Recognising football legends the right way

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By: Suresh Nair

FOOTBALL heritage is as good as gold if those running the show know the importance of momentous history to inspire the next generation.

Younger Singaporeans need to know that we have a star-spangled track record of personalities and achievements and that there are many glowing examples of what we can achieve if we work towards achieving great things.

Too many children these days treat our football history with disdain when they should be celebrating it. And this is a timely lesson for the Football Association of Singapore (FAS).

Hopefully, things may change. Finally, a few good steps have been made with posters of Singapore football heroes of the past now adorning the corridors of Jalan Besar Stadium.

You could pass by the “Home of Football” and salute luminaries like Majid Ariff (first Asian All-Stars striker), George Suppiah (first Asian World Cup Finals referee),  Lee Kok Seng (a.k.a. ‘Captain Marvel’, who skippered Singapore for 11 years and, before independence, also captained Malaysia at the 1954 and 1958 Asian Games), the 1966 Asian Games squad that finished a historic fourth, former FAS Chairman Nadesan Ganesan, nicknamed as “Mr Kallang Roar”, the Malaysia Cup 1977 & 1981 team-triumphs under “Uncle” Choo Seng Quee and Jita Singh, respectively, and even learn about the famous Quah family from Sembawang.

It is long overdue to acknowledge and appreciate the footballing yesteryears, when Singapore stood tall among the Asian “giants”, and on record, this year is the 125th anniversary of the Football Association of Singapore (FAS), as the oldest Asian Football Confederation (AFC) affiliate.

Much credit for this mini-heritage project must go to departing S-League Chief Executive Officer Lim Chin and his deputy, Kok Wai Leong, who spearheaded the nostalgic move to restore a sense of distinctive remembrance pride at the “Home of Football”.

The longer-term dream of the FAS must surely be a football museum, reflecting the status of the world’s No 1 sport and showcasing the very best of the Made-in-Singapore past contributions, successes and personalities.

Few in Singapore and/or Malaysia believe that history has a vital presence in football, as every new “bola” result is judged against a past result. For starters, in my view, this means that if sporting results are not kept, then improved performance cannot be proven.

It is the same for any sports organisations that do not retain their records, their growth cannot be adequately measured or success shown.

HERITAGE

In my opinion, retaining sport history is important as part of the nation’s heritage, but it is primarily of benefit to the individual organisation. And I hope the FAS, in its auspicious 125th anniversary, will see the real value-add of history and heritage, reliving and reminiscence in order to launch its whole football strategy for the next decade.

“In the future football will celebrate our history,” says award-winning coach Jita Singh, who was honoured with the 1982 ‘Coach of the Year’ award. “Football must establish, in the longer-term, a special football museum to acknowledge the Made-in-Singapore history and establish a strong connection between football’s present and its past.”

“More than this, a ‘Home of Football’, with the right records in place, will allow Singapore to nicely recall the past and positively look to the future, while also celebrating our football history by encompassing a football museum. I believe it will act as a focal point for the whole football community.”

Watty Majid, the daughter of Majid Ariff, who in 1998 was among only two Singaporeans in the 116 top Asian players to be nominated for Asia’s Footballer of the Century award, says: “The family is very proud of these latest flash-from-the-past posters. It rightly showcases my father and so many other local legends, who’ve played during the tough times of the 1960s and 70s, where there were few monetary rewards and/or incentives.”

And in 1966, Majid helped the national team finish fourth in the Bangkok Asian Games – still the best-ever showing on the continental stage, before he was specially picked for the Asian All-Stars.

Shamini Suppiah, the only daughter of iconic referee George Suppiah, the first Asian to hold the whistle in the Poland versus Haiti match at the 1974 World Cup Finals in the-then West Germany, says: “We’re thrilled that my father’s ‘blood, sweat and tears’ are nicely captured on big posters and put along Jalan Besar Stadium. The family now looks forward to the museum, where many more of his refereeing items can be displayed.”

The critics will say that museums are expensive institutions, both to set up and run, and several sports museums have failed to establish viability, in many parts of the globe.

PURPOSE OF MUSEUM

What is the purpose of a museum? Is it celebratory or critical?

Museums of sport often differ from ‘Halls of Fame’ in being less sports-specific and having more clearly defined archival and research functions. Nevertheless, critical scrutiny of such museums is constantly required both for the intellectual health of the curators and for the edification of the patrons, lay and professional.

Factual accuracy is usually a prime goal but broader cultural and ideological concerns may not be constantly addressed and interrogated.

As football historian Wray Vamplew put it: “Unfortunately, too many of the smaller museums are run by enthusiastic collectors trained neither in curatorial skills nor as sports historians, which results in the presentation of artefacts without adequate explanation and a failure to set them in their appropriate social, economic or political setting.

“Sports museums inhabit that part of the sporting world obsessed with winning, and generally give insufficient recognition to either participation or that most typical of sports experiences – losing.”

Another school of thought is that a danger with the proliferation of museums is that few of them will be able to be self-sufficient thus putting their collections in constant danger of being broken up or sold off or simply disappearing. Depending on a few enthusiasts is a recipe for long-term disaster.

But in my view, if a concerted effort is made by the authorities and government, Singapore football can unearth a landmine of heritage items to include realia (trophies, sport equipment, uniforms etc.), ephemera (advertisements, tickets, posters, programmes etc.) as well as books, journals, diaries, letters, photographs, audio recordings,  film and video recordings and scrapbooks. It can also include the general organisational records that are created as part of day to day business.

RETAINING HISTORY

As Singapore’s only sport that can spiritedly unite the country, the FAS must realise that retaining football history is important as part of the nation’s heritage, but it is primarily of benefit to the individual organisation.

They must come to focus that maintaining a strong historical identity, the FAS can benefit from:

  • A GREATER sense of pride, loyalty and inclusion that will assist in retaining current members and in attracting new members.

  • A STRONG marketing asset to attract support, funding and sponsorship.

  • INSPIRATION for current and future athletes to seek to emulate past success.

  • KNOWLEDGE that the athletic struggle for today’s sporting success will not be forgotten but will become part of an ongoing history.

  • IDENTIFYING heritage assets and organisational IP (Intellectual Property) that may be commercially realised.

Quick checks show that most of the leading European soccer clubs have their own museums, but many of them function more as visitor centers, serving the public relations needs of the clubs, than as sports museums proper.

For me, if financial constraints appear to be stumbling blocks, the first step in parallel would be establishing a good website that is called the ‘football museum’ which showcases the collection. At least then you have a virtual museum to build upon.

For the moment, let’s applaud the few inspiring steps with posters of Singapore football heroes of the past now adorning the corridors of Jalan Besar Stadium, the “Home of Football”.

We have a persuasive and potent past to be proud of with compelling reasons to ensure that the younger generations do not forget luminaries like Majid Ariff,  George Suppiah, Lee Kok Seng, the 1966 Asian Games squad that finished a historic fourth and  the Malaysia Cup 1977 & 1981 team-triumphs under “Uncle” Choo Seng Quee and Jita Singh and even learn about the famous Quah family.

  • Suresh Nair is a Singapore-based journalist who was involved with the recent heritage-history project, under S-League Chief Executive Officer Lim Chin

 

 

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