TODAY ran a report recently on the rise of impressive young goalkeeper Jasper Chan, who plays for the Young Lions, and who is tipped to give current Singapore No 1 Lionel Lewis a fight for the yellow jersey. Read the partial report here
Interesting to see how the majority of Singapore’s greatest goalkeepers in the past 40 years have been Chinese. Between the 70s and the 90s, the names that stood out were Lee Bee Seng, Lim Chiew Peng, Edmund Wee and of course, David Lee.
Bee Seng, who is now the national goalkeeping coach, was once named “Asia’s Gordon Banks” after a string of brilliant performances between the sticks for Singapore at the 1975 Merdeka Tournament in Kuala Lumpur.
Lee (as in David) and Wee went on to become Singapore’s only goalkeepers to ever play professionally overseas. Wee went off to play for South China in the Hong Kong league in 1981 and stayed there for seven years while Lee signed on as a pro with Niac Mitra in the Indonesian league in 1982.
And one can stretch the list of examples further by including current Singapore No 1 Lionel Lewis. After all, he is of Eurasian and Chinese parentage.
And now we have 19-year-old Jasper rising up the ranks.
It looks like he’s got a lot of hard work ahead of him if he ever wants to displace Lewis, but the intense rivalry for the goalkeeper’s jersey can only be good for the two players – and for the Lions, as a whole.
And it would be great to see a true-blue Singapore Chinese in action for the Lions. Because currently, the stats tell a sorry tale, one that is almost laughable if it just wasn’t so sad: 70 percent of Singapore’s population is Chinese and yet the only two Chinese chaps we have in the national squad are from CHINA.
I won’t go into the reasons why there are so few Singapore Chinese players in our national teams. They have been cited ad nauseum in the media so it’s pretty pointless dredging all of them out again.
But this, in turn, has clearly had a major impact on the progress of Singapore football in the last 20 years. After all, there is only so much talent one can find if the bulk of the players willing to make football their rice bowl comes mainly from 15 percent of Singapore’s population.
This is probably also why national coach Raddy Avramovic has had to turn to foreigners to supplement the national squad. I am sure this will increasingly affect Singaporeans’ affinity with the Lions. Let’s see how that pans out.
Even if Jasper eventually makes it to the first 11, it’s unlikely that he will inspire a whole new generation of young Singapore Chinese footballers to pursue professional football as a career.
That can only happen when Singapore finally produces a talented Chinese Singaporean striker. Reason: it is the striker, not the goalkeeper, who is always regarded as the swash-buckling hero of the team, the man who will rescue the team from the jaws of defeat and lead them onwards to glory.
Just look at how the likes of Fandi Ahmad and Indra Sahdan Daud must have inspired many young Malay kids to dream of becoming professional footballers.
And I’m sorry, FAS, but if you think that Shi Jiayi and Qiu Li are going to do the same for young Chinese Singaporean players, think again. It won’t happen – because they will always be seen as foreign players co-opted into the national squad through its Foreign talent Scheme.
In that sense, Quah Kim Song was clearly the Singapore Chinese community’s last action hero (You can’t really count Steven Tan because he was known more for being a super-sub than a man leading at the fore).
Just how inspirational was Kim Song? Just put it this way: in the 70s, kids were proudly wearing Quah Kim Song t-shirts from the market.
Back then, even my Teochew-speaking nanny, who had no formal education, was able to say to me regularly when Singapore was still in the Malaysia Cup:
“Sing ka pour ke meh wu xing giu bor? Ah si wu Kim Song, dia tiok yah eh.” (Translation: “Is Singapore playing tonight? Well, as long as Kim Song is in the team, we should win.”)
I kid you not.
So while I’ll be rooting for Jasper to wrest the No 1 jersey from Lewis (even though I don’t mind Lewis holding onto it for several more years because he is a really good keeper), I am well aware that it won’t beget a tidal wave of change in the ethnic make-up of the national squad.
You need a Quah Kim Song-esque character to do that, full of style, verve, character and most importantly, goals.
Sadly, there doesn’t seem to be anyone who can fill those legendary boots. For now or for many years to come.
Yours in Sports
The Singapore Sports Fan