It was a bittersweet 2019 for Emmeric Ong, who refuses to give up his footballing career just yet.
For most people, getting married and having a child in the same year would be one of life’s biggest highlights.
Yet for footballer Emmeric Ong, it was overshadowed by unpaid salaries and an ill-timed knee injury that left him in a limbo to start 2020.
“You know how at the end of the year, everyone was doing the ‘looking back at 2019’ Facebook posts to sum up their year? For me, I could say it was the best year of my life so far, and the worst year, too,” said the 29-year-old, who has played for the Singapore national team twice.
Emmeric, like Fashah Iskandar, was part of the Warriors team that did not receive months of salary. The club struggled with financial troubles off the pitch, and was eventually asked to sit out of the Singapore Premier League by the Football Association of Singapore. Till date, the defender, is still owed four months of salary.
As expenses for wedding and the birth of his daughter piled up towards the end of last year, Emmeric said it turned into a stressful period as he was the sole breadwinner for the family.
“My wife had plenty of concerns over the salaries that I was owed and was worried about how we were going to pay for stuff that we need, especially for our newborn. The questions and conversations we had were always about finances,” said Emmeric.
His wife, Fiona Ong, added: “To be honest, as I was going through pregnancy, I was very emotional and very worried about our finances. I was constantly telling myself that everything will fall into place eventually and we will work together to tide through this difficult period.”
Thankfully, the couple had savings to fall back on. It helped that Emmeric has been prudent with his finances throughout his career – he told Youth.SG that he has never felt the need to splurge on fancy clothes or the latest pair of football boots.
He also found ways to make extra earnings – from coaching sessions he did with ActiveSG during weekends, and via his other career as a property agent.
Interestingly, Emmeric said that the idea of becoming a property agent was something that came to his mind only at the start of last year, before Warriors ran into financial difficulties.He is part of the OrangeTee agency, and since becoming a full-fledged agent in August, he has closed three “small” deals in seven months, each earning him a mid-four-figure sum.
But building up his second career hasn’t been easy because he hasn’t had the time to fully focus on it. Apart from the birth of his daughter and wedding preparations, he also suffered a horrific injury in October. Emmeric tore his anterior cruciate ligament – the second time he has suffered the injury in his career.
It prevented him from walking for three weeks, so it was impossible to do any work.
Little did he know then, that his plans for 2020 would be utterly shattered.
“I was actually speaking to a few clubs before I got injured. But when the injury happened, I knew my options of finding another club was over. I was quite sure that if I wasn’t injured, I would have been playing with either one of those clubs I had been speaking too,” Emmeric shared.
“My plan then was to focus on my rehabilitation, come back stronger, and play for Warriors for one more year. It never crossed my mind that Warriors – the club that I’ve spent more than five years with – will not even be in the league.”
Emmeric also admitted that plenty of people, including his friends and some club officials in Singapore, told him that he should give up on being a footballer and find a different job for the sake of his family and daughter.
“I couldn’t believe my career is almost over just like that. At the start of 2019, I was in the national team, but now I don’t have a club with a long term injury,” Emmeric, who boasts boyish looks, said.
“I’m not playing to earn $10,000 a month. Even if someone is going to give me a low pay, I will probably take it. Because I know I still have plenty to offer and I want to be there (in the national team) again.”
But Emmeric also knew he wouldn’t be able to survive on only his savings without an income. So he went out and started coaching Serangoon Secondary, his alma mater, as a freelance coach under the Star Soccer network.
Then, in February, the Football Association of Singapore threw him a lifeline, offering him a job as a marketing officer while he continues to get back to full fitness. While he’s now earning roughly half of what he used to make while playing for Warriors, he thought it was at least better than nothing. The FAS also allowed him to continue his coaching gigs.
“I know I’m in a bad situation, but I just feel that I have so much more to give and I don’t want to give up just yet. As an athlete, my mentality is that if I still can play, why not? I don’t want to resign myself to becoming just a social footballer,” Emmeric said of his mindset right now.
It also helps that his wife has been very supportive of him chasing his dreams.
“I believe in working in an industry that I’m passionate about, so I see the similarities that Emm has in football,” Fiona, a former air stewardess, said.
“I’m very proud of him. I would like to tell him to remember all the goals and targets that he has set for himself as I know that he has very high expectations of himself in his football career.”
Even then, Emmeric knows that the cut-throat nature of the industry means that things might not work out. But as a sign of his dedication, he has even offered to train with one club for free when he returns to fitness in a bid to prove his worth.
Aide Iskandar, the coach that gave Emmeric his senior debut for Hougang United back in 2011, told Youth.SG that he has complete faith in the defender.
“The boy (Emmeric) has gone on to become a reliable defensive player who always works hard. He is going through a tough period but I want to encourage him to continue his recovery and be ready,” said Aide. “Such adversities and injuries normally make or break a player, but I strongly believe that he is one of those who can come back even stronger. He definitely has many years of football left in him.”
And if anyone can do it, it is Emmeric. Afterall, in 2014, he had a quiet campaign with the LionsXII, where he played only 30 minutes throughout the season. Undeterred, he worked harder in the ensuing years and eventually became a Singapore international in 2017. He has also shown he has the determination in achieving his targets – as seen in how he passed the exams to become a property agent in a single try.
It’s all about proving himself again. And this time around, it’s no different for him.
“I’m up for the challenge. I’ll be back,” he said.
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