Lost Boys: Basil Teo, the one who sacrificed football to take flight
An email in August 2015 gave Basil Gerard Teo the dilemma of his life.
The good news was that he was eligible to take up a scholarship at the Australian Defence Force Academy (ADFA). And the bad news? No more football.
It was really tough because I could not pursue the two things which I really like to do
The former Singapore Under-22 midfielder had to choose between the two biggest interests of his life – flying and football – and there were no two ways around it.
“I had two interests since I was young – one was the ball and the other was the plane,” Teo told FourFourTwo. “It was really tough because I could not pursue the two things which I really like to do.
“It took me six months to decide on what I really wanted. Even after I went through three rounds of interviews, I was still mulling over it.
“Things have gone well for me in football before I enlisted into NS (National Service) so I really wanted to continue.
“In the end, I thought the lifespan of a football player is short, as compared to a profession that could take me longer through the years."
Beginning his journey in ADFA the following January, Teo will complete his degree in Business in 2018 and cap it off with an honours degree in 2019.
There was once when I didn’t tell him I was playing, but he got to know it because the game was live on TV
"Another factor was that my dad was never really a big fan of me playing football," Teo said.
"There was once when I didn’t tell him I was playing, but he got to know it because the game was live on TV. We had a lot of arguments about me wanting to pursue football as a career and that took a toll on me.”
Teo had always harboured aspirations of making it big as a footballer and did not allow rejection from the Singapore Sports School at the age of 12 to get in his way.
The self-confessed late bloomer worked doubly hard to earn the captaincy at St Patrick’s School, with his breakthrough finally coming in Secondary Five.
The then 17-year-old led the lesser-heralded institution to the 2010 B Division final, where they forced hot favourites Sports School to a 3-3 draw after extra time before cruelly losing 6-5 on penalties.
While his team fell at the final hurdle, Teo's ability to pick out defence-splitting passes and take good long shots caught the eye as he was invited to trial with the National Football Academy (NFA) Under-17 in the same year.
The youngster was successful and was selected for the NFA U18s squad – which was led by current Global-Cebu coach Akbar Nawas – to play in the Prime League in 2011.
Coming in as a Chinese player also made it trickier. But several players like Danial Razali and Naufal (Nur Hakim) accepted me
While he struggled with the team dynamics initially, Teo shouldered on as things began to improve after a first overseas training tour with the squad to Sydney that June.
He would subsequently start for the nation in all four games of the AFF Under-19 Championship in Myanmar and three out of five games of the AFC Under-19 Championship qualifiers in Malaysia in the final quarter of the year.
“It was quite a daunting experience to go into the NFA,” he recalled. “The players – like Iqbal (Hussain), Anu (M. Anumanthan) and Sufianto (Salleh) – are much more experienced than me and have been together since their Sports School days. There’s like their own friendship groups.
“Coming in as a Chinese player also made it trickier. But several players like Danial Razali and Naufal (Nur Hakim) accepted me and started talking to me. That made me calmer, I got my bearings and started to feel part of the family.”