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1977 - The Best Year In Singapore Football?

It was probably one of my earliest vivid memories when as a child watching a player in a light blue jersey dribbling a ball on television at my maternal grandfather's home.

As I grew up, it was made clear to me that it could be one of the Singapore national team's matches held at the old National Stadium that had all the eyeballs of many households around the island glued to the screen to cheer the Lions on.

The Admiral Blue jersey worn by Samad Allapitchay (left) is one of my earliest memories (Asian Soccer)
 
Based on my intuition, the moment could be somewhere in 1977 - the year which is still fondly remembered by many as the heyday of Singapore football.

Interestingly, this blog posted a few posts related to occurrences that happened during that year which witnessed some of the highs and lows of the local game.

So here is a recap of some notable incidents in that year.

FANS CALLING FOR UNCLE CHOO TO BE REPLACED 

In the weeks leading up to the new calendar year, a petition calling for Choo Seng Quee's replacement as national coach was circulated among fans.

Reasons cited for the replacement included outdated coaching methods of Choo, the poor rapport between the veteran coach and several players, etc.

It was unknown what the outcome of this petition, which must have barely ruffled anyone's feathers and saw Choo stay on to guide the Lions throughout the year.

HEARTBREAKING DEFEAT FUELLED FOR BETTER THINGS TO COME

The building up to the first major assignment of the year was far from impressive.

Other than the 3-1 win over top West German amateur side Sportsfruende in early January, Singapore were thrashed 4-0 by their South Korean counterparts in an ill-fated match on Valentine's Day in the following month.

match ticket to Singapore versus South Korea played on 14th February 1977
Not a sweet Valentine's Day for the Lions 

"It was a night of excruciating pain for Singapore." said The Straits Times, in summing the display of the hosts against the mighty South Koreans who were led by the legendary Cha Beom Keun (Cha Bum-kun) who went on to have a glittering career in the Bundesliga.

Such a pessimistic remark did not sit well with the team's preparations when the Pre-World Cup Qualifiers were mere weeks away with the likes of the powerhouses of Malaysia, Thailand, and Hong Kong going to descend on our shores soon.

The Hong Kong side that beat Singapore 1-0 in the Pre-World Cup qualifying final in 1977
The Hong Kong squad that beat Singapore 1-0 in the Pre-World Cup qualifying final in 1977 (Asian Soccer)

Against all odds, the perseverance of the gutsy Lions steered them through which saw they upset the highly-fancied Malaysian side with a hotly-disputed penalty converted by ace striker Mohd Noh before succumbing to the heartbreaking defeat to Hong Kong - a squad loaded with full-time professional players.

THE PINNACLE - WINNING THE MALAYSIA CUP

Having failed to make it to the next round of the 1978 World Cup qualifications, this setback probably served as the catalyst that encouraged the team to make a point by winning the Malaysia Cup in late May.

Many see this victory as "Uncle" Choo's coaching pinnacle as that was the first time since 1965 saw Singapore clinched the coveted trophy, even though the great man, himself, said Singapore football would never improve by continuing her participation in this popular tournament.

Lap of honour after Singapore won the Malaysia Cup in 1977

Soon after that euphoria, the Lions found themselves up against the likes of Arsenal, Celtic and Red Star Belgrade in the Metro 20th Anniversary Tournament in July as part of the preparation for the SEA Games that was due to take place in Kuala Lumpur in November which, unfortunately, was not a good outing for the team when they lost all their group matches to both Thailand (2-0) and Burma (5-1) **.

** Singapore played Thailand on 21st November before taking on Burma on 22nd November.

SOUR ENDING TO THE YEAR

Although Singapore football ended the year on a sour note, it remains one of the most important years in the development of the local game, primarily because of the following.

Having just gained independence in 1965, a win like the 1977 Malaysia Cup victory was seen as a moral booster by Singaporeans in a time when we were not certain if we could survive as a nation.

Having achieved considerable growth in other aspects, those subsequent ASEAN titles won after 1998 are considered insignificant to some when Changi Airport, Singapore Airlines and the world's busiest port made us recognized worldwide.

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