Zaiful Nizam: The S.League's Centurion Starter
He had to compete with Zakariah Nerani for a spot between the sticks and found himself as the club's second option at one point during that season after missing games due to injury.
But the then-25-year-old was determined to make his mark and his improved performance coincided with a rise in Balestier’s fortune. The Tigers won silverware for the first time in the club’s history with the League Cup that year, before clinching the prestigious Singapore Cup in 2014.
There was no doubt Zaiful played a pivotal role in these historic moments, with his efforts earning him a first-ever call-up to the Singapore national team in 2015. That year, Zaiful also skippered Balestier to another League Cup final appearance, which they lost 2-1 to Albirex Niigata (S).
If those were exceptional achievements to begin with, Zaiful outdid himself when Balestier faced Home United in last week's Singapore Cup quarter-final second leg.
Captaining the squad, Zaiful made his 100th start in a row for the Tigers and his commanding presence at the back ensured Balestier reached their fourth Cup semi-final in as many years as they overcame Home 4-3 on aggregate.
Totalling 135 appearances for Balestier overall, Zaiful expressed gratitude towards his coaches – especially those at Balestier – for showing faith in him and helping him reach this milestone.
“It’s amazing to clock 100 consecutive games, I feel grateful to get this achievement,” Zaiful told FourFourTwo.
“Before then, I made it to the S.League with Gombak United when I was just 18, and played regularly only in 2007, without achieving much.
“I’ve been waiting to win something and it eventually came when I joined Balestier.
“You can’t predict where you will move to and what is going to happen but you must work hard, give your very best, and then maybe you will see results.”
I give my best because this is what I do. This is my job
Reaching this milestone was not easy, Zaiful admitted, as there were times he had to play through the pain barrier.
There were the groin tears, a dislocated finger and most recently a swollen hip, but the goalkeeper never once shied away from his job.
“I give my best because this is what I do. This is my job and I need to be fair to the club,” Zaiful asserted.
“When the coaches ask if I am able to play, I make sure I am fit to give 100 per cent if I can.
“Even when I injured my hips against Albirex in May and it was swollen, we still went to Hong Kong and I did my best against Kitchee.”