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How Metro Helped To Open Our Football Dimensions in 1977

Led by English entrepreneur Reg Lambourne, the contingent comprised of English powerhouse Arsenal, Scottish giants Celtic FC, and Yugoslavian titans Red Star Belgrade arrived in Singapore to give local football fans one unforgettable experience in the Metro 20th Anniversary Tournament back in July 1977.

I doubt scenes like this would ever happen today when I prowled and read what I gathered from newspapers archives for details on the Metro 20th Anniversary Tournament which took place in July 1977, when three groups of footballers descended together at the old Paya Lebar Airport for the abovementioned quadrangular which was part of the "World of Soccer Cup" friendly tournament played in both Singapore and Australia.

"$24-MILLION WORTH OF TALENT"

Was how it was labeled by The Straits Times in their report when renowned footballers such as Malcolm "Super Mac" MacDonald, Liam Brady, Danny McGrain, and Vladislav Bogicevic were part of the contingent welcomed to the shores of the island by a "good turnout of fans at the airport".

Metro 20th Anniversary Tournament was an eye-opener
Metro 20th Anniversary Tournament was an eye-opener

The Singapore leg was staged in a straight knock-out tournament that featured English powerhouse Arsenal, Scottish giants Celtic FC, Yugoslavian titans Red Star Belgrade, and the Singapore national team.

"NOTHING TO LOSE"

News of staging this one-of-its-kind tournament first surfaced in a Straits Times report on 27th October 1976 when the broadsheet headlined "Showdown of the soccer giants here?".

In his letter, Reg Lambourne, the English entrepreneur behind the "World of Soccer Cup", assured the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) that "Your association has everything to gain and nothing to lose, because our company will be paying for air fares, hotel and other expenses."

What Lambourne and his company "World of Soccer", which included former Arsenal manager Bertie Mee as part of the organising committee, wanted in return were those exclusive rights to the gate takings, broadcasting rights and other incomes from advertising.

45,000 fans turned up to watch Arsenal played Red Star Belgrade - the first match of Metro 20th Anniversary tournament
More than 40,000 turned up to watch Arsenal played Red Star Belgrade

Top European clubs like Bayern Munich, Ajax Amsterdam and Barcelona were some of the teams mentioned in the said article reported by the late Joe Dorai who months later filed the news that FAS agreed to the proposal by Lambourne with the confirmation of the participating teams in the likes of the English Gunners, the Scottish Bhoys, the Yugoslavian Zvezda and the Singapore Lions for the quadrangular in February 1977, similar news was carried by the now-defunct New Nation.

METRO TITLE-SPONSORED THE TOURNAMENT

In conjunction to mark its twentieth year in operation, the local leading departmental store Metro agreed to title sponsor the quadrangular by contributing $105,000 to the staging of the tournament.

DALGLISH'S MISSING IN ACTION

Amid the glittering array of stars lining up for the fiesta, one notable absentee stood out from the pack was Celtic superstar Kenny Dalglish, even though Lambourne claimed his name was on the telex message he received from London which listed who would be flying over.

However, Lambourne was informed prior to the Scots' departure for Singapore that Dalglish chose not to travel with the team due to disagreements with manager Jock Stein, who telephoned Lambourne to let him know the shock withdrawal, as Dorai reported on 9th July 1977.

Celtic manager Jock Stein
Celtic manager Jock Stein (as credited)

Another reason for Dalglish to stay away as he was "tired" of soccer, as shared by Stein upon his arrival in Singapore. (Dalglish had just returned from his tour to South America with the Scottish national team and this article on him suggested fatigue from that trip being one of the reasons why he opted out from the outing to Singapore and Australia).

Stein, who famously guided the Bhoys to claim British clubs' first-ever European Cup victory in 1967, revealed he will take disciplinary actions against the star striker when the team returned from this Far East excursion.

It was not sure what "disciplinary actions" were taken, but Dalglish left Parkhead to join Liverpool on a then British transfer fee record of £440,000 which took place in the following month and had the 102-capped star went on to build a lasting legacy south of the border.

"UNCLE" CHOO SENG QUEE TOOK CHARGE

In the meantime, expectations were high on the Singapore national team in this quadrangular, especially after their heroics in the Pre-World Cup Qualifiers and clinching of the Malaysia Cup months earlier.

National coach "Uncle" Choo Seng Quee was persuaded to take charge of the team despite his decision to step down following allegations made by some players, as reported by the press.

match ticket between Singapore and Celtic played on 13/7/1977 at old National Stadium
Match ticket between Singapore and Celtic

Unfortunately, the wide gulf between Singapore and Celtic was clearly in evidence when the Glaswegians crushed their hosts by five goals without reply with Choo lamented to the press that the players did not play according to his instructions after their first outing.

Things were not much better when Singapore played Arsenal three days later, losing 5-1 in front of a crowd of 35,000. MacDonald scored his hat-trick with Dollah Kassim scoring the Lions' only goal in the tournament.

