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The "Russian Tank" of Singapore Football - Borhan Abu Samah

A picture of a young Borhan Abu Samah taken at the old National Stadium
Borhan Abu Samah 1964-1999 (P.S1)

The demise of Borhan Abu Samah at the young age of 34 back in 1999 was a shocker to many in the scene, as he only just quit competitive football barely two years before.

One of the vivid memories I had on the day (29 October 1999) he passed away was, I was at Toa Payoh Stadium after a match where a TV crew gathered some of his former teammates to talk about the man who passed away because of liver cancer

One after another, these former squadmates of Borhan took turns to share their individual memories of the late former defender on video that were shown on television later.


Born on 30 November 1964, Borhan began his football career with Mountbatten CSC, Tiong Bahru CSC before joining Geylang International in 1990.

He made his debut for the Singapore National Team on the 4th of March 1987 when he was featured in the victory over Indonesia in the Olympics Qualifiers at the old National Stadium.

That 2-0 triumph over the Garudas, with goals from ace strikers Fandi Ahmad and V Sundram moorthy each, was also the first international game taken charge by former Lions skipper Seak Poh Leong.


A tough defender known for his hard tackling that it was said whenever opposing players spotted his name on the starting line-up, it was enough to send shivers down the spine.

The description about Borhan's style of play at the back of a card
The description at the back of a card

Hence, of this fearless reputation, coaches who fielded him would be assured that Borhan would complete the task entrusted to him without fail by eliminating any opponents' threat in the game.

Despite being a tough guy on the football field, Borhan was known to be a different person off the pitch, as his close friends reminisced.


"A close pal of mine and a buddy with no airs though he was a somebody... sad (that) he left us so early," said Mr Antony Lou, a close friend of Borhan, on the man nicknamed "Russian Tank".

Antony revealed that they used to meet up for meals, having games of social football together while Borhan was employed at Evergreen.

Borhan got ahead of his opponent
Borhan got ahead of his opponent

He also recalled how Borhan enjoyed those rides in his car which was equipped with "2 x 12" subwoofer mounted to the backseat driven by a power amplifier.

"We will blast my car sound system and he (Borhan) said 'good massage', as the subwoofer was thumping to the beat, especially the 'Bangla Techno' (music)." added Antony who also shared how they maintained contact via snail mails when Borhan was playing for Malaysian club Pahang with him in Hong Kong in the early 1990s.


"I have known Borhan since we were young, and I can vouch that he was a nice guy off the field while being a "garang" (no-nonsense) defender on the pitch," said Mr Farid Omar, another close friend of the man who once hosted a cooking program "Kalau Dapur tak Berasap" on "Prime 12" Channel in 1997.

Besides cooking, reading was also a passion of Borhan, according to Farid who shared with this platform that the late center back would always have a book in his hands either during his leisure time or on his way to football training.

It was this quest for self-improvement cultivated by this reading habit, it eventually earned Borhan a diploma while juggling his time as a top-flight footballer, a feat he wanted to prove to the skeptics that one is able to achieve the best of the two worlds through hard work.

Borhan Abu Samah in action for the Lions
Borhan in action for the Lions 

"Once, Borhan told me that he wanted to prove to people that you can still study well to earn your qualifications while playing football at the same time, and he did it by earning his part-time diploma through sheer hard work.

"Till this day, I still feel so sad about his demise, as we were very close, and it is one of my biggest regrets not being able to visit him due to unforeseen circumstances while he was hospitalized before he passed away.

"And when I got to know from my relative Malek (Awab) that Borhan passed away, it was one of the saddest moments in my life."


Like most of his contemporaries during his time, Borhan had a full-time job while playing top-tier football and only turned professional when he signed for Pahang in 1992.

After his one-year stint with the "Tok Gajah", Borhan returned to the corporate environment in 1993 while recovering from the knee injury he sustained during the previous year's Malaysia Cup Final against Kedah.

That knee injury saw him out of action for months, until he came on as a substitute for the last 30 minutes in Geylang International's 3-0 win over Tyrwhitt Soccerites in a Premier League** fixture in mid-August 1993.

Following the Football Association of Singapore's (FAS) decision to stop participating in the Malaysian league after clinching the Malaysia Cup in 1994, Borhan joined Woodlands Wellington in the inaugural S.League season in 1996 on a full-time basis.

Borhan played for Woodlands Wellington in 1996 (as credited)
Borhan played for Woodlands (as credited)

After a season with the northern side, Borhan joined Home United in the following season before hanging up his boots to pursue a degree in Business Administration.

(P.S 1: This image of Borhan Abu Samah was reproduced from the 1987 Malaysia Cup souvenir magazine published by FAS)

(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)

** This “Premier League” was a semi-professional league organized by FAS that shall not be confused with the present professional Singapore Premier League.

PS: This article was first published on 29th October 2011 and is being refurbished with additional details in line with the content repurposing of this blog.


  1. thanks for the tribute... he's a wonderful human being and my dearest friend. RIP, Borhan

  2. It was during one of the league games against Malacca.

    Malacca had one foreign player from Russia who was on form & was identified as the dangerman for Malacca.

    The late Borhan was tasked to man-mark this Russian player, and he shut the Russian player out of the game.

    And that's how i believe the line "Borhan is tougher than the Russian Tank" in the "Soccermania" song came about

  3. No airs. Yes. Truly. Always see him with a smile at mosque n other public places then.

    One of local players that we singaporeans then wanted to emulate n look up as a player.


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