SINGAPORE: To gear up for an upcoming internship, Ng Wei Xian made sure he put in the necessary preparation.
So he logged onto the website of English Premier League (EPL) club AFC Bournemouth and downloaded portraits of players and staff members.
"I made flashcards so I would know who they were. I would look at the flashcards every day and test myself - who is this?" Ng told CNA.
This meant that on the first day of his internship, Ng, 26, recognised more than his fair share of familiar faces.
"I'm sitting there in the office on my first day, not knowing what I was doing, just listening to people talking and (Bournemouth manager) Eddie Howe walks by and I'm like: 'Wow that guy looks familiar'," said Ng, who began his internship in the second half of the 2018-19 EPL season.
"Then at breakfast I was having eggs on toast and suddenly somebody hugs me and puts his arm around my shoulder. I was like: 'Who the heck is this?' I looked up and it was (defender) Nathan Ake; he said: 'How are you? I heard you are the new intern.'
"The cafeteria is where everybody sits together and eats - so when the players come and shake your hand, it's very surreal."
A "SERENDIPITOUS" OPPORTUNITY
Having lived in Malaysia until he was in his early teens, Ng moved to Singapore at the age of 14. A few years later, he would head to the UK where he spent two years at a local football academy and got his diploma.
Ng, who is a Singapore permanent resident, then served his National Service before being awarded a sports scholarship at Baker University in Kansas.
The scholarship came about after Ng sent out his CV and a highlights reel of himself in action to various universities in the United States.
A budding goalkeeper, Ng was part of Baker University's football team. And with time ticking down on his four years at the university, the opportunity at Bournemouth arose.
"At that point, I was still thinking maybe if I could play in Malaysia and work part time as a physio or sports scientist ... but the opportunity at Bournemouth came up," Ng said.
A friend who had trained under the same coach as Ng at a goalkeeping school in the UK posted the internship opening on Facebook.
"During this time he was looking for people who were in my situation, students who were looking for a work experience attachment, to go and help out at the goalkeeper department," recalled Ng.
"Obviously when you see something like that, it feels like a very long shot. I thought what's the harm? The thing was that when he posted it, it was a year too early for me, because I was still in my third year at university not my fourth.
"But then after that, a year later ... I messaged him: 'Are you still looking for an intern?' He was like: 'Yes, we still don't have one. Come!'"
Ng's internship was with club's goalkeeping department.
In the first few months of his stint, he helped manage gym sessions, administer the physical tests for players and collate relevant data.
"A lot of the jobs in the office are quite straightforward, there was a learning curve but it was okay," he said.
"The first few times when you're in the gym and the Premier League players are in there, they are doing their workout, you are just walking around recording their weights, that was quite intimidating."
In addition, Ng's role meant he would come up with presentations for coaching staff on topics related to goalkeepers.
Match days - usually Saturday or Sunday - would be normal office days for Ng. While he did not travel with the team to away matches, he would get to catch home games at the Vitality Stadium.
"We still go into work and about 2pm, our work ends and we get to watch a game of football. It's not the worst," he said.
"Technically, you are still on (the clock) until 5.30pm or 6pm but I didn't really have direct responsibilities during match days, so I wasn't needed to do anything."
Ng would later go on to further his studies by joining a Masters programme at Solent University in Southampton and continued his internship at the club.
"I grew individually and as a professional; more in those four months of my first taste of working ... that I felt that I couldn't get enough of it. I just had to continue," he said.
"THERE'S AN EXPECTATION OF EXCELLENCE"
The year is 2007 and Scottish giants Celtic are a penalty kick away from qualifying for the Champions League.
Celtic's Polish custodian Artur Boruc had already saved one penalty, and spreading himself large, he guesses the correct way to save a penalty from Spartak's Maxim Kalinichenko.
Celtic Park erupts, Boruc rejoices and Celtic are through.
"When I was young, he was one of the goalkeepers that I would watch, especially because he kind of had a swagger about him," said Ng.
Fast forward more than a decade, and Ng would find himself sharing a training pitch on the south coast of England with Boruc.
"Artur was around every day and sometimes we'd just tease him and say, 'by the way ... you know when I was a little kid, I used to watch your videos to learn how to save penalties?'"
Out on the training pitch to help out when called upon, Ng's responsibilities also changed "slightly" during the later part of his internship, he said.
This meant being involved in the aspect of performance analysis as well as internal research for the goalkeeping department.
"Wherever you go, goalkeepers tend to stick together and form very close relationships," he said.
"I definitely grew quite close to a lot of the goalkeepers here - they are a bunch of really really good guys. So I was quite blessed to have that."
The club's family atmosphere was also something Ng enjoyed during his time at Bournemouth.
"As much as possible, they try to foster this kind of environment in the club. But one of the biggest things that surprised me was how welcoming the staff were," he said.
"Especially the senior coaches, they would come shake your hand, come and joke with you, see how you are doing. These guys are legendary Premier League coaches ... but they talk with you like they are one of your buddies."
But the job was not one without pressure, added Ng.
"It's a very, very high pressure environment where every weekend there were millions of pounds on the line ... you have a direct hand in contributing whether your team does well or not," he said.
"There's an expectation of excellence here; it can be very high pressure and they demand a lot from everyone, not only the players but the staff."
While he admits things are in a state of limbo while the league is suspended due to COVID-19, the situation at the club is coping as best as it can during this difficult phase.
"The players are trying to keep fit; we are just trying to constantly upskill ourselves. Actually in terms of self-improvement, this has been a very important time for all of us," said Ng.
"A lot of the things related to work have but put on hold, so not a lot of direct work-related stuff has been done. And a lot of things that needed to be done has been done from home."
The encouragement of his family has been critical in the pursuit of his dream, said Ng, who concluded his internship on Jun 1.
"I've been very blessed that my family have been supporting me ... throughout this whole process because I have basically not lived at home for the past eight years more or less," he said.
"Its been a crazy journey but my family has been very important in helping me."
While the internship opportunity materialised from a "stroke of coincidence", it took hard work to get himself to where he is now, stressed Ng.
"There was quite a stroke of coincidence that this opportunity came up but I've also worked very hard to develop myself, basically killed myself for the past six to eight years," he said.
"From leaving home at 17 to pursue a dream, all of that put me in a position to be able to take advantage of an opportunity like this ... It's the same wherever you go, you need to put yourself in a position to take advantage of an opportunity when it arises."
Ng, who plans to get his UEFA B outfield and goalkeeping licences, is also now on the lookout for full-time roles with other English clubs. He is also considering getting into touch with teams in Malaysia and Singapore.
"I couldn't have asked for a placement at a better organisation than AFC Bournemouth," he said.
"Just being exposed every day to the demands of working in a high performance environment and having to maintain the incredibly high standards expected of everyone working in a Premier League club has forced me to learn, adapt and grow in leaps and bounds."
He added: "What I've learnt from this experience alongside my masters degree on goalkeeping sport science makes me believe that I can help make a positive impact at any football club if I get the opportunity.
"So I'm excited for the next big challenge, hopefully in the near future."