Singapore's Lost Boys: Randy Pay, the power forward who shrunk from view

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Slowly settling into life at LionsXII, Pay was looking forward to breaking into the first team the following season, but was hit by Sundram’s decision to resign and accept an offer from Malaysia Premier League side Negeri Sembilan.

Sundram’s replacement Fandi Ahmad did not retain Pay’s services, leaving him to lament another case of unfortunate timing.

“Initially I thought next year will be my year after six months of adaptation,” reflected Pay. “But it seems like there’s always an issue whenever an opportunity comes in my way – first it was Warriors PL, then Nike the Chance and lastly this transition of coaches at LionsXII.”

Making the toughest of calls

Pay was then handed a lifeline by former employers Balestier under Kraljevic for the 2014 season and did make the bench on a few occasions, but never managed to come on in a competitive game.

Juggling both school and football commitments would soon take a toll on the youngster as he made the decision to quit the sport mid-season and end his childhood dream of making it big as a professional footballer.  

He did not entirely hang up his boots, however, representing NUS in inter-varsity competitions and captaining the Singapore combined university team at the 2014 and 2016 ASEAN University Games (AUG), and is now into his third season with Tiong Bahru FC in the National Football League (NFL).

While there are mixed feelings on calling it quits, Pay insists there are no regrets on making the decision.

“I had a chance to continue playing professionally, but I decided to focus on my studies after weighing my options,” he explained.

“It’s definitely a pity. As a young boy who started kicking his first ball on the void, I’ve always wanted to represent Singapore one day. But I’m still glad that I managed to play up till a decent level.”

Despite the setbacks, Pay hasn't completely given up his dream

The uncertainty surrounding Singapore football is another factor that has convinced Pay to pursue a different career path.

“I’m sure you know the money in the S.League, most players are on yearly contracts and Tampines (Rovers) had announced a salary cut last year,” he said.

You can be very passionate in something, be it fencing, sailing, basketball or football, but if it doesn’t pay, then you’ve got to think twice

“In fact, many of my friends, especially those in uni, had asked me why I stopped.

“They often ask me about the life as a professional player and they think it’s cool being one. But when I go on to tell them the truth, the money and the income involved, they understand the bigger picture.

“I think there needs to be more emphasis and support for sportsmen in Singapore. Having been overseas on school attachment for a long period, I can see the sports culture there is bigger.

“Basically, it doesn’t pay to follow your passion here. You can be very passionate in something, be it fencing, sailing, basketball or football, but if it doesn’t pay, then you’ve got to think twice.

“It’s not like in England or other countries where you can afford to stop studies to pursue a sports career.

“Something needs to be done to boost this situation and convince the general population to take up sports.”

Now officially graduated from NUS and about to commence work at auditing firm Deloitte Singapore, Pay is looking forward to his new journey, but is not ruling out a possible return to professional football.

“My boss is very supportive about staff’s sporting aspirations and he did ask me a couple of times if I have plans to return to playing competitively,” he shared. “If an opportunity comes, why not? Of course, it depends on what’s on the table.

“But I’m not that actively looking for opportunities and I’ll take it as it comes. For now, the most important thing is to focus on my career and let everything else take its course.”