Football

Godfrey Robert: Ganesan devoted his life to Singapore sport

Goodbye Gani, and thanks for all 
the great times

The man who brought on the Kallang Roar at the National Stadium languished in loneliness for almost two years.

And when he took his last breath yesterday morning, he evoked in every sports fan memories over how he breathed life into local football.

Nadesan Ganesan, or "Gani" as he was popularly known, died, aged 82, at the Good Shepherd Loft, off Bukit Timah Road, at around 7.45am after breakfast yesterday.

His death did not come as a surprise to many because, after suffering a stroke in 2011, his health had been deteriorating to the point that he was in a wheelchair and his speech was affected.

On hearing the sad news, phones buzzed and messages flew around as fans mourned, remembering him as the man who raised local football from the pits to the pinnacle.

Gani, a lawyer by profession, was a thoroughbred sportsman, excelling in football, hockey and table tennis in school (Victoria and then Anglo-Chinese School) and into his early adult years when he played for clubs like the Tamil Brotherhood Association.

To me, Gani was a dear friend, a close contact, who oftentimes offered good counsel even during easy banter.

And I have always enjoyed conversations and dialogues with him on sport, whether it be football or fin swimming or cricket or croquet.

To most football fans and the legal fraternity, he was a decent human being ­- affable, down-to-earth and always engaging.

As a lawyer (also a Deputy Public Prosecutor), he was sharp, witty and sensible.

And often to friends and footballers he offered advice and even took up their legal cases on a pro bono basis.

He is best remembered as a footballing man, obviously during his reign as Football Association of Singapore (FAS) chairman, when he also handled the national team that brought crowds of about 50,000 to the National Stadium during the Malaysia Cup heyday.

During that period, the charismatic leader showed a commitment towards work, understanding for players and a reliance on his conscience in decision-making to the point of even being dictatorial for a good cause.

And the larger-than-life personality, who even slept at the Jalan Besar dormitory where his players were housed before big games, was someone who stood up for his rights and that of his players, team and fans, even if meant upsetting royalty.

Ravi Krishnan, a family friend who works in the pharmaceutical business and had visited him every week at the Bukit Timah nursing home, was in tears when he said: "I never had a dull moment with Gani, even when he was ill."

G Shanmugam, owner of Gayatri Restaurant who used to play football for Farrer Park in his teens, said: "He was a great man, a role model to many sportsmen. I admired him so much that I asked him to officially open all my food outlets."

David Kraal, a former editor of the New Nation, said: "Ganesan used to come to my home in Dorset Road from his home in Owen Road, less than 400 metres away, when I was 13 years old.

CLOSE FRIENDS

"That was 65 years ago. We have been close friends ever since.

"In our teens, we watched Wong Peng Soon play badminton at the Clerical Union Hall at Rangoon Road, walked to Jalan Besar and watched Singapore's Awang Baker score great goals.

"We played hockey almost every evening at nearby Farrer Park. Then, late in life, we golfed together.

"I will miss my old friend, a man of many sporting talents.

"I will miss the curries he cooked for those superb late, late lunches.

"I mourn his passing, as must all of Singapore. He gave so much to sports in this country."

In fact, Ganesan gave his life to Singapore sport.

Before he became FAS chairman in 1974, I used to meet him at even minor sports events like the inter-constituency games at night because he enjoyed sport.

His sacrifice for sport as an administrator was even to the detriment of his law practice, which eventually drained him financially.

In 1977, he played the biggest part in Singapore's Malaysia Cup success - after 12 years - which prompted our founding father and first Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew to invite the team to the Istana for the celebration.

Once, in the early '80s, at a casual meeting at his Central Square office in Havelock Road, he told me: "Sport taught me many good values, so consider whatever I've done for it as payback time."

He's gone, but one image that will forever remain etched in my memory is of the man in all-white attire jumping off the bench to celebrate a goal at the National Stadium during a Malaysia Cup match.

That's passion. That's fanaticism. And that's what sport is all about.

Goodbye Gani.

Positive, enthusiastic, decisive and a hard worker

IN GOOD COMPANY: National team players with then-FAS deputy chairman Nadesan Ganesan (second from near right) and Brazil legend Pele (right), before the match with Australia’s Bayswater United at the National Stadium in 1974. PHOTOS: ST FILE, NADESAN GANESAN

Dr Tan Eng Liang has been involved in sport for much of his life.

He was a water polo star in the 1950s and '60s, and was chairman of the Singapore Sports Council from 1975 to 1991.

He continues to be one of the vice-presidents of the Singapore National Olympic Council, after assuming the post in 1992.

Over the decades, he has talked to, operated with, cajoled, advised and even scolded countless sports administrators and athletes.

He worked with former Football Association of Singapore (FAS) chairman Nadesan Ganesan, and had an up-close view as the lawyer turned what was a new National Stadium at the time, into the country's football cathedral.

And Tan, 77, was impressed.

Paying tribute to Gani, who died yesterday morning, the veteran sports administrator said: "My experience with him was very positive; he was full of enthusiasm and an official who could make decisions and was prepared to work.

"In essence, he was not just all talk, he was very hands on as an administrator, which is important because experienced officials will tell you that implementation of policies is always much harder than the formulation of these policies itself."

Ganesan, aged 82, had been under care at a Bukit Timah nursing home after suffering a stroke in 2011.

The passionate football fan has been credited as a key figure in raising the Kallang Roar, after working his socks off to move Singapore's Malaysia Cup matches from the Jalan Besar Stadium to the old National Stadium in 1974.

As chairman of the SSC (now Sport Singapore), Tan (below) recalled that they were in sync with the FAS back then.

The former water polo player said: "He (Gani) did a good job for the FAS in those days... although he approached us only when there were issues to be settled or objectives to carry out, we had a good working relationship then.

"The move from the Jalan Besar Stadium to the National Stadium was an obvious decision back then.

"The National Stadium was new and we wanted to make use of it, especially for sports."

"The Malaysia Cup was an obvious choice and we were all in support of that move," added Tan, who stepped down as SSC chairman in 1991.

While there were those who worried over fan turnout and others mourned leaving what was then Singapore football's "home" - Jalan Besar Stadium - but Gani was relentless about playing football at Kallang.

As it turned out, the Malaysia Cup matches at home saw regular crowds of at least 55,000 turn up (the Jalan Besar Stadium could fill just 10,000 people).

Tan, who was co-chef de mission of the country's contingent, along with Nicholas Fang, at the recent South-east Asia (SEA) Games here, said: "That was our assessment of the Singapore team in the Malaysia Cup then, we had confidence they could draw the fans.

"And the rest is history."

nadesan ganesanSingapore FootballGaniKallangN GANESAN