Tag Archives: Chris Gilbert

Oh captain, my captain…

The report:

This was published in The New Paper on 6 December 2008:

Mustafic Creates History (The New Paper, 6 Dec 2008)


By Gary Lim in Jakarta


AS SINGAPORE opened their Asean Football Federation Suzuki Cup campaign with a 5-0 trouncing of Cambodia yesterday, a player wrote his name into the record books.


For Mustafic Fahrudin, he began the day thinking that it would be business as usual.


Little would he have imagined that he would later lead the team out of the players’ tunnel, wearing the Singapore captain’s armband.


According to team manager Eugene Loo, Mustafic is the first naturalised Singaporean to skipper the national team in a competitive match.


As it turned out, the 27-year-old Serbia-born player was all pumped up, and even scored from the penalty spot to mark the occasion.


When the match ended, Mustafic was finally able to let the emotions sink in.


Said the defensive midfielder, who collected his Singapore passport in 2005: ‘It was only before the game that the team manager Eugene told me that I would be made captain of the team.


‘It’s a great feeling, you know. As a footballer, it is always a dream to captain your country. I’m proud to be the captain.


‘Of course, as a professional footballer, you have to play each game the same way you always do. Now, as captain, you have more responsibilities.


‘It felt good though, and I think I can be happy with my performance.’


The appointment of Mustafic as captain came as a surprise to many. Striker Indra Sahdan is usually the first-choice to lead the team, but he was missing from the starting line-up last night.


Many were also under the impression that goalkeeper Lionel Lewis was next in line for the captain’s role. But Lewis said that coach Raddy Avramovic had pulled him aside before the match to explain to him the decision.


Said Lewis: ‘The coach told me that he wanted Mustafic as captain because he wanted him to avoid collecting a yellow card.


‘Because as captain, he can speak up to the referee, and that will reduce his chances of getting booked. That’s no problem for me. We’re all part of a team. As long as the team wins, I’m happy.’


Baihakki Khaizan, who had a comfortable outing in defence, was relieved that the team got off to an opening win.


He added: ‘The coach has his own views about captaincy. Whoever is captain, I don’t mind. This team plays for one another.’


There have been several occasions when a naturalised Singaporean captained the national team, although those games involved were all friendly matches.


During last month’s warm-up game against Vietnam, Mustafic led the side in the second half, after Indra was substituted.


Defender Daniel Bennett is another who has worn the armband before.

My thoughts:

With Mustafic Fahrudin being given the skipper’s armband, we now have two national teams that are led by foreign talents.

Last month, Chris Gilbert, whom if I am not mistaken, is from England,  led the Singapore Reds to promotion in the Division One competition of the Asian Rugby Championships.

Singapore rugby skipper Chris Gilbert lifting the Asian Rugby Championships Division One trophy (Picture taken from www.rugbyworldcup.com)

Singapore rugby skipper Chris Gilbert lifting the Asian Rugby Championships Division One trophy (Picture taken from http://www.rugbyworldcup.com)

And now, we have Serbian-born Mustafic, who got his Singapore citizenship in 2005, leading the Lions in the Asean Football Federation Suzuki Cup.

I am sure the leadership appointments of these two foreign talents would have raised many eyebrows in the local sporting fraternity. And I am equally sure that there will also be people criticising these appointments, preferring to see Singaporeans being given the skipper’s armband instead.

Although I am a proponent and a big fan of local talent, I am quite neutral about this, to be honest.

At the end of the day, I am not too bothered about Gilbert and Mustafic’s captaincies simply because rugby and football are team sports and also because the balance between local and foreign talents in both teams has not tilted dangerously towards the foreign talent end.

The Singapore rugby and football teams are unlike the national table tennis and badminton teams of recent years where token Singapore representation seems to be the order of the day. That, in turn, was the result of the flagrant and shameless abuse of the Foreign Talent Scheme by the previous management regimes at the Singapore Badminton Association and the Singapore Table Tennis Association.

Hopefully, now that new presidents and management regimes have been installed at the SBA and STTA, we will get to see more talented local shuttlers and paddlers being given the opportunity to represent Singapore on the international stage. The signs, promisingly, are pointing in that direction.

Back to Mustafic and Gilbert.

As far as I am concerned, if the two chaps are good enough to lead their respective teams, and bring qualities to the table that can help to raise the standards of their teams to new levels, then bring it on, I say.

Gilbert took over the captaincy from Rong Jingxiang and I think he has, so far, proven to be a very good leadership choice.

