The World Cup might be over for another four years, but for young, up-and-coming players, the dream of making it to the biggest football stage on the planet never ceases. Fifteen-year-old British expat Tyler Byrne tells his story.
Through the loudspeaker came the shout, “Sierra Leone!” They emerged out of the tunnel and into the light – some dressed in green, others in blue, following their leader carrying their national flag.
We were next. As we were called on, we ran out, cheering and screaming, following our captain carrying the Singaporean national flag.
There was me, a British kid, representing Singapore. As we exited the tunnel, we started our lap around the manicured pitch, covered in an emerald blanket of grass. In the stadium seats I saw thousands of people watching. There were cameras everywhere. Every now and then we would appear on the big screen. It is a moment I will never forget.
This was the opening ceremony of the Gothia Cup, better known as the Youth World Cup. I had travelled from Singapore to Sweden with my team, ISA, and was about to start something that would stay with me forever.
Moving to Singapore from England at the age of 12 was a big change for me, but it was an even bigger change for my football. In England, I played for a small local team, and the furthest I ever had to travel was from Wandsworth to Peckham in the family car.
In Singapore, I play for such a large squad I have to be on top of my training to stay in the team, and I need my passport for more than just proving my age. I have played in tournaments across Southeast Asia, from Vietnam to Bangkok and from Malaysia to Indonesia. And instead of competing against the lads from the next London borough, I am now playing with and against people from all over the world. I’ve learnt how to shout “foul” in many different languages!
Another challenging change was the weather. I went from playing on frozen pitches where my fingers felt like blocks of ice to pitches where it felt as if my feet were being barbecued. Over time, I have acclimatised to playing in such hot and humid conditions and I have upgraded the size of my water bottle.
In England we were coached by my teammate’s father; here I learn my skills from highly qualified coaches, some of whom have represented their countries in the World Cup. My coaches come from places such as Cameroon, Malaysia and Egypt. From training once a week, I am now training at least three times, which has been great for my fitness. The competition is much harder too; there are many football clubs in Singapore and they all fight for the top place in the JSSL Arsenal league.
But the tournament that topped all the rest was my week in Sweden, where 250 teams from all continents play for victory. The first year I went, my ISA team came second in the plate, losing 2-1 to a Swedish side in the final. To date, we are the only team that has brought a Gothia Cup medal back to the country we were proud to represent: Singapore.