By Suresh Nair
UNTIL the final minutes, on Sunday, former Singapore football defender Amin Nasir gave it his best shot as he bravely fought cancer.
The 48-year-old S-League coach of Hougang United, who is also the elder brother of ex-Singapore skipper Nazri Nasir, has been battling Stage 4 colon cancer since 2012.
Family members said he fought it out until his last breath, much as he knew for five years that he was battling an incurable disease, in a similar way I suffered when my beloved wife, Amda, endured the same fate and died of breast-cancer, three years ago.
I got to know Amin closer after 10 days in September 2001 when we attended the AFC (Asian Football Confederation) “C” Licence Coaching Course at Jalan Besar Stadium. After his distinguished playing career, he was determined to launch his coaching career and believe me, his tactical acumen to be a football-guru was simply brilliant.
In 2014, two years after he was disgnosed with cancer, I recalled how Amin steered unfancied Hougang United to the brink of a first finish in the top-six of the Great Eastern-Yeo’s S-League, only to watch Balestier Khalsa pip them at the last hurdle, and this was after doctors had confirmed the discovery of a cancerous 10-millimetre growth in his stomach and another near his kidney.
But Amin, who represented Singapore from 1990 to 1992, and played professional football for Woodlands Wellington and Sembawang Rangers, was a true-blue fighter and fought it out, despite knowing that his chances of survival were minimal.
BIG COACHING OCCASION
The S-League recognised Amin’s overall good work and introduced him as the coach for the S-League Selection side for the Sultan of Selangor Cup at the Shah Alam Stadium on September 27, 2014.
Amin, whose only son, 23-year-old Ashrul Syafeeq, plays for Garena Young Lions, said: “It’s a big honour to be appointed coach of the S-League Selection side and I really appreciate this opportunity to be part of the Sultan of Selangor Cup. It feels good when our good work is being recognised.”
His fighter mentality is something I will always cherish and even Hougang United Chairman Bill Ng saluted him for his extraordinary courage.
“We supported him in the most critical times, with financial support, because Amin was a very loyal coach, a genuine role-model to the younger generation,” said businessman Bill Ng. “He’s one of the bravest footballers I’ve ever met, genuinely dedicated to his sporting profession.”
I vividly remember when he was diagnosed with fourth-stage colon cancer in late 2012, and underwent chemotherapy, he always had a big smile for anyone he met. He never showed that his days were numbered but positively fought every passing day to make it the best.
‘LIFE CAN BE CRUEL’
Amin, who holds a AFC “A” Licence Certificate (the second highest regional football degree), said: “Football is what motivates me through these sad periods. It was tougher when I found out for the first time that I had cancer. Now, I’m prepared for it. Like football, life can be cruel.
“I would be lying if I said I’m not scared or worried. I have a family and responsibilities on and off the pitch. Of course, there are times when I wonder why this is happening to me again.”
Some of my bravest memories of Amin was when he toggled between the Cheetahs (Hougang’s nickname) and chemotherapy sessions in hospital.
He said: “Football did help me take my mind off thinking negatively, and so many people from the football fraternity – coaches, players, former team-mates, journalists, and kids from the National Football Academy – visited me when I was hospitalised. That gave me strength and determination to fight.”
Cancer wasn’t ‘new’ to Amin, as he had supported and watched his only son Ashrul Syafeeq battle against leukaemia when he was a schoolboy. He knew it was going to be a physically and mentally challenging battle, but he was inspired by his son’s relentless fight.
Down to the final line, he showed the human streak inside him as he choked to recount the harrowing cancer-experience, as it was not easy for an emotional Amin to tell his story.
But, as a genuine sportsman personality he has always been, he recalled his “darkest moments of my life” in order to encourage people facing similar difficulties and to thank those who have supported him.
Amin recounted how he first experienced sharp pain in his abdomen and it gradually worsened. While he tried to bear with the discomfort, he knew the situation was serious when he began passing out blood. After some tests, doctors confirmed he had colon cancer.
GRATEFUL TO HOUGANG
“It was very difficult for me to accept the news because I’m a family man and this could have gone either way,” he said. “For the first month, it was very tough and I felt very down but I want to thank God, my family, friends and the Hougang United management for their wonderful support.
“I’m very grateful to (Hougang chairman) Bill Ng for his human touch in keeping me on the payroll even though I was not well.”
Amin suffered silently as he battled the pangs of cancer and his weight plunged from 88kg to 70kg, as he subsequently went for eight rounds of chemotherapy and a successful operation to remove part of his colon.
Hougang captain Fadhil Salim recalled: “Even when he (Amin) was sick, he would be at training. It was a very tough time, but he has been an inspiration with his dedication and determination.
Chairman Bill Ng added: “How could we simply discard someone when he is going through the darkest part of his life? That’s why Hougang stood by this first-class coach because we owed it to him when he was battling a very serious phase in his life.”
Bravo Amin Nasir, you gave your very best shot in anything and everything you did and Singapore football will miss a dedicated Lion, who was truly proud to wear the red Singapore jersey.
Tears fill my eyes as I recall Amin’s parting words in a recent newspaper interview: “Like football, I can only be as well-prepared I can be to fight as hard as I can. The end result is beyond my control. Whatever will be, will be.”
May your good soul rest in peace, Amin Nasir.
- Suresh Nair is a Singapore-based journalist who did the AFC (Asian Football Confederation) “C” Licence coaching course with the late Amin Nasir