For the past eight years, Nurhafizah Sujad has been a mainstay in the Singapore men's National Football Team. She's also considered one of the most important person in the team.
The 38-year-old, known affectionately as Kak (Malay for sister) Fizah, serves as the head physiotherapist in the Football Association of Singapore (FAS), which sees her spend most of her time on the job with the Lions, especially when they travel for games.
Often, she is the only woman around the team of men - including players, coaches, team managers and even the kit men. But Fizah's dedication to her job has seen her win the affection of her colleagues.
"Whenever they (the players) have any issues with injuries, she's the first person they reach out to. She will always give advice and she's there for the players almost 24/7," Eric Ong, the Singapore national team manager, said of Fizah.
For International Women's Day (Mar 8), Youth.SG teamed up with the FAS to surprise the unsung heroine. Together with the help of three national footballers - Zaiful Nizam, Shawal Anuar and Sahil Suhaimi - Fizah was given a bouquet of flowers, a jar of cookies and a thank you card with handwritten notes from the players as a show of appreciation for what she has done for the team.
The players surprised Fizah after training.
PHOTO CREDIT: EDWIN CHAN/YOUTH.SG
"I was very surprised by what they did!" Fizah told Youth.SG. "I certainly wasn't expecting it at all. I didn't realise that it was International Women's Day.
"It's the first time that I've received a surprise like this, honestly. The last time I had something like this was on my birthday during my first year with the national team."
The players said they wanted to help surprise Fizah, a former player in the Singapore National Under-21 Netball Team, because of what she has done for them over the year.
Fizah said she did not expect the players to do something like this for her.
PHOTO CREDIT: EDWIN CHAN/YOUTH.SG
Sahil Suhaimi, who has worked with Fizah since 2010 as an 18-year-old when he played for the Young Lions, said: "She's always there for me throughout my career. Whenever I am injured, she will be there for me. Even when I have questions about my personal fitness and call her late at night, she will always answer my call."
Zaiful Nizam, a 32-year-old goalkeeper, shared about how was able to return to action ahead of time after suffering a serious injury, thanks to Fizah.
He added: "When I first joined the national team, she kept helping me out. Even issues with my weight, she gave me a lot of guidance, and that helped me to be more confident. Without a doubt, she will always do her best for the players and she will never say no to us."
Fizah (centre, in black) always does her best for the players.
PHOTO CREDIT: FAS
Fizah, who counts the draw Singapore achieved against Japan as one of her favourite moments with the national team, said that the satisfaction of being able to nurse the footballers back to full health is what she loves about her job.
"It's very satisfying to see that I am able to help them, and see them play their favourite game on the pitch," she said.
But it wasn't all rosy initially. She admitted that it was scary for her initially to work with the senior players at that time, such as Aleksandar Duric, and it took some time for her to gain their trust.
"I was quite nervous around them. I remember the first time I was taping Daniel Bennett, I was actually praying inside my mind that it would work for him because I wanted to put on a good impression," Fizah candidly admits.
"But as time went on, I managed to win their trust and subsequently, everything got better for me." She added that colleagues such as Banzi (trainer Gurnaya Singh) and Omar (Mohd - the team's equipment officer) has helped to make her comfortable too with their easy-going and joyful personalities.
Fizah (third, from right) has grown to be comfortable around her male colleagues in the Singapore national team in the past eight years.
PHOTO CREDIT: FAS
"Of course, you feel a bit out of place or weird as you are the only female. And in the changing room, I need to be protected too. And they've certainly made me feel that way," she stated.
Then, there is one moment that Fizah says she will remember forever - it was the moment when she knew how appreciated and valued she was among the footballers.
Following a game between the LionsXII (the now-defunct club under FAS that participated in the Malaysia Cup) and Perak, there was a group of fans who wanted to cause trouble. As the players were exiting the stadium to board the bus, the fans started rushing towards them.
Being the only female around, Fizah feared for her safety, naturally.
"Some of the boys started shielding me and made sure I was safe and protected. That was when I felt that they really cared about me," Fizah recalled fondly.
Asked if she had any messages for the players, she said: "Thank you. For the players, continue to work hard, and always be proud when you wear the flag on your chest."
BANNER AND PHOTO CREDIT: ANISAH AZMI/YOUTH.SG