BANGKOK: Footballer Ben Davis says he has no plans to return to Singapore or fulfil his National Service (NS) duties in the future, as he puts all his focus on the pursuit of his professional career in England and representing Thailand on the international stage.
Davis, 18, exclusively told CNA that he has no regrets over the decision to default on the mandatory two-year NS duties, an offence that could see him heavily fined or imprisoned should he re-enter the country.
“It is the right decision,” he said, while in Bangkok for a training camp with the Thai national U23s squad ahead of the Southeast Asia (SEA) Games in November.
READ: Footballer Ben Davis makes first-team debut for Fulham
“I don’t think I’m going to go back. I’m cool with that,” he said. “For me it’s all about succeeding in football. I don’t really look back.”
Davis said that while he was initially “unhappy” about not being able to return to Singapore to see his family and friends, he is now wholly committed to representing the country of his birth. He had previously been called up to Singapore’s national side in 2018, before he signed a professional contract with Fulham, at the time competing in the English Premier League.
“I feel like I’m from Thailand and England. I feel like those are my home countries. And my mum really wants me to play for Thailand so I want to make her proud. That’s my main reason,” he said.
“I’ve always wanted to play for Thailand or England because I knew the standard was better and in my blood, I knew I was from there. When I was living in Singapore it was difficult because I came through the system and I grew up there a bit and grew up playing football there so that’s the only thing I knew,” he said.
READ: It’s ‘unfortunate’ that MINDEF thinks my son would not return to serve NS
When asked about how his former team mates in Singapore have reacted to his move away from the country, Davis said the response has been positive.
"They’re actually happy for me. They support me. They’re not mad or anything but when we play against each other we’ll see what happens," he said with a smile.
"I’D JUST BE SORRY THAT I HURT YOUR FEELINGS"
Davis' application to defer his NS enlistment last year in order to take up the contract with Fulham was rejected by Singapore’s Ministry of Defence (MINDEF), who said he did not “meet the criteria for long-term deferment from full-time NS".
The ministry added that Davis' actions are "meant to further his own professional career, not national interest".
His father Harvey Davis had lobbied for a special exemption for his son, arguing that his success in Europe would be an inspiration for Singapore.
"As the father of Ben, I really hope that common sense can prevail so that Ben can be given the opportunity to not just pursue his dream of playing in the EPL, but also the dream of every young Singaporean footballer and to make Singapore proud by being the first Singaporean to play in the EPL," Harvey Davis said at the time.
Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen explained the Government’s reasoning in Parliament last August, saying there was “no commitment to serve Singapore or our national interests”.
Dr Ng gave three reasons why Davis’ application was rejected.
The first is that Davis is playing for Fulham as an English national, not a Singapore citizen, Dr Ng said, referring to information published on the club's website.
Second, Dr Ng said Davis’ father has "consistently refused” to indicate when his son would return to serve NS, pointing to a reply he gave authorities stating that he was “unable to commit to a date” due to the possibility that his son would be offered a new contract or sent out on loan.
Third, Dr Ng said Mr Davis has indicated that his son would still proceed to sign the contract if not granted deferment, something which he had already done.
Davis’ subsequent decision to depart Singapore for England was a divisive one, but he said he hopes there is no lasting animosity about the choices he and his family have made.
READ: FAS 'extremely disappointed' after footballer Ben Davis defaulted on NS obligations
“I’d just be sorry that I hurt your feelings. I didn’t mean to. It is what it is. There’s always going to be one side and another side. It’s life,” he said, referring to those critical of him.
“A lot of people thought I was (frustrated). I wasn’t really that bothered by it. I was just focused on my journey and succeeding. That’s what I wanted to do.”
He contends that his career prospects could have been irreparably damaged by taking two years out of the sport. “If I hadn’t taken the contract I wouldn’t be where I am. I wouldn’t have made my debut or anything. It was a big decision,” he said.
“It’s tough you know. Because I’ve done a lot in two years. I don’t think I would have made it this far if I was to take those two years off. I probably would still make it but not at as high a level as this.
“You have to have tunnel vision, you have to be selfish, you have to be confident in everything, especially to succeed in Europe.”
He made his first-team debut for Fulham on Aug 27, coming on as a substitute in the 89th minute in the Cottagers’ 1-0 loss to Southampton in the Carabao Cup. It was a nervous moment for him, he admits, but one that consolidated his belief in his footballing journey.
He has eyes on more playing minutes for the senior side this season in the Championship proper and hopes to have his playing contract extended mid-next year. He confirmed that he is registered as a local player with the English Football Association.
“I think I can make it to the top. You have to have that mindset. Even if you’re someone who can’t, you still have to have that mindset to reach the top. So I think I will be able to make the Premier League,” he said.
He also wants to be playing consistently for Thailand’s senior national side, as early as November when the team continues its World Cup qualifying campaign. While his Thai is rusty, he says he has felt welcomed by the team’s players, management and fans.
“I’m grateful to them to support me and I want to make them proud. I like the standard. It’s decent and I feel we can win some competitions.”
Life in London is also becoming more settled for the teenager, who is relishing having his own car and freedom, he said. He is living with a local family now but plans to move out on his own next year.
“Sometimes it can be lonely, especially for a footballer. It’s important to do things outside football as well. You have to have friends. My grandmother lives near Watford so I always go back there.”
Davis will return to his Fulham duties in the coming days.