not known.

Once I got to Heathrow, I bought a bus ticket for a two-hour journey to Bournemouth. I then took a taxi to where I was supposed to stay and met the club’s press officer Lance Riley. I did this while dragging my three bags along.

The hotel turned out to be fully booked so I stayed with Lance initially. I asked him if he was going to send me to training and he said: “No, I have a bicycle. The tyre is flat so you have to take it to the shop in town first thing in the morning and then cycle to training.”

After the first training session finished at noon, we had a friendly against Christchurch, a local club, that very evening.

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Now, Lim is a football pundit

The coach Sean O’Driscoll however, delivered me a blow, saying I couldn’t play in any pre-season matches because “your Football Association in Malaysia has not prepared a working permit and if the Football Association here finds out, the club would be fined.”

I didn't even know about the rule and until now, I think many are in the dark about this. I was sad and shocked, so I went to the internet cafe to chit chat with my family.

But while doing so, one of the club photographers came rushing in to say “Let's go, you are playing”.

Upon reaching the field, I realised both teams had already warmed-up but the coach didn’t want to start because they wanted me to be in the starting 11.

I thought he was joking but he insisted and there was a car outside waiting. I was told the coach wanted to take a gamble and see me play because I had come all the way from Malaysia. I don’t know if the FA ever found out about this!

Upon reaching the field, I realised both teams had already warmed-up but the coach didn’t want to start because they wanted me to be in the starting 11.

While changing into my kit, O’Driscoll gave me another surprise — I was to play in a left-wingback role. It was not my favourite foot, not my natural position and the tempo was totally different. but nonetheless, I got ready, warmed up myself and then we started.

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Lim in action against Brighton Hove & Albion

I managed 90 minutes and had four blisters in my feet because I used a new pair of Nike boots. Performance-wise, it was all good I guess, because the coach never said anything about my performance.

From there, I played five friendly matches – Christchurch, Yeovil, Southampton, Portsmouth and Brighton Hove & Albion.

I had to mark Theo Walcott against Southampton and I couldn't mark him at all.

It was a tough pre-season, very demanding and I suffered. I had to mark Theo Walcott against Southampton and I couldn't mark him at all. There was no way I could even keep up although he was only 16.

Walcott was too fast. I had no idea who he was at that time, but months later I saw the news on television that he had signed for Arsenal.

I also got to see Dennis Wise play when we played Southampton. I played at centre-back against Portsmouth and was tasked to mark Lomana Lualua. He was big and very strong.

Sadly, my trip ended after pre-season and it was only because I had no work permit. I knew the club wanted to sign me because I was asked how much I wanted a week. I quoted £800 but I didn’t hear anything about a contract again after that.

Lim thought he had a chance to sign for Bournemouth

I also met up with the assistant coach a day before I left. He said they wanted to sign me but couldn't because I didn't have a working permit and needed European Union (EU) status. He asked me to go to Sweden and play for a year but I didn't have an avenue to do so and things ended there.

I never spoke to FAM about it or requested for their help. I was quite angry with them actually because of salary issues with my club in Malaysia, Public Bank. They only wanted to pay half of what I was owed while I was away in England and FAM had agreed to pay the other half.

In the end, I got nothing from the national body.

Thus, the European dream came to an end. But I am  always grateful and feel lucky to have had the opportunity.

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Lim still plays whenever he can, turning out for Selangor Veterans

I got a real feel by playing with my teammates at Bournemouth against other big clubs. Even though Bournemouth were a small club, it was still bigger and more well-equipped than any club in Malaysia.

I learnt a lot of basic things … passing, long ball and ball control during the second stint. Even the teenagers there had good technique compared to Malaysia.

This was most obvious during training, when these youngsters could really kill you. This applied even in the gym, when 17 year olds were easily better than you.

English football was big in Malaysia and although there were a few others who have had training stints over the years, I feel honoured to have had the full experience despite it being a short one.