He has faced not one, but two career threatening injuries in what were 21 dark months of physical pain and emotional anguish, but Ismail Yunos has come back from the dead.
Playing now with Gombak United, he steps out onto the pitch each time with a determination forged through the fight to keep his football career alive, and a greater appreciation of the game and the people around him.
This is his story.
It has been a long while since I started playing football, and after a serious bout of injuries, I am just thankful that I am able to be playing the game that I love so much as a kid.
This love affair began 13 years ago. Not many people would have known that I started my career at Tampines Rovers and during that time, I was with the Tampines Rovers Under-12 team. Mr Robert Lim had wanted me to represent the green of Geylang United but it was impossible during those days as Centre of Excellence teams were segregated by the zones in which the schools were in. With a slice of fortune, I was able to play in the National Football Academy Under-12 team, alongside Shaiful Esah, Hamqaamal Shah, Isa Halim and Zulkifli Hassim.
I progressed through the ranks of the NFA and the only two years that I did not represent them was when I was 14 and 17 years old, because there wasn’t any NFA Under-14 and Under-17 during those days.
I started out as a centre back when I started playing football, but things changed when I was deployed as either a midfielder or a striker between ages of 14 and 17. It was only when I was 18, playing with the NFA Under-18, when Mike Wong converted me back into a centre back, and from there, there was no turning back.
From the NFA Under-18 squad, Kim Poulsen and “Abang” (Fandi Ahmad) gave me a shock when they called me up for the Singapore Under-21 team. That was also the first time that a Singapore Under-21 team was formed. Obviously, I was delighted to get the call but there were even bigger things which I didn’t expect to come my way.
Abang also called me for the Singapore“B” squad that included the likes of Shahril Alias, Khairul Amri and Goh Tat Chuan. I remembered playing in a Quadrangular tournament that also involved Solomon Island.
After that tournament, it was the moment of my life, when I received an SMS telling me to join the National “A” Team that was preparing for the AFF Suzuki Cup at that point in time. I don’t really know what was happening at that time. As a youth player at 18, all that I wanted at that time was to secure a contract as soon as possible because we would all graduate from the NFA Under-18 team and everyone was anxious about securing place in any teams playing in the Prime League (Under-23 League).
As a youth player, I wasn’t aware how big and serious that was until I attended the first training session. At the National team set up, it didn’t really matter whether you are 18 or not. The senior players in the team expect you to play at the same level. I am thankful and fortunate to have played with the likes of Aide Iskandar andS Subramani. They were role models and I always told myself that I have to do double of what the two legends did in trainings in order to be make up for what they have that I don’t.
One other player who has left a huge impression on me is my former room mate Noh Alam Shah. “Along” taught me the hard way of playing football and I am really glad to be able to play in the same team with one of the footballers whom I respect most in my career. I was fortunate to be able to have this man’s guidance through my youth.
Even in Europe as what I’ve read from the internet and magazines, every single youth player will have to go through the process of cleaning your seniors’ equipment, including washing their dirty laundry after training and games, that applied to me for a while as well. Throughout that two years, I had to do Along’s laundry, and clean his boots, but it was all part of a learning process.
I was shock when he finally sat me down after a while during that period of time, and shared with me that it wasn’t bullying, but teaching me and nurturing me as a youth player. From that day, we became the best of friends and confided with each other with individual problems.
It was two years of hell with the man whom everyone deems as a trouble maker but I thought it was worth it. I have to say, he is not a trouble maker as perceived by many out there. One thing about his character is, he doesn’t care who you are, and he will do what is required of him, when he is on the pitch.
“Along” is a good person. He taught me a lot of things. He is a caring friend and one with a golden heart. Not many will believe me but he is not what most people perceive him to be.
I have learnt to respect my opponents without any fear no matter how old they are, and who they are. All the credit has to go to “Along”, because his teachings over the two years which I spent with him are indeed valuable.
I spent four years with Young Lions back then before moving on to join Home United in 2009 as the management team identified me to replace one of the legends, S Subramani. At Home United, it was when all my nightmare started.
During the third game with the Protectors, I injure my right knee and the diagnosis showed that I was suffering from Cartilage damage. I spent six months looking just for a hospital to try and rescue my career but none of those which I had gone to can assure me that I could make a comeback.
