Generations of Local Football Heroes

Football has always been the number one favourite sport in Singapore.

The oldest football association in Asia, Singapore Amateur Football Association was founded in 1892 and was the previous body of the current Football Association of Singapore (FAS), which was formed in 1952.

It was mainly made up of Europeans as the team first participated in the Malaya Cup (name changed to Malaysia Cup in 1967). Established since 1921, it is Asia’s longest-running tournament. Singapore and Selangor were the dominant forces in the tournament, sharing a total of 56 titles among them.

In those early days, two spectacular local Chinese footballers caught the eye of the public. “Pop” Lim Yong Liang was the first star striker who played for Singapore in the twenties. John Chia Keng Hock (1913 – 1993), nicknamed “Cannonball Chia”, was an exceptional goalpoacher who found the net regularly from the mid-thirties till WWII.

The Lions of the sixties and seventies truly represented the Singaporeans as it was made up of ethnic Malays, Chinese, Indians and a couple of Eurasians. The famous Quah family produced four national players in Kim Song, Kim Siak, Kim Swee and Kim Lye.

During those days, it was common to see diehard local football fans travel to Malaysia and the Jalan Besar Stadium (and later the Kallang Stadium) regularly, cheering for the Lions with the Kallang Roars or making the Kallang Waves.

Singapore’s own legendary coach Choo Seng Quee, nicknamed Uncle Choo, engineered the Lions to Malaysia Cup triumphs in 1964 and 1977. Arguably the greatest post-war coach in Singapore football history, Uncle Choo passed away in 1983.

Marched into late seventies, Singapore witnessed its first modern day superstar Fandi Ahmad making his first appearance for Singapore at only 16, a national record held until 2007.
In the Malaysia Cup final in 1980, a fearless 18-year-old Fandi scored the winner to help Singapore beat Selangor 2-1 and lift the cup for the 23rd time.

After ventures in Indonesia, Holland and Malaysia, it was not until 14 years later in 1994 before Fandi would lead the Singapore team to another Malaysia Cup triumph, the last ever Malaysia Cup victory for the Lions as Singapore withdrew from the tournament for good.

The Malaysia Cup fever reached its peak in the early ninties, where the likes of David Lee (goalkeeper), Terry Patmanathan (sweeper), Borhan Abu Samah (left back), Malek Awab (right back/winger), Lim Tong Hai (center back), V. Selvaraj (midfielder), Fandi Ahmad (striker), Sundramoorthy (right winger), Lee Man Hon (left winger), “Supersub” Steven Tan (right winger), Nazri Nasir (midfielder), together with the foreign imports in Abbas Saad (striker), Alistair Edwards (striker) and Jang Jung (sweeper), became household names all over Singapore.

FAS launched the S-League in 1996 and saw emerging talents such as Indra Sahdan, Ahmad Latiff and Noh Alam Shah. However, viewership declined over the years because the league attracted lesser passionate fans as compared to the Malaysia Cup days, where rivalries were much more intense with tens of thousands of spectators packed into stadiums.

Under the Foreign Talent Scheme, FAS tried to recruit skillful footballers from countries such as Serbia, Nigeria, Brazil and China to join Singapore in order to participate in regional and global competitions, but the results are not encouraging so far. The national team is also slowly losing its identity with the fans.

I say, let’s bring the Malaysia Cup back!

Published: 14 June 2011

A month after the publication of this article, my wish has miraculously come true when the FAS announces that a team of national players mainly under 23-year-old will compete in the Malaysia Cup in 2012.

Updated: 12 July 2011

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10 Responses to Generations of Local Football Heroes

  1. Hi Can I reproduce this article in full on The Online Citizen. And I also ask permission to edit the last line to read as “It’s about time that Singapore’s back in the Malaysia Cup!”. Thanks.

  2. leonkei says:

    Hi new comer…..
    Just want to say
    Welcome back neighbour to our
    Malaysia Cup.

  3. BEVINN says:

    We go back to MC but after that sooner or later FAM will ask FAS to leave Malaysia Cup if win too many titles

  4. A rare poster of our Singapore national squad in 1977

    (Photo Credit:

  5. Eat and remember Uncle Choo
    The Straits Times
    Sunday, Sep 08, 2013

    Farrer Park was known as the cradle of Singapore football, the nurturing ground that produced national footballers and Malaysia Cup-winning teams until the 1980s.

    And the person widely revered as the father figure of Singapore football, Choo Seng Quee, lived nearby in Owen Road.

    The national coach, who groomed stars like Dollah Kassim, Quah Kim Song and R. Suriamurthi, died in 1983 but one of his players, Syed Mutalib, intends to honour his mentor in his restaurant, The House Of Briyani.

    It is near the home of the man he still fondly remembers as Uncle Choo.

    The 58-year-old told The Straits Times: “Uncle Choo is the best coach I ever had. There is nobody else like him.

    “When the opportunity came to take over the shop, I didn’t waste time. I hope to do him proud by having my restaurant in Owen Road, which is such a special place to all those who remember the story of the 1977 Malaysia Cup.”

    The 150-seater restaurant, which opened on Saturday, is at 96 Owen Road, a stone’s throw away from Choo’s former residence at 87A. It is a joint venture by Mutalib – who used to run an eatery in North Bridge Road – and his business partners Yunus Mohammad and Tony Ng.

    The decor will reflect on Singapore football’s halcyon days in the 1970s, the period of flared trousers and disco dancing.

    Taking pride of place on the wall will be a photo of the 1977 Malaysia Cup-winning team that featured household names like Mat Noh, Samad Allapitchay and the late Dollah.

    Another black-and-white photo to be put on the wall was taken in Mutalib’s last game for the Lions, the 1981 Malaysia Cup final which saw Singapore losing 0-4 to Selangor. Seated alongside him was Fandi Ahmad, just 19 then.

    Down the road at No.60 was the former Majujaya Sports Shop owned by Choo, who was famous for his tough training, discipline and fierce patriotism.

    Ex-Lions striker Ho Kwang Hock recalled: “If we couldn’t afford new boots or sportswear, he would say, ‘Go and take from my shop, say Uncle sent you.’

    “We were not paid much but we did it all for the love of Singapore and football.”

    Each player was given a training allowance of $120 a week then. During matches, there was a $10 bonus given to each player for a goal scored, $30 for two goals and $70 for three goals.

    “That was why we were so motivated to thrash teams by 6-0, 7-0 scorelines,” Mutalib, who was nicknamed “The Gangster” for his hard tackles, said.

    But the players also responded to Choo’s personal touch as well.

    Said Mutalib, who has five children and seven grandchildren: “He cared for us individually. He would give the needy boys bus fares. Suria was skinny. So, he was given cod liver oil.”

    Small wonder that, despite Choo’s death 30 years ago, his protege would still want to preserve memories of him in a restaurant near the coach’s home.

  6. Salam says:

    Is Hishamuddin Shariff abrilliant playmaker during 80’s? I heard they call him the Platini of singapore?

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