SINGAPORE – Whenever Hassan Sunny trains at the Geylang Training Centre, he would pass by pictures of Singapore football centurions in the dressing room, including one of 105-cap David Lee, the only goalkeeper in the group.

He would say to himself: “One day I will be up on that wall too, and be an inspiration to future generations of national players and goalkeepers.”

Hassan’s wish is set to be realised during Saturday’s international friendly against India in Vietnam, when he will become only the second local custodian and 15th Lion to reach 100 caps (see below).

The 38-year-old told The Straits Times: “It was something unimaginable at the start because only one goalkeeper starts for every game and I have also had so many setbacks – I was on the bench for four years, injured for two years and had almost another two years of international inactivity because of the pandemic.

“To finally earn my 100th cap will be a moment of great honour and meaning for everything I have put into this football career.”

Hassan’s career between the sticks is as unlikely as it was unimaginable. Growing up in Whampoa, he used to play basketball and participate in the long and high jump as a schoolboy. He started playing football only when he was 12.

Even then, he was a midfielder, whose claim to fame was scoring straight from kickoff in an inter-school match for May Primary School.

But frequent asthma attacks meant he was deployed as a centre-back, which required less running, with the Sembawang Rangers Under-14s.

His conversion into a custodian was just as accidental. Dropped during a trial with Tampines Rovers U-14s as an outfielder, he joined the goalkeeper queue, borrowed gloves from another boy and got selected, he presumed, because of his ability to kick the ball a long way.

Hassan then played in goal in a national street soccer competition and was spotted by then National Football Academy U-16s coach Robert Lim. It was at the NFA where his goalkeeping career took flight under the former Lion Lee Bee Seng.

“He really shaped me as a player and as a person,” said Hassan, now a father of four. “He showed no mercy during training, and at least twice a week, I would finish the session crawling to the sidelines to get a drink. I used to think a goalkeeper’s job was easier until I trained with him, but this made me a better player, and I learnt the values of hard work.”

In 2003, he joined Geylang International and played 31 league games as the club kept 12 clean sheets and he earned a Young Player of the Year nomination as an 18-year-old.

The following year, he was drafted into the national team by Radojko Avramovic and made his senior debut coincidentally also against India.

Last modified: September 23, 2022