Used to overcoming challenges, Ignatius Ang roars on to make football comeback with Balestier Khalsa
The former Singapore youth international has returned to the Tigers, yearning to make up for lost time.
On the first working day of 2021, reality struck for Ignatius Ang.
Waking up to a barrage of Instagram posts about pre-season training by his footballer friends, the 29-year-old felt left out, understandably so.
Unable to secure a contract for the 2021 Singapore Premier League (SPL) season, Ignatius – more commonly known as Iggy – was no longer a professional footballer. It was hard to take, considering that most of Iggy’s life has revolved around the beautiful game.
“I’ve been playing football my whole life. I’ve been involved in professional football since 18 years old (he made his professional debut in 2010 with Young Lions), I was a student-athlete, and even during army I played for SAFSA (Singapore Armed Forces Sports Association),” says Iggy.
“Every year, there is something to look forward to and new goals to achieve, but this time I woke up feeling empty. It was difficult for me because I felt I still got three to four good years in me to contribute in the game.”
A grade two medial collateral ligament injury on his left knee – suffered due to an unfortunate collision while playing for Tanjong Pagar United against Young Lions in October 2020 – was the reason on his lack of offers from clubs. Iggy missed the rest of the 2020 season and was not retained by the Jaguars for the following campaign.
By the time he was ready to put on his boots again four months later, most of the clubs had a full roster and were not willing to take a gamble on signing him. The situation was made the worse as he could not sign for clubs in the amateur National Football League, as the competition was halted due to COVID-19 regulations.
He continued working on his fitness, but the mid-season transfer window – where clubs are allowed to register new players again – came and went with Iggy left out once more. Friends and relatives starting advising him that perhaps it was time to walk away and chase other ambitions, but Iggy still harboured hopes of playing.
“I didn’t want to walk away from the game that easily knowing that I can still play. I don’t want a situation where one day when I really cannot run anymore, I might look back and tell myself ‘I should have made that comeback’. I want to eventually look back on my career and say I did whatever I could,” he explains.
With an Asian Football Confederation (AFC) ‘C’ Coaching License, Iggy kept himself busy throughout 2021 year by going into coaching. He took on gigs with primary schools, the ActiveSG academy and the amateur Singapore Football Club, one he describes as an “all-rounded decision” that allowed him to stay in the football scene while keeping himself in shape.
He also did regular strength and cardio training on his own.
“I wanted to be ready when the call comes, instead of getting ready only when the call comes,” Iggy shares of his mindset.
That mindset paid off eventually. Instead of streaming SPL games on his phone like he did in 2021 pondering what could be, Iggy will be on the pitch, or at the very least on the substitutes’ bench, when the 2022 season starts this weekend.
He was signed by Balestier Khalsa in the offseason, after impressing head coach Akbar Nawas in a trial. It’s a return to the club where his football career was born. He was part of the Balestier Under-15 team in 2007 and was also a ball boy for the club when he was younger.
It was also at the Tigers where Iggy was nominated for the Young Player of the Year award in 2015. Then playing under Marko Kraljevic – the same coach who talent-spotted him while he was a teenager – Iggy sparkled on the pitch and helped the team finish as runners-up in the League Cup Final.
“To come back to this club as a senior player 15 years after coach Marko spotted me as a young boy is something really special,” shares Iggy.
“There’s a lot of new ideas and strategies at the club. (Deputy chairman) Darwin (Jalil) is doing a lot of things on and off the field… There are changes in the dressing room, a lot of new technology brought in and classroom sessions. Coach Akbar wants to impart a new style of football to us and we’re all excited to be part of this new vision.
“As one of the senior players here, I need to try and raise my game and help the rest even though I’m been out of the game for a year.”
Iggy turns 30 in November, but he reckons he has “three or four good years” of football left in him. He wants to fulfill an unrealised dream before eventually settling down on the coaching and education path. Working with kids, imparting his football knowledge and values to them, is something he’s always been interested in. If he hadn’t made it into football, he reckons he might have become a Physical Education teacher, Iggy admits.
That might be something he might pursue once his career as a professional player comes to an end, but for now, Iggy has got targets in his sight.
Like all players, he wants to fight for a chance to get into the Singapore National Team.
“I always get this question (about playing for the Singapore national team). My football friends, coaching friends and mates outside football all have a lot of high hopes on me… I feel like I’m always swimming to the top of the water, but for some reason I just cannot stick my head up (to represent the Lions),” explains the forward, who has played for the nation at the youth level.
“My main target in 2022 is to stay injury-free and play as many games as possible. If these two things happen, I should be able to play well and chances are that a call-up might come as a result of that. I’m not thinking too much about that, but that’s something I’m quietly looking at.”
“I’m in the same WhatsApp group as (Ho) Wai Loon, Poh (Yi Feng) and Emm (Emmeric Ong)… I’m the admin of the group, but I’m the only one with no national caps. Hopefully I can get at least one so that I can sit alongside them,” he quips.
More importantly, Iggy wants to make his loved ones, particularly his grandmother who turned 82 on Feb 25, proud. Iggy has been the one who brings her for her check-ups in hospital – he volunteered to do so because he has ample spare time outside of training sessions – and the time spent with her has brought them closer.
While her grandmother does not watch football all at, she has taken an interest in Iggy’s career.
“She knows what time I wake up, what time I leave house and whether I bring back my sweat-stained clothes,” says Iggy, who shares that he’s grateful for the love her grandmother shows him.
“Last year, it was a bit sad because she will ask me: ‘Where are your football clothes? Why are you not going for training? Are you not playing football anymore?’. I was a bit frustrated, to be honest, because I didn’t know how to explain the situation to her.”
It’s also why, despite earning more from his coaching gigs, Iggy rejected offers to continue coaching and return as a player.
Working hard to overcome his challenges is something that Iggy has done all his career after all. From overcoming the odds to make it into the National Football Academy and eventually the Young Lions, battling a lack of chances afforded during his time at LionsXII, and Warriors FC’s pull-out from the SPL at the start of 2020, Iggy has never admitted defeat.
That fighting spirit will surely come in handy this season, as he fights to establish himself in the professional game once again.