MORE THAN $500,000 WORTH OF TICKETS SOLD

Initially, there was a fear that the tickets would be too expensive for the fans given the calibre of teams featured in this tournament, things were further complicated when the Customs department rejected the organisers' request for exemption from entertainment tax.

New Nation reported Lambourne was willing to make the ticket affordable to the fans but with the 10 percent entertainment tax to be levied on his company for staging the tournament, "World of Soccer" was left with little alternative but had to price the tickets at a range to make it financially viable.

Dollah Kassim scored Lions' only goal in this match against Arsenal
Dollah Kassim scored Singapore's only goal in this match against Arsenal

Besides the entertainment tax, the organisers were obliged to pay Singapore Sports Council (SSC) 20 percent of the gate receipts and the charges for the use of the National Stadium for the tournament, as well.

But after a slow start which saw the reduction in admission charges days later, those concerns were put to rest when the tournament proved to be a hit with thousands turned up to witness some top-quality football on display which they would usually read on the papers or watch on television.

In a statement issued by SSC, who coordinated the ticket sales, a total of 163,268 tickets worth more than half a million dollars were sold.

Lambourne announced his big plans to bring top European clubs for the following year's tournament (NLB archive)
Lambourne announced his big plans (NLB archive)

The windfall boosted the confidence of Lambourne who announced a plan (screenshot above) to bring top clubs such as Manchester United, Ajax Amsterdam, Liverpool, etc. for future tournaments which he also proposed a joint Singapore - Malaysia team to be fielded to give a stronger fight against those top European club sides.

JACK TAYLOR OFFICIATED BOTH FINALS

Shortly after, the contingent continued their journey to Down Under in Australia where a mini-league format was played that resulted in both Celtic and Red Star Belgrade finishing as the top two teams and facing each other again in the final as they did in Singapore days earlier where the latter beat the former 3-1.

In the duo's rematch in Melbourne which was again officiated by Jack Taylor, the legendary English referee who took charge of the 1974 World Cup Final between West Germany and the Netherlands, the Scots beat the Yugoslavians 2-0 to gift Stein the last of his 31 trophies he won for Celtic in an illustrious career that spanned over two decades.

MORE THAN JUST MALAYSIA CUP

And how had this quadrangular benefited the Singapore fans who passed through the turnstiles during that period?

Perhaps, renowned football journalist Jeffrey Low summarised well with these words at the end of his report for New Nation after Celtic's 5-0 win over Singapore.

Widely known to be the man who coined the term "Kallang Roar", Low wrote "... the 5-0 defeat of Singapore could be considered a mild scalping that has at last opened the eyes of our home fans to another bigger dimension than just the Malaysia Cup."

NOTHING FROM LAMBOURNE AFTER A PHONE CALL

Coming to this juncture, many may wonder if there was any follow-up from Lambourne who earlier announced his plans to bring in another group of top European club sides for the following year's tournament?

Lambourne had a conversation with a Metro official in Feb 1978
The only relevant article found in the 1978 (NLB archive) 

A prowl through the archives unearthed this New Nation story (screenshot above) that revealed the Englishman had a phone conversation with Mrs Juliet David, the then advertising and promotions manager of Metro, on bringing back Red Star with Liverpool, Man Utd, and Ajax being approached.

However, there was no tangible plan in place to see the realisation of that plan in the subsequent months after the filing of the story by Low on 28 February 1978.

RESULTS

• Arsenal 1-3 Red Star Belgrade (12/7/1977)
(Malcolm Macdonald; Zoran Filipović, Šestić, Savić)

• Celtic 5-0 Singapore (13/7/1977)
(Alfie Conn (2), Tommy Burns, Bobby Lennox, Jóhannes Eðvaldsson)

• Consolation Cup: Arsenal 5-1 Singapore (16/7/1977)
(Malcolm Macdonald (3), Frank Stapleton, Liam Brady; Dollah Kassim)

• Grand Final: Celtic 1-3 Red Star Belgrade (17/7/1977)
(Bobby Lennox (PK); Vladmir Petrović, Filipović (2))

(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)

(P.S 3: Text in this green font are links cited from The Celtic Wiki - A comprehensive guide to Celtic FC, a football team based in Glasgow, Scotland)

(P.S 3: This article is reproduced and incorporated into this article - The Story Behind Celtic’s Trip to Singapore in the Summer of 1977 by The Celtic Star - an independent Celtic Supporters website)

Comments

  1. Memories. I played at last-man with Teng Sai as my stopper vs Arsenal & SuperMac Malcolm MacDonald It was an invaluable experience. Arsenal had 16 all respective Nat Players! Our Superstars, S. Camel Rajagopal & Skipper Samad Allapitchay were then suspended. Alan Hudson & Liam Brady mastered n controlled zee midfield. More of such mini tourney shud be held today. Cheers Lagi Satu

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's my comment - Rocky Lim Tien Jit

      Delete

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