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Almost Made It To Yorkshire ...

Cable telegram was costly in the past that only keywords were used to relay the message and hoping the recipients would understand the content.

Nonetheless, misunderstandings would occur at times if the recipients failed to decipher the intention of the sender like this plan, as shown in the below clipping from The Straits Times (ST), to send two Singaporean players to Leeds United in 1950.

The news that caused a great sensation among local fans (NLB archive) 

The receiver of that cable message was the legendary "Uncle" Choo Seng Quee from AJR Hooper from Leeds on the possibility of having Leong Hoi Meng and Foo Hee Jong attend a trial at Leeds United.

Hooper served in the British Army during the post-war years and found himself involved in the local football scene as a referee on top of his military commitments.

It was during that period he discovered a number of local players like Chinese Athletic Association's Leong and Foo who showed the potential to play in the English league.

It was agreed that Hooper would help to arrange trials for those players with Choo acting as his agent for the footballers in the process.

The cable message received by Choo from Hooper (NLB archive)

The possibility to play in England caused a sensation when the news was reported by ST on 4th January 1950 on these two players being offered a try-out at Leeds United when Choo received the aforementioned cable message from Hooper.

However, the whole episode sunk into confusion when Leeds United manager Major Frank Buckley denied knowing anything about Leong and Foo or having plans to seek players from the Far East in an interview with Reuters.

This declaration from Buckley came at a time when Hooper's cable telegram reached Singapore.

Adding a twist to the matter, the then Leeds chairman Sam Bolton told London correspondent of ST that the Elland Road outfit "might be interested" should both Leong and Foo made themselves available for a trial in northern England.

Leeds United's manager Major Buckley's denial caused confusion (NLB archive)

Bolton added if they were keen, he would check with the relevant authority on the two players' eligibility to play in England given their status being British subjects at that point.

Such assurance did not exactly convince those back in Singapore and several commentaries weighted in their thoughts on this saga with Singapore Free Press (SFP) questioned if "advanced publicity" on the move proved to be "harmful".

On the other hand, ST suggested the likelihood of someone being hoaxed given the contradictions that came along the way.

Commentaries like this cast their skepticism on the whole event (NLB archive

Amid the skepticism and uncertainty surrounding the whole event, Choo remained unfazed and was confident of Hooper's integrity in the whole process and the boys' capability to make the grade in English football that he was willing to send them by ship at his own expenses if Leeds decided not to reimburse the air travelling expenses.

Citing the example of Welsh international Frank Scrine who played in the local league while serving the British military in Singapore in an update with ST on 7th January 1950, Choo felt "given good coaching, food, and the opportunities to train on the right lines" both Leong and Foo "should be able to make the grade in second or third divisions of the English League." (Note: Scrine played for Royal Navy in 1946 in the local league before joining Swansea Town (now Swansea City in the Championship of English Football League system) in 1947 and earned his first Welsh cap in 1949 against England).

Welsh international Frank Scrine (circled) played in the Singapore league in post-war years (shared by Carl Oakes)

Choo's confidence was buoyed when he received an update from Hooper via post which indicated three professional clubs had shown their interest in the players with one team tabled their terms.

The letter from Hooper provided more details for the proposed itinerary such as attaching Leong and Foo with an amateur club for two to three weeks for acclimatizing before getting ready for a trial with the professional sides.

Still, it was hardly a surprise to see the uncertainty felt by Leong when interviewed by ST.

In the report that was published by the broadsheet on the 10th of January, the then 21-year-old Cantonese outside-right stated he would like to be assured of those uncertainties, such as trip expenses, being taken care of before making the trip besides having a few doubts over the trial offer facilitated by Hooper following the statement by Buckley earlier.

Hooper informed Choo of the plan to attach Leong and Foo with an amateur side for acclimatizing (NLB archive)

Facing the choice of either to pursue a career as a professional footballer in England or to accept the invitation to join a Malayan Chinese Football Association (MCFA) tour at that juncture, Foo decided to go for the safer option to join the touring party who were heading to Hong Kong for the Ho Ho Cup fixture instead.

Sharing his thoughts with SFP on that decision, the then 22-year-old** Foo stated that while he would like to play in England but there must have a "clear understanding" of the trip arrangements and added since he had not received any further update from Choo and said the trip "will be sheer waste of time" if he failed to make the grade in the northern hemisphere (** Mr Foo was born in 1928, as confirmed by Mr Foo's family after a few articles stated he was either 19 or 21-year-old during that period of time).

The above-mentioned SFP report also indicated plans had been made to send Leong to England by ship at the end of January with arrangements to have him attending trials at both Leeds United and Tottenham Hotspur.

Apparently, the whole event came to an end when Hooper wrote a letter to ST to explain the occurrence in detail that intrigued football fans in Singapore since the start of that year.

In the broadsheet's article dated 20th January with contents extracted from the said letter, Hooper shed some light on events that led to the excitement that lasted for two weeks.

One of the first things Hooper clarified in the letter was he was not associated with any English club when in the first place he was thought to be a scout for Leeds United.

This was what he did with Choo too upon his arrival back in Leeds after his demobilization when he received a letter from the then SAFA (Singapore Amateur Football Association) honorary coach which contained pictures and details of several players with both Leong and Foo included showing interest to play for "his club".

Hooper clarified the whole affairs in his letter to Straits Times (NLB archive)

Calling it a "misapprehension", Hooper immediately replied to Choo and explained his status, and said he had "some friends" in the circle whom he would approach for the facilitation of the whole process.

As Leeds was where he lived, so naturally he went to knock on the doors at Elland Road to speak to Major Buckley.

Knowing Buckley as one of the shrewdest football managers around, Hooper believed opportunities would be given to the Singaporean footballers even though it was a considerable risk when there was no precedent of Asian players playing professionally in England until Hong Kong's Cheung Chi Doy signed for Blackpool in 1960.

The guess was right with Buckley showing interest in the players and a meeting with the club's board of directors to be followed up to deliberate the final decision on both Leong and Foo.

It was at that juncture Hooper decided to send Choo that cable message to ask him to expedite the necessary travel arrangements for the players in case the board agreed to offer trials to them.

Major Frank Buckley (Wikipedia)

But things turned sour when Hooper was accused by Buckley to leak the information to the media without his authority when the latter was rung up by the resourceful press who wanted to find out more about this exclusive.

The unexpected fallout eventually led to the denial by Buckley mentioned earlier in this article and turned down the proposal.

"I feel that it would be a great pity if these lads should be denied their chance because of a lot of misplaced publicity," said Hooper in his letter in summarizing the event.

He added if the trial is a success that would see Leong and Foo joining Leeds, it would be open up more opportunities to players from this region to play in the English league.

Since the publication of the extractions, there was no further follow-up from the parties involved.

Although along the way while compiling this story, there were some interesting discoveries that would make us ponder over a few key areas that we shall discuss in another blog post at a later date.

(P.S 1: Some images in this entry were reproduced from online 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 if there is, thanks)


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