Tributes pour in for 'godfather' of Singapore water polo Tan Eng Bock
Tan Eng Bock, who died yesterday, was a distinguished player, national coach, sports administrator and police officer and left a huge legacy
Members of the local sporting fraternity hailed the humility of Singapore water polo's "father figure" Tan Eng Bock after he died early yesterday morning at Tan Tock Seng Hospital aged 84.
He suffered a stroke on Sunday afternoon, after returning home from a golf game. He was promptly hospitalised and later diagnosed to have suffered a brain haemorrhage.
Tan, an Olympian and Asian Games gold medallist, was part of the Republic's first family of water polo. His uncle, brothers and sons also represented Singapore in the sport.
Following a successful career in the pool, which saw Tan win gold at the 1954 Asian Games and multiple golds at the South-east Asian Peninsular Games, he transitioned to being a coach and sports administrator.
Tan, who was Coach of the Year in 1977, guided a new generation to an Asian Games bronze medal in 1986.
Kuah Kar Huat, who played alongside Tan's son Matthew when he joined the national team in 1986, described the deceased as a father figure to the whole team.
The 52-year-old told The New Paper: "He's really like a father to most of us. He gave us a lot of guidance along the way... how we should treat life, how we should treat people.
"The famous term he always told us was a Hokkien saying that one should be humble because you'll bump into others either at the front or back of the ship.
"Try to help each other, be nice to each other because somehow, we will meet again somewhere in life...
"He's a real legend that left behind a big legacy for everyone to follow... Since he stepped down, the sport has missed him."
Matthew, who won 10 straight gold medals at the SEA Games and later coached the national team, recounted how his father would be a chauffeur to him and his teammates, and arrange meals and tuition sessions for them.
The 58-year-old ex-national captain, whose brother Mark also won a SEA Games gold, said: "We used to have centralised training at Toa Payoh at 6am.
"So along the way, he used to pick up the other boys because... if you don't drive or have a motorbike, there's no bus so early in the morning and (at) that time there was no MRT...
"So he would arrange for them to be picked up or carpool...
"He would also ensure that after training the boys could find their way back or arrange for food... For the boys who were studying, he would arrange for tuition - our own boys helping each other...
"He looked after the other boys like his own sons."
Tan and his younger brother Eng Liang, 83, were also among the first sets of siblings to represent Singapore at the Olympics at Melbourne 1956.
Their eldest brother Eng Chai, who died in October at 86, also played for Singapore.
Tan captained the team to the SEAP Games gold in 1965, when water polo made its debut. It started a great unbeaten run that ended only last year.
After his coaching stint, Tan went on to become Singapore's deputy chef de mission for the 1988, 1996 and 2000 Olympics.
Sport Singapore chief executive Lim Teck Yin, himself a former SEA Games water polo champion, said: "His first words to me were to encourage my love for the game. In the years that ensued, he always opened our conversation with, 'How are you, young man?'.
"It told me that he cared about all the players. His emphasis on being proud to play for the love of the game and for country resonated strongly with me."
Veteran sports official Eric Song said being the deputy chef de mission alongside Tan at the 2000 Sydney Olympics was his career highlight.
Said the 60-year-old: "He's a very straightforward guy, direct but you know he is very genuine. Although he can be a little loud, he's very humble...
"He's very helpful, very caring. He always calls just to check how you are - one of my few friends who actually does that... I will miss a great friend."
Outside the sporting arena, Tan had a distinguished career in the police force, having served as the director of the Criminal Investigation Department before retiring in 1991 as an Assistant Commissioner of Police.
He received a Public Administration Medal (Silver) in 1981, a State Long Service Medal the following year and a Public Service Star in 1986.
Tan is survived by his wife Jenny, three sons Matthew, Mark and Mitchell, and three grandchildren.