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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15 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?

  7. Lim Tong Hai faces up to darkest moment

    Former Lions defender still endures cruel jibes after own goals in 1993

    01 June 2015

    It has been 22 years, but the events of that June night still keep replaying in his head. Not because Lim Tong Hai wants to.

    In fact, if he could, the former national defender would leave that memory deep in the back of his mind. But that has been almost impossible.

    “Even after all this time, people still bring it up. I get people whispering behind my back, saying, ‘That’s the fella who kelong (threw) the 1993 SEA Games semi-final’,” said Lim, 46.

    He made SEA Games and Singapore football history when he scored two own goals in that 1993 semi-final against Myanmar. What was even more painful was that the goals came after Singapore had raced to a 2-0 lead after just 23 minutes in front of a partisan home crowd at the National Stadium.

    The match went into extra-time and although Steven Tan equalised to make it 3-3 after Myanmar striker Win Aung had given the visitors the lead, the Lions eventually lost 4-5 in the ensuing penalty shoot-out.

    The loss was especially hard for fans to accept, as the 1993 team were arguably the best Singapore had assembled in a while and the public were hopeful of the Lions winning what is still an elusive SEA Games football gold.

    With the Games back in Singapore for the first time since 1993, Lim said he felt it was time to break his two-decade long silence on the incident.

    “Sooner or later, it would come out again, especially with the SEA Games back in town,” said Lim, a sports and wellness senior lecturer with the Institute of Technical Education College East.

    “I felt it’s time I came out to talk about this.”

    The former centre-back said his conscience remains clear as he looked back on the two ill-timed swipes on his right boot.

    Both times, he executed the kicks with the intent to clear the ball, but both times he succeeded only in putting the ball in the back of the Singapore net.

    “The ball came into a potentially dangerous area,” said Lim, who is also a physical education and sports science consultant at the National Institute of Education.

    “With hindsight, of course I could have reacted differently. But in a match, my only instinct was to clear the danger.”

    He said the incident opened his eyes to how cruel the game can be, and also made him realise who his true friends were. Some even told his then-girlfriend, whom he would later marry, that Lim should just quit football for his own good.

    “The worst was someone commenting that if (Andres) Escobar was shot six times, I should be shot 12 times, because I scored two own goals,” said Lim, referring to the Colombian defender who scored an own goal in the 1994 World Cup match against the United States.

    The US won the match 2-1 and Colombia were subsequently eliminated in the group stage. Shortly after the exit, Escobar was shot six times in Colombia. The murder was widely believed to be punishment for the own goal.

    Lim said his team-mates, his family and his girlfriend helped his through those tough days. He also took solace from the words of then Defence Minister and president of the Singapore National Olympic Council, Yeo Ning Hong.

    Back then, Dr Yeo told the Lions: “I want to tell all of you, and also all Singaporeans, that in life, mistakes are inevitable.

    “I told Tong Hai he doesn’t have to bear the burden of his mistakes.”

    Dr Yeo also used a Chinese saying: “No do, no wrong. Little do, little wrong. More do, more wrong.”

    Added Lim, now a father of two: “My back was against the wall. I could either fade away or come out fighting if I wanted to make football my career.

    “I chose to come out fighting.”

    The following year, Lim went on to win the Malaysia League and Cup Double with the Lions. He played with the national team until 1999, and even went on to captain the Lions.

    Lim, who had also coached at S-League club Geylang United and was their general manager, still contributes to the national game as chairman of the Football Association of Singapore’s Referees’ Committee.

    With Singapore’s SEA Games football campaign set to begin today, Lim, like many fans, will be rooting for the Young Lions.

    And ahead of the opener against the Philippines, he had this piece of advice for the team: “Just forget about the pressure and go out, play your best and enjoy the game.

    “The fans will be behind you.”

  8. Football icon N. Ganesan, creator of ‘Kallang Roar’, dies aged 82

    01 July 2015

    SINGAPORE – N. Ganesan, the Singapore football icon who was instrumental in creating the famous “Kallang Roar” in the late ’70s and ’80s, died on Wednesday morning. He was 82.

    The former Football Association of Singapore chairman and lawyer had been recuperating at a nursing home off Bukit Timah Road after suffering from a stroke in 2011.

    Ganesan helmed the FAS from 1974 to 1981, a period that saw Singapore win two Malaysia Cups (1977 and 1980). The Kallang Roar was born after he decided in 1974 to switch Malaysia Cup home games from the 6,000-capacity Jalan Besar Stadium to the National Stadium – creating a 60,000-strong cauldron of noise.

