Sixteen-year-old Xavier Casly dreams of becoming a professional footballer to make his family and nation proud. Hailing from Plaman Nyabet village in Sarawak, the Bidayuh youngster did not have an easy start into football.
“I first became interested in football when I was nine years old. I saw my father playing in the village and I felt like trying it too. I’ve been playing ever since. When I play football, I feel like all my troubles are gone. I feel happy. I can keep my emotions in check.”
Upon entering secondary school, he tried out for two years to join the school football team, failing each time. At 15, he finally made it but found it increasingly difficult to balance his time between studying and training.
Consequently, he did not do well during his PT3 examinations. Demotivated with his results and frustrated at his progress in football, Xavier felt lost.
Many youth, like Xavier, have similar experiences in their lives. A lack of guidance at this stage could potentially put these youth at risk of continuous poor academic performance, feeling disconnected with their social environment and exposure to negative influences. The more risk factors that affect these youth, the higher the chances of them dropping out of school, getting involved in vices, and facing employment issues in the future.
The Midnight Football is a preventive programme that aims to address this, providing at-risk youth a platform to improve themselves and stay away from unhealthy habits and activities.
Launched in September 2010, Midnight Football is a youth empowerment initiative by Global Peace Foundation Malaysia (Global Peace) that aims to build character, resilience and leadership skills of at-risk youth by using football as a medium.
In collaboration with Yayasan Sime Darby, the 2019 edition of Midnight Football runs from December 2018 to February 2020 and involves 60 youths aged 14 to 18 years old from seven schools in suburban and rural areas of the Serian, Padawan and Simunjan Districts in Sarawak.
To ensure the effectiveness of the programme, Global Peace is engaging with 200 stakeholders in the participants’ lives, comprising 96 parents, 120 school teachers, one head coach and 6 coaches, to be part of an intervention process.
Workshops, led by a certified psychologist, are organised for the stakeholders, covering essential parenting skills, techniques to monitor the progress of the participants, and tools to nurture youths’ development.
Global Peace chose to name the programme “Midnight Football” as a way to reclaim the hour of the day when at-risk youth occupy themselves with unhealthy activities.
These youths, who mostly come from villages and B40 households, were selected based on the potential they displayed during football test runs, as evaluated by a team of local coaches headed by Coach Mohamad Ishak Kunju Mohamad. An A-Licence coach with 13 years of coaching experience under his belt, Coach Ishak was a former state-level footballer for the Terengganu and Kuala Lumpur teams.
“Throughout my career, I’ve coached youth from all sorts of backgrounds. Many of them were good but not all of them got the chance to go on to become great. Football is not just about scoring goals. There’s also teamwork, communication, discipline, and respect. If you can instil all these within yourself, you are giving yourself the chance to become a better footballer and a better person. I believe that Midnight Football is what these kids need to grow themselves and their potential,” said Coach Ishak. He added that with the right attitude, they are already halfway to success.
Under the programme, the youths will be engaged throughout the year in a series of football training sessions, tournaments, character-building workshops and leadership camps. At the end of the programme, 10 talented youths will be shortlisted to be sent for selection at various state-level football associations and football clubs to help them achieve their ambition of becoming professional footballers.
“It takes a village to raise a child. Midnight Football engages the school, teachers, family and community in order to create a supportive and nurturing environment for these youths. These are crucial for the youths’ social, emotional and cognitive development that will help them to be more successful in the school and future,” said Global Peace’s Chief Executive Officer Dr. Teh Su Thye.
YSD Chairman YAM Tunku Tan Sri Imran Ibni Almarhum Tuanku Ja’afar said the Foundation has committed RM320,000 towards the programme for a little over a year until February 2020, because they believe in the important sustainable impact of the programme.
“Under our Sports pillar, YSD aims to develop grassroots sporting talent, and under our Community & Health pillar, we are firm supporters of programmes that seek to improve the lives of the underprivileged and marginalised.”
“The Midnight Football programme hits all these objectives and much more. I am delighted to share with you today, that in less than one year, the programme has recorded notable achievements that are truly exemplary. 1 participant was selected to represent Sarawak in football at the Majlis Sukan Sekolah Malaysia (MSSM) 2019, whilst 7 participants have progressed academically and in football to enrol in Sekolah Sukan Tabuan Jaya in Kuching, commencing their studies there next year. In addition, 7 participants represented the programme in April 2019 at the Allianz Junior Football Camp (AJFC) Malaysia League.”
“We are delighted to see that the programme is benefitting youth from underprivileged and at-risk backgrounds who are in need of much support in their lives, and we hope that this programme will serve as a stepping stone to brighter futures for them and their families.”
Now barely seven months into Midnight Football, Xavier shared that he feels more confident in himself and is coping well in his studies.
“So far, I’m really enjoying the programme. I learned a lot about myself, and that there are others who felt as aimless as I did. All of us in Midnight Football can motivate and keep each other on track in both football and school.”
Programme Coordinator, Vidyakaran Subramaniam, expressed that the youths have been very cooperative and the response is encouraging.
“We’ve worked with these youths from the beginning of the year and the changes we’ve seen are inspiring. They are opening up more not only about their aspirations, but about their fears, insecurities and problems. They are learning resilience and moral values that will shape their early adulthood. Developing these youths holistically is what we want to achieve together through Midnight Football.”
“Take for example James Rudy. He is one of our brightest talents but he struggles with self-confidence and communication, which puts him at a disadvantage both on the field and in the classroom. Now, he doesn’t shy away from speaking in front of a crowd or being verbal on the field because of the group activities and presentations that encourage him to step out of his shell.” James has recently been selected to play in the Piala Menteri Pendidikan 2019. He was also on the winning team (MSS Serian Tiger 1) during the Midnight Football Tournament 2019 that involved 9 schools from Serian district. Another Midnight Football team, SMK Tebedu Eagle, placed third in the tournament.