August winner: Justin Hui

ST Young Star of the Month: A student with a big goal

Justin Hui has been on a Prime League contract at Hougang United since January. He is hoping to be a regular starter in the S-League before playing football for a foreign club one day.
Justin Hui has been on a Prime League contract at Hougang United since January. He is hoping to be a regular starter in the S-League before playing football for a foreign club one day.ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM

MJC captain and Hougang United player, 19, is taking steps to turn fully professional

Six years ago, a 13-year-old Justin Hui first broached the topic of becoming a professional footballer to his parents and it was met with mixed reactions.

His father Patrick, 57, who introduced him to the game at the age of eight, was supportive of the idea. His mother Lillian, also 57, was not.

"My mum is a teacher," said Justin. "So there's always a side of her (that) really wants me to study and be successful academically.

"I think over the years she's come to terms (with the fact) that I really want to play football and that I just might be good enough to make it, so she's starting to support me more and more."

Lillian, who teaches English at Canossa Convent Primary School, admitted it took time to come to terms with her son's ambition.

She said: "Justin is a good student and a fast learner. I didn't think he would take football so seriously.

"I wanted to support his passion but honestly, it's not practical to play football in Singapore but he's very persistent. At a tender age he knows what he wants and that was what convinced me."

CENTRAL FIGURE

I was buzzing because as a centre-midfielder I hardly score goals. To win it for the school and score three goals, at that point of time I couldn't really come to terms with it.

JUSTIN HUI, on his A Div final performance.

Justin's on-field performances this year have been eye-catching. He captained Meridian Junior College (MJC) to the Schools National A Division boys' football championship, the school's fourth straight title. He scored a hat-trick against Victoria Junior College in the final in May as his side won 3-1.

The 1.7m, 58kg midfielder had replaced team-mate Nathanael Chin up front, after the forward was injured in the first half.

It was also a significant milestone for MJC, as no school had previously won four consecutive A Division boys' football titles.

"I was buzzing because, as a centre-midfielder, I hardly score goals," said the 19-year-old. "To win it for the school and score three goals, at that point of time I couldn't really come to terms with it.

"For the whole team, we were really happy because over the five to six months, we worked very hard."

Proof of that passion and sacrifice came in his first year at MJC after arriving from the Singapore Sports School. In September 2015, he missed his promotional examinations as it clashed with the 2016 Asian Football Confederation Under-19 Championship qualifiers in Thailand which he was involved in. He was retained for a year.

For his achievements in May, he won The Straits Times Young Star of the Month award for school athletes. The award is an extension of ST's Star of the Month and Athlete of the Year awards. Both awards are backed by F&N's 100Plus.

ST sports editor Lee Yulin said his dedication was exemplary.

She added: "We often overlook the sacrifices our student-athletes make in pursuit of their dreams. It is a long journey and we hope this recognition will help inspire Justin to continue believing in his dream."

The award comes on the back of his first senior start for S-League side Hougang United. He was in the first XI for their Singapore Cup quarter-final, second-leg 4-0 win over Cambodia's Nagaworld FC last month.

Justin, a former National Football Academy player, has been on a Prime League contract at Hougang since January. He made his S-League debut for Garena Young Lions as a substitute against Brunei DPMM in September last year.

Seeing her son compete and hold his own against seasoned professionals has helped win Lillian over.

She said: "I would definitely help (support his desire to) play football overseas if we have the financial means.

"It's a tough journey, and I admire Justin but if Justin doesn't make it, we'll support him. He has proven that he is serious about football."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 30, 2017, with the headline 'A student with a big goal'. Print Edition | Subscribe