'I'M sorry," that was Pg Sallehuddin Pg Hj Damit's heartfelt plea to football fans in the country.
The ex-DPMM FC skipper was apologising for his violent conduct in the Singapore League (S-League) match in August that saw three DPMM FC defenders sent off and the Brunei side thrashed 6-1 by Home United FC.
Yesterday's exclusive interview with The Brunei Times marks the first time the iconic national player opened up to the Press since the fateful 'red night' that led DPMM FC to crash to their first home defeat since their debut in the S-League.
"It was the worst moment of my career," he said, "I admit that it was my fault. It was a heat of the moment."
The leftback received his marching orders after receiving a second yellow card in the match, sparking an ugly confrontation between DPMM FC players and referee K Kalimuthu.
Croatian libero Rene Komar confronted the referee, manhandled and punched him, and right back Yusof Salleh also went physical with the match official.
Pg Sallehuddin was handed a nine-month ban, originally a year but was cut down after an appeal, and also fined S$2,000.
Yusof Salleh was banned for six months and fined S$1,000.
Komar's 15-month ban was reduced to a year, and was fined S$3,000.
"I feel disappointed and sad. I don't agree with the first yellow, and neither do I agree with the second," he said.
"My mistake was that I got angry and took it out on the referee.
"I sincerely regret the incident as it cost us the game. The way we were playing that night was good enough to win the match," he added.
"I'm sorry because of me (the incident was sparked), we lost the game" he admitted.
Asked if he has changed his style of football since, the 36-year-old Bruneian replied: "I will never change the way I play. I give my 100 per cent in every match and I'd do anything to win.
"My motto is 'always do the best'," he said.
Asked what he regreted most about the incident, he replied: "I feel like my mission isn't accomplished. Hopefully once everything is settled regarding DPMM FC and the S-League, then I can play in S-League again and finish it."
DPMM FC were barred from playing in the S-League on Sept 29 when the sport's governing body Fifa decided to suspend the Football Association of Brunei Darussalam (Bafa) at its executive committee meeting. The suspension meant that DPMM FC could not finish their debut S-League season.
Debuting back in 1994 as a semi pro in the Malaysian League, Pg Sallehuddin now plays for AH United in the DSTGroup Brunei Premier League I as a left wingback and a defensive midfielder.
He was instrumental in his team's 4-2 win against Brunei Shell FT this week, with a fine assist for team captain Hairoddin Abdullah's goal.
On AH United, he said: "We're aiming to get the best position for the league. We're on track for fourth place if we are able to win all the games."
The proudest moment of the player's career was winning the Malaysia Cup back in 1999 and the Singapore Cup this year.
"It was the proudest moment of my life. It was our first attempt at the S-league and we got an unexpected result. Winning the League Cup is certainly a bonus for me, something memorable to cherish before my retirement," he said.
The former national skipper is now 36. Asked how much longer the veteran will play, he replied: "I always make my decisions along with the season. As long as my commitment for the game is there, I will keep on playing. As long as the team need me, then I'll keep on playing.
"But not exceeding 40 years old," he added.
He concluded the interview with a note of hope.
"To me, football is a staple sport. It's like eating rice for Bruneians. Hopefully the issue surrounding the future of Brunei's football can be settled soon, so it can once again be active and continue to develop."
The Brunei Times
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