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We Will Thank Raddy 20 Years Later, Instead Of Now ...

Maybe we will not say it now but who knows twenty years down the road, we would proudly declare: "The era under Raddy Avramovic was the greatest ever in Singapore football!", I am sure there are some people who read the words earlier would recommend me to see a psychiatrist now.

How on earth would that be possible when that period while the Serbian was the coach of the Singapore national team was considered by many as a watershed in the local football despite successfully guided the Lions to three Asean titles in 2004, 2007, 2012 and accoladed himself as the "Coach of the Year" by Asean Football Federation back in 2013.

20 years later we would thank Raddy for his work done for us

 Ironically, it was because of those honours gathered during that period that when people start to reminisce about the "glorious" past and those records would speak for themselves and some would say "yes, those were the days..." and start to talk about those nostalgic events in those chit-chatting sessions years later.

In a recent article by TODAY which featured three individuals from the 1994 Malaysia Cup-winning team who were asked "if there were any promising talents in the team now", former striker Samawira Basri said none, a view concurred by his former Lions colleague Lee Man Hon.

Such a remark immediately drew a response from a Facebook Page that suggested the so-called "1994 Dream Team"'s success was only their ability to beat the Malaysian states to win the Cup that year and nothing further more than that.

Honestly speaking, it is a truth and international success only came after Singapore left Malaysian League and saw the Republic win its first regional honour - the 1998 Tiger Cup in Vietnam. That stunning victory by the Lions in Hanoi coincided with the early boom years of the S.League.

Nonetheless, it was common during the late 1990s to early 2000s to have fans comparing players of that period with their predecessors from the 1970s to the early 1980s - collectively known as the "Kallang Roar" era.

The iconic Admiral blue top was worn by the 1970s Lions (credit: via FB Messenger) 

The Lions during that Admiral blue-shirted era did not win any major honour except the recapturing of the Malaysia Cup in 1977 after last won it twelve years before but with the heartbreaking loss at home to Hong Kong in the 1978 pre-World Cup qualifiers, these were counted as some of the magic moments that galvanized the then newly-independent nation to pack and created an intimidating atmosphere to send shivers down the spine of any visiting team at the old National Stadium. (P.S.: the blue outfit was introduced by the then national coach Mike Walker back in 1973)

WHEN WAS THE GOLDEN ERA - 1950s or 1970s or?
To some, the 1970s was considered to be the golden era of Singapore football because the fervor evoked by the then national team and made players like Quah Kim Song, S Rajagopal, Samad Allapitchay, the late Dollah Kassim, etc. household names to many Singaporeans.

Or not really the case?

A reader wrote to The Straits Times to table his argument, which was published on 26 May 1981, when the broadsheet asked the readers to vote for players to be named in the "All-Star Team" - the team that would include the best Singapore footballers since the post-war years.

The reader by the name "H.S. Seah" confidently stated his case by saying "I cannot see how the present national team could possibly match the brilliant individual skills and superb teamwork of that team and would, in all possibility have gone down by the same margin."

That team referred by Seah was the 1951 Malaya Cup-winning team that beat Perak 6-0 with iconic names like Olympians Chu Chee Seng, "Twinkletoes" Chia Boon Leong who both played for the Republic of China in the 1948 London Games, Ivan Vass, Harith Omar, legendary striker Awang Bakar, etc.

Seah argued his case (NLB archives)

So it was no surprise to read comments made by Vass in an interview with the now-defunct New Nation on 11 April 1975 like how both Samawira and Lee feel about the present national players more than forty years later.

"Present boys (as in those in 1975) are doing more work than the ball - that is wrong." said the man who skippered the then crown colony to win the 1952 Malaya Cup in the aforementioned interview.

Other grouses by Vass who worked as a clerk for Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank while playing the game as an amateur included not taking enough shots from outside the box, holding for too long, and over dribbling the ball.

"In the last 20 minutes, they often played like jellies." added Vass who though acknowledged there were some talented players at the time when the interview was taking place in his Redhill Close residence.

Stern words, indeed, from someone of a high esteem caliber in the local game, yet Vass, his peers, and the whole of Singapore football fraternity were, too, subjected to some harsh criticism during the post-war period.

It may sound strange to hear something said about the standard of the local game after World War Two when a long list of the luminaries in local football folklore (eg: the Quah brothers, Rahim Omar, etc.) emerged during those years but there were, however, some press reports came out to lambast the declining standard.

"WHAT'S WRONG WITH S'PORE SOCCER" was one such headline put up by The Singapore Free Press (SFP) on their 19 September 1953 edition.

Speaking to someone he described as "whose knowledge of the game is highly respected outside this island", the writer Teoh Eng Tatt, who was the sports editor of The Straits Times before his retirement in 1980, wrote "Singapore players, on the whole, shirk hard work and are unwilling to learn more about the game. Unless our players can do both, he adds we can expect to keep on sliding down."

Apparently, the local fraternity did not heed the advice from this "highly respected" figure and prompted an even harsher criticism from FIFA referee John Ferguson whose opinions weighted heavily in the then self-governing state's football and rugby scenes.

"Lack of self discipline", lazy and pampered" were some of the words used by Ferguson to label the players in that era which saw island footballers win the benchmarking Malaya Cup on four occasions (1950-52, 1955) in the 1959 SFP article that published these words from the man who was regarded by many as one of Asia's top football referees in those days.

Urging the game's administrators to cast their net wider, Ferguson called for the attention to focus on school fields instead of Jalan Besar Stadium and Farrer Park to unearth raw footballing talents.

He added the players he had seen at that point in time would not deserve a reserve spot in the days of "Pop" Lim Yong Liang in the pre-war years.

"Uncle" Choo Seng Quee, a coach ahead of his time and mentor to many of those "Kallang Roar" stalwarts, highlighted the lack of training which resulted in poor ball controlling skills being some of the attributing factors to mediocre level facing Singapore football when he shared his views with The Straits Times in June 1956.

"Uncle" showing his ball controlling skills (credit: from Whatsapp)

Sadly, with the scarcity of video footages to witness their exploits on the fields and old newspapers articles are the only sources for us to know all those great players in the past, it can be subjective to ascertain or compare the qualities of players from different timeframes.

And one important fact we must not forget is prior to 1961, the local players played games of 60 minutes at "First Division, touring and representative" levels instead of the regulated 90-minute game because of the "trying Malayan climate" until it was mandated in a SAFA (the former name of the Football Association of Singapore) management meeting to meet the duration stipulated under Law Number Seven of the Laws of the Game.

So at the end of the day, we have to ask if it is fair to compare players, the level of football played in different periods of time? 

(P.S 1: Some images in this entry were reproduced from sources, as credited, should anyone feel it's inappropriate to have any of the media shown, please kindly email me as soon as possible and I will remove them upon request.)

(P.S 2: I stand to be corrected should there be any mistake in this entry, please feel free to email me should there be any mistake, thanks)


  1. Yes I agree. I hate to say this but the Dream Team is overhyped. To be brutally honest, it was only the Malaysia Cup. If really our football were that good that we thought back then, we would have qualified for the Asian Cup for a number of times. But that is not the case. We only manage to qualify for the Asian Cup once, and that is because we were the host. So like I said, Dream Team is good but too much hype around them.


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