S.League Old Boys: Fazli Jaffar, the well-travelled veteran with the sweet left boot
It happened 11 years ago – May 26, 2006 to be exact – but Fazli’s memories of that goal remain vivid.
Coming on as a 54th-minute substitute, the then 23-year-old scored with a wondrous 40-yarder within two minutes of his introduction to put Gombak United 3-1 up against Tampines Rovers in a televised game at Jalan Besar Stadium.
- Born: Mar 9, 1983
- Clubs: Gombak United (2006 to 2010), Home United (2008), Hougang United (2010 to 2014, 2015), Warriors FC (2015, 2016 till current)
- Honours: League Cup (2008)
The Stags would come back to draw 3-3 but it was nonetheless a dream S.League debut for the left-footer.
“I didn’t mean it!” Fazli readily admitted to FourFourTwo. “I was never known for any long shots in my career, it was all about my crosses.
“I just wanted to put a dangerous cross into the box but it somehow ended up in the top corner past Rezal Hassan.
“That was one hell of a game – to play against the likes of Rezal, Zulkarnaen Zainal, Nazri Nasir, Rafi Ali and Mirko Gravobac – and a truly memorable debut.”
He went on to play over 20 games in his debut year – not too bad for someone who was not supposed to start his professional career with the Bulls.
“I was in Home United’s Prime League team in 2005 and the then S.League coach Steve Darby offered me a full-time contract for the following season,” he shared. “But looking at that squad with players like Sutee (Suksomkit), Indra (Sahdan) and Egmar (Goncalves), my chances of playing were as good as zero.
“But out of nowhere, Steve called Firdaus Salleh back; he was supposed to go to Gombak, but he ended up staying at Home. Firdaus was very close to (Gombak chairman) John Yap and he introduced me to him.
“I never ever planned for Gombak and even (then-coach) Salim (Moin) didn’t know me, he thought I was Jalal! But I signed my first pro contract there and it turned out to be a blessing in disguise.”
Turning down Warriors to stay at Gombak
As a young and upcoming talent in the S.League, Fazli naturally attracted interest from other clubs. SAFFC (now Warriors FC) came calling in 2007, but he surprisingly turned down the offer.
I didn’t think so much about the money because I was still young then, no commitments because not married yet; my life was all about football
“Mr Richard Bok (then Warriors coach) came in with an offer of a two-year contract and a salary which was three times of what I earned at Gombak; I was on $1,400 per month,” he said.
“But I didn’t take it up because I thought I was not ready to move to such a big club at that time.
“I didn’t think so much about the money because I was still young then, no commitments because not married yet; my life was all about football.
Also, I had a good relationship with the chairman, coaches and players, so I ended up staying for another season.”
A short return Home
Another good season with Gombak – who finished fourth in the league – caught the eye of his former employers and Fazli returned to Home United for the 2008 season.
However, it was not a sweet reunion and he was back with the Bulls by late April that year.
“I sat down with the coach PN Sivaji and he told directly about my chances of playing – I was going to be the back-up to Shahril (Ishak) on the left flank.
“But Shahril’s so committed with the national team, so I may have a chance to come on.
“Pre-season went well, but things just got worse. There were two Thai players brought in by (assistant coach) J Surachai; the one signed for the S.League (Kornprom Jaroonpong) did not perform up to expectations so it was the one who signed for the Prime League (Naruphol Ar-Romsawa) who ended up playing more and he’s a left winger.
“There’s no way I can say I’m better than him and he beats me all hands down. There’s also Farhan Farook, so I simply went down the pecking order and my playing chances got slimmer.
“By March, I barely sat on the bench or played in the AFC Cup. I spoke to the management and asked if it’s alright for me to go back to where I was from.
“I told them I wasn’t ready to sit on the bench at the age of 25 and I don’t want my career to be wasted like that.