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