Fortunately,Singapore football legend Fandi Ahmad came across my situation, and recommended me to a doctor named Dr Mitra. He kindly gave me a slot, for a major surgery. During that period, Dr Mitra explained the full extent of the injury and the surgery process. He was also the first doctor to do a micro-fracture surgery in Singapore which dated back to 30 years ago.
During those six months, I was devastated. I thought about my career and many thoughts started flowing through my head. Thankfully, all that ended within seven months from the operation. I took the beep test, cleared it and was scheduled to make my return in 2010 against Albirex Niigata (S) in a live fixture for Home United. I played my first game for Home United against Albirex in the second round of the S-League in a live televised fixture as scheduled and it was also against the same team in the third round that I suffered a second serious injury after only surviving the first one for a period of no more than four months.
That was when my career took a second blow. This time round, it was my left knee which busted. All the ligaments that held my knee were gone. I couldn’t believe my luck, but that was what it was at that time.
I want to thank a friend who I can’t name for helping out during the time where I underwent the second operation. At that time, I couldn’t afford the cost of the surgery, but when I asked him for help, he did not hesitated one bit to bring the money to the hospital, and paid my bills for me. If not for him, I would not be able to undergo the surgery. I’m really thankful for the support that some of my friends have for me.
I was at a loss on what will be my next destination. Singapore head Coach Radojko Avramovic called me up, enquiring on my wages, the expected date of comeback and when will my contract with Home United ends. After gathering all the information, he instructed me to call Gombak United’s chairman Mr John Yap.
Mr Yap signed me up after Home United released me when my contract expired at the end of 2010. Till today, I am really grateful to Mr Yap because after going through two serious injuries successfully, it requires a brave man to sign me for the new season. It’s like taking a gamble, with so much risks involved.
I went through year 2011 without any relapse of the injuries, and even got myself back into the National team during some of the games in the World Cup Qualifying campaign. It was really a blessing from god.
During the announcement of Singapore’s return to Malaysian football competitions, my name was mentioned and there were calls from LionsXII asking me to join them in the 2012 season. At first thought, I will be joining up with my close friends, meeting them and having fun in trainings including all the traveling to Malaysia for games. These are things which will motivate a player even further. However, I had strong objections to the cause, and my second thought was that I cannot give up Gombak United and Mr Yap’s kindness just like this. They were the ones who offered me an opportunity in my return to the game. I have to repay the faith that the club and Mr Yap himself placed in me.
Despite the LionsXII offering more than what I am currently getting at Gombak United, I have to say I have no regrets, and am very happy to stay here with all my fellow mates.
I wasn’t selected for the recent squad for the Singapore National team but that is not going to bring any negative effect on me. I will still work hard and do my best to win back my place in the team. Every player wants to play for the country. However, I feel that only best deserve to be there and I probably did not perform up to expectation in 2012 to make the latest squad. If Ahmad Latiff who has been such a wonderful player over the last decade, constantly failing to make it into the National team since 2006, I cannot complain much for not making it into the squad this year. All I can do is to work harder and try to win a place in the team again.
For me, it is simple; I will just continue giving my best and contribute as much as I can to Gombak United for now.
Nobody likes losing, and that includes us. The poor form in the league does not suggest what we are as a team. But the lack of goals is a worry indeed. We need a lot of luck up front in the final third, for the goals to come.
I believe we have a stronger side as compared to the one in 2011. There are plenty of up and coming young players as well. With the help and the guidance from the seniors, we should be able to do better in the second half of the season. I hope that these younger players will always work hard, don’t give up, respect their fellow peers in the industry and grab every opportunity that comes along with both hands.
The team spirit is very high here in Jurong West, and we will try our best to finish as high up the table as possible.
I hope that these younger players will always work hard, not give up, respect their peers in the industry and grab every opportunity that comes along with both hands. Despite the injuries that I’ve had, the physical pain and mental torture that I’ve been through, I have been blessed with people who have given me opportunities.
I know just how important it is to be grateful for the chance, and I aim to continue practicing what I would preach to younger players.
*Catch Ismail Yunos in action as the Gombak Bulls return to action in the Great Eastern Yeo’s S-League on Friday, 22 June when they take on 2011 RHB Singapore Cup Champions Home United at the Jurong West Stadium. Kick off is at 745pm.