    Former Lions star Quah Kim Song said: “People were skeptical over whether the stadium could be filled but Ganesan took the plunge. We are forever indebted to him for kickstarting a golden period of Singapore football.

    “Passionate, gutsy and knowledgable football men like him are hard to come by these days.”

    Ganesan, who was divorced twice with no children, had also formulated a major breakthrough in the National Football League, revamping it from 118 clubs to a strong 30, and launched the Lion City Cup, an Under-16 tournament that unearthed budding talents like Fandi Ahmad and V. Sundramoorthy.

    Ex-national striker Fandi said: “He looked after me personally and always believed in my ability. I will never forget how he kept reminding me to learn from the senior players and not take anything for granted.”

    After his stroke, Gani – as he was affectionately known – became wheelchair-bound and was mainly confined to bed with a speech impediment. He prefered privacy in his condition although close friends like former Asian football supremo Peter Velappan visited him to chat about football.

    Velappan said: “We became close friends when he served as a legal advisor at the Asian Football Confederation.

    “He represented transparency, integrity and total dedication. I cherish the pleasure of seeing him even after he was disabled by a stroke.”

    A minute’s silence will be observed before kick-off in all League Cup matches this week. An FAS spokesman described Ganesan as “a larger-than-life character who left a deep mark on Singapore football”.

    His body is resting at Singapore Casket. The funeral service will be held at around 5pm on Saturday at Mandai Crematorium.

  9. Alistair Murphy says:

    I am very keen to know what happened to my former team mates. I played for Jurong Town as a striker in 1977. Chuck Engmann was the coach. I didn’t have a particularly successful season, but I made some wonderful SIngaporean friends, Chinese, Malay and Tamil. I wonder what happened to all of the great guys I met? My name is Alistair Murphy and I did get a few mentions in the New Nation and the Straits Times in 1977.

  10. Fandi Ahmad among Asia’s best players in Dutch league

    The Newpaper
    09 June 2020

    A week after celebrating his 58th birthday on May 29, Singapore football legend Fandi Ahmad received a belated gift when he found out from his elder sister via text that he was named one of the Asian Football Confederation’s Greatest Eredivisie Players in an online poll.

    On June 5, the AFC listed the Singaporean as one of nine top players from the confederation to have graced the top-tier Dutch football league, alongside luminaries such as South Korea’s Park Ji Sung, Lee Young Pyo and Huh Jung Moo (all PSV Eindhoven) and Japan’s Shinji Ono (Feyenoord).

    The other nominees are Iranian forwards Alireza Jahanbakhsh (Nijmegen and Alkmaar) and Reza Ghoochannejhad (Heerenveen and Zwolle).

    Australians Jason Culina (Ajax Amsterdam, De Graafschap, Twente and PSV) and Brett Holman (Excelsior, Nijmegen and Alkmaar) are also on the list.

    The AFC wrote: “Fandi Ahmad’s career in Dutch football (from 1983-1985) wasn’t as long as the other players in our list, but his achievements as the first Singaporean player in a major European league are remembered to this day.

    “Despite the unprecedented nature of his time for FC Groningen, Fandi thrived. As a 21-year-old, he scored twice on his league debut, then found the net against Inter Milan in a Uefa Cup match three days later.

    “A total of 36 games, 11 goals and two years later, the forward returned to play out an excellent career in South-east Asia, finishing with 55 goals for the Singaporean national team and icon status in his country.”

    Fandi told The Straits Times he was surprised by the nomination and that, while he had not realised he was one of the Asian pioneers in the Eredivisie in the 1980s, he is grateful his exploits are remembered.

    In 1982, he was a scrawny but talented 20-year-old when he went for a trial with Ajax. He turned down a three-year contract with the Dutch giants, but Groningen offered a two-year deal in 1983.

    After leaving Groningen for Kuala Lumpur in 1985, the Dutch club came back for Fandi in 1987 with a three-year contract which was ultimately scuppered by work-permit issues.

    He reminisced: “Those were the days when very few Asians, or indeed Asean players, were in Europe, and some people even thought that Singapore was in South America.

    “I was fortunate and blessed to be able to get the opportunity to play and do well in the Eredivisie and Europe against quality opponents, but I also worked very hard.

    “The result of the poll is not important, but it is good to put Singapore on the world football map and have achievements recorded.

    “I hope more Singaporeans can play in Europe in the future, because that can only be good for their own development, the national team and Singapore football in general.”

    Over 17,000 votes for the fans’ favourite player have been cast at press time, with Fandi currently third behind the Iranians. The poll runs until 4pm, Thursday.

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