Singapore Football

Godfrey Robert: Forget Malaysia Cup, focus on Asean glory

Singapore have had a good run in the Malaysia Cup, now let's continue to aim for Asean glory

In just over five years' time, the Malaysia Cup will celebrate its historic 100th year.

And Singapore, a founding member of the competition that was inaugurated in 1921 - then the Malaya Cup named after a British battleship - is unlikely to play any part in the centennial celebrations.

A surprise decision by the Football Association of Malaysia, five days ago, saw the LionsXII being axed from all Malaysian competitions, meaning they will also miss out on the oldest football competition east of the Suez.

Sentimentalists will groan about it. Patriots will moan about it.

But the realists, will probably say: "So what? We cannot cling on to something that has lost a lot of its lustre, its glory and its appeal."

So yesterday, another chapter in the Malaysia Cup story saw the curtains being drawn down.

With Pahang's 4-3 aggregate win after losing 2-0 to the LionsXII in the second leg of the quarter-final tie at the Jalan Besar Stadium, Singapore's run in the Malaysia Cup came to an abrupt end.

Yet again.

SAT OUT THRICE

For three times previous - 1968 to 1969, 1982 to 1984, and 1995-2011 - Singapore sat out this competition for a variety of reasons, the last time on its own volition. And this time, it looks likely that there will be no coming back.

Not when for Singapore, the Cup - with the many changes that had been forced upon unlike during its clean early years - has met its use-by date.

No doubt, the Malaysia Cup had given us many victories to celebrate, many moments to savour, and many events to cherish.

In the 24 times Singapore became champions, there were occasions when a whole nation was moved, even mobilised, for support.

And in 1994, when Singapore last won the Cup by trouncing Pahang 4-0, the Shah Alam Stadium in Selangor was a sea of red with 65 per cent of the stadium crowd being Singaporeans.

We had been enthused and excited by our participation, especially in the halcyon years when the Kallang Roar was a regular phenomenon.

In the past few years, the roar (from regular 50,000-plus fans) of the past had been hard to replicate.

There were times when the Jalan Besar Stadium, the venue of the Fifties and Sixties before the old National Stadium came into being in 1973, could not even fill its 7,500 capacity.

Ironically, it was during a period when the roar was at its comparative loudest - after Singapore won the Cup in 1994 - that the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) wanted to part ways.

But there were reasons for that, a purpose to be fulfilled, a dream to be chased.

Goal 2010 was the byword then - in 1996 - with the FAS' grand vision of trying to qualify for the World Cup.

The thinking then was that Singapore, as a country, cannot be forever hemmed in inter-state football.

That lofty World Cup goal was inter-twined with the Foreign Talent Scheme, where quality foreign sportsmen would be talent-scouted and subsequently given citizenship.

A convincing argument was put forward by our then-Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong, who singled out the French 1998 World Cup-winning team that had players born or of descent from other countries.

Names bandied about then were that of Marcel Desailly (born in Ghana), Patrick Vieira (born in Senegal) and Zinedine Zidane (of Algerian descent).

But praiseworthy though, Singapore failed in this exercise because of the inability to recruit the best players; and those who signed on were at best good enough for South-east Asian competitions.

Also inaugurated in that momentous year was the S.League, a fully professional competition which saw tremendous success in the infant years with the slate of Iranian stars of World Cup calibre.

But, over the years, with a drop in foreign talent, lack of big money, over-exposure to viewing top-class foreign leagues and, sometimes, poor management, the S.League lost its sting. There was a silver lining though from these endeavours.

Hit right in our faces was the realisation that Singapore are good enough only for South-east Asian football, and even the Asian Cup is a million miles away.

SUGGESTIONS

So at this time of remonstration, reflection and review, let's agree on a few moves.

Spice up the S.League with the LionsXII players, bring in better foreign players and foreign clubs to the domestic league, work to get a better mix of nationalities in our club teams with an eye on the Asean Super League and pit the national team in South-east Asian and Asian competitions.

And continue our healthy long-time football rivalry with our neighbours by organising a home-and-away annual match with them and our perennial Malaysia Cup rivals Selangor.

For currently, there is too much football, and the fan interest is being spread and players are suffering from fatigue.

No doubt, the Malaysia Cup has been something extra special, but it is a thing of the past.

So let's move on.

  • The writer is TNP's consulting editor who authored the Malaysia Cup book in 1990.
Singaporelionsxiimalaysia cupMalaya Cups.leagueFASUncategorised