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

Once selected to represent Singapore in a worldwide talent development programme, Randy Pay Zhen Hao harboured dreams of making it big as a professional footballer. Currently playing in the National Football League (NFL) with Tiong Bahru FC, the 26-year-old sat down with FFT to discuss what went wrong… 

A tall and powerful forward with a keen eye for goal, Pay rose to prominence in June 2012 after finishing among the top five Singapore players – alongside Al Nazirul Islam, Sim Li Ming, Afiq Mat Noor and Faris Ramli – in Nike's worldwide talent development programme The Chance.

Just when it looked like Pay could make his first competitive appearance, National Service came calling

Selected by the programme’s coaches V. Sundramoorthy and Aide Iskandar, the quintet qualified for the regional finals in Jakarta, Indonesia, where they would spend three days training under Southeast Asia’s top youth coaches and undergo fitness training sessions through ‘Nike SPARQ’, a conditioning system that helps to build better athletes.

Regrettably though, Pay had to withdraw from the competition due to personal reasons and was replaced by Nurhazwan Norasikin.

“It was a pity for me,” Pay recalled to FourFourTwo. “It was a great experience to be involved and selected for the top five, but I had to pull out.

“I spoke to coach Sundram and he understood the situation. He simply told me to continue working hard, keep my fitness and he will sign me after I finish my National Service (NS).”

As Pay would share, this was not the only time he missed the boat.

In the beginning

Pay started his career with Balestier Khalsa’s Prime League (PL) team in 2007 after being fast-tracked from the under-16s under coach Marko Kraljevic.

A lack of playing time convinced him to jump ship to Warriors FC’s PL outfit in 2009 and that was where he started to flourish under coach V Selvaraj, scoring a truckload of goals at that level.

Pay alongside his fellow 'Nike the Chance' colleagues

His impressive performances in the PL convinced then-Warriors head coach Richard Bok to call him up to join their S.League side’s training sessions and he even sat on the bench for a couple of league games the following season.

Just when it looked like Pay could make his first competitive appearance soon, NS came calling in the second half of the 2010 season thus he had to trade his football boots for combat boots.

The LionsXII come calling

Going through the rite of passage for every Singaporean male meant Pay could only keep his sharpness by playing for Singapore Armed Forces Sports Association (SAFSA) for a good two years, missing out on the 'Nike the Chance' regional finals.

It was even more surprising that a reporter called me up to inform me, instead of getting the news directly from Sundram

Not expecting much after his ORD (operationally-ready date) from army, he got a pleasant surprise when Sundram stuck to his promise from a year earlier by snapping him up for the LionsXII, Singapore’s representative in Malaysian competitions.

While he eventually failed to make a single competitive appearance, Pay relished being part of a squad that won the 2013 Malaysia Super League title and training alongside quality teammates.

His involvement with the LionsXII also helped him to earn a NUS Sports Scholarship.

“I was surprised because there was no news (from Sundram) for about eight months to a year,” he recalled. “I was just planning to start my undergraduate studies at NUS (National University of Singapore) when the call came.

“It was even more surprising that a reporter called me up to inform me, instead of getting the news directly from Sundram or the team.

The victorious 2013 LionsXII squad

“Of course it was a bit disappointing not to get a chance to play, but there were no regrets joining the team.

“It was a step up from any level that I played in previously and I learned a lot just by training with players like Khairul Nizam, Shahfiq Ghani, Izzdin Shafiq and Safuwan Baharudin.

“It also gave me a platform to represent Singapore and helped me to attain a scholarship, which I’m truly grateful for.”

[NEXT: The young Singaporean is left with an agonising decision]