I say this based on the way the Singapore Reds displayed a never-say-die fighting spirit and came storming back from the brink to snatch a 20-20 draw with Sri Lanka and a 23-22  win over Taiwan in the ARFU, results that enabled them to earn promotion to the Asian Five Nations competition next year.

Likewise, I have, to date, only read good things in the press about Mustafic in his role as defensive midfielder for the Lions.

New Lions skipper Mustafic Fahrudin

New Lions skipper Mustafic Fahrudin

I also like the way Mustafic has, over the years, perservered and bounced back from being just a dispensable availabe-for-loan player to the towering figure of influence that he has now become.

Remember: when he first joined Tampines Rovers a few years back, he was overshadowed by his more illustrious cousin, Sead Muratovic, who was Tampines’ midfield general and a former Yugoslav U-21 player.

In fact, Tampines even shipped Mustafic out to Sengkang Marine on loan during his second or third season in the S-League.

But over the years, Muratovic not only became a bloated and overweight shadow and parody of his former self but also gradually faded into obscurity. He was even sacked by Tampines this season after repeatedly failing the S-League’s mandatory fitness test.

Mustafic, on the other hand, has seen his star rising as he grew from strength to strength.

The fact that national coach Raddy Avramovic chose to bench him for Singapore’s final group game against Indonesia because he did not want him to pick up another yellow card (which would have caused him to miss the Dec 17 semi-final against Vietnam), is simply testament to how far Mustafic has come.   

And by all accounts, Mustafic is like Aleksandar Duric: a foreign-born talent who has shown a willingness to assimilate into his new country and make it a part of his future.

That, to me, is what differentiates him from most of the foreign-born talents who are in our national badminton and table-tennis teams, who seem to either take off for elsewhere when the going gets tough or return to their countries of origin upon retirement.

So here’s wishing Gilbert and Mustafic all the best in their roles as national skippers. May you two help to lead our Reds and Lions to new heights of success and glory in rugby and football.

Yours in sport

Singapore Sports Fan

Related links 

01 Dec – Singapore at the Asian Rugby C’ships – an alternative view

26 Nov – Battling Singapore takes its place among Asian rugby elite


31 Oct – Winds of change starting to blow through the STTA Halls


Singapore Boleh, Local Talent Boleh

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Battling Singapore takes its place among Asian rugby elite

The report:

The Straits Times carried a report today on the national rugby team winning promotion to the Five Nations of the Asian Rugby Football Union Championships.

The result means that Singapore will get to play against Asian powerhouses Japan (to date, still the only Asian country to play in the Rugby World Cup Finals), South Korea, perennial arch-rivals Hong Kong and Kazakhstan.

My thoughts:

Although I was really thrilled to read about Singapore’s promotion, I was left disappointed with the report as it lacked all the details which would have given a better idea of how Singapore fared against Taiwan and Sri Lanka in the Division One competition which was held in Taiwan earlier this month. And that is why I am not reproducing it here.

Instead,  here’s my compilation of all the information regarding the Division One competition (external links included) as well as my assessment of Singapore’s chances next year:

Prior to the start of the tournament, one would have been hard-pressed to openly predict that Singapore would earn promotion to the Asian Five Nations (A5N) competition. 

After all, Singapore’s recent results against Sri Lanka and Taiwan have been a mixture of narrow wins and defeats.

However, Singapore’s chances did brighten considerably after China suddenly withdrew from the Division One tournament.

After all, according to the International Rugby Board’s most recent world rankings, China is ranked 44th compared to Singapore’s 48th

(Note: when you consider that China only made its international test debut in 1997, losing 3-33 to Singapore, its current ranking is a frightening indication of how far Chinese rugby has progressed since).

It is believed that China pulled out of the Division One because of passport arrangements into Taiwan. China regards Taiwan as part of China whereas Taiwan regards itself as an independent country.

Still, Singapore’s chances of earning promotion to the A5N was really touch-and-go. Furthermore, Singapore’s 18-24 loss to in a warm-up friendly to a largely expatriate Guiness Cup select XV just prior to the Division One tournament definitely didn’t bring up the optimism levels.

In fact, Singapore narrowly escaped defeat to Sri Lanka in its opening match. Trailing 13-20 with just two minutes to go, Singapore scraped a draw when full-back Gareth Pritchard scored a try and John Forrester converted to force the 20-20 draw.

Thanks to Gary Carbines’ excellent and obsessive blog (http://rugby-international.blogspot.com) on international rugby, you can read the match report here.

Singapore then bounced back from the draw with Sri Lanka to score a 23-22 win over host Taiwan two days later to give itself an outside chance of promotion. Once again, Singapore required a last-minute try to save its skin.

Trailing 16-22 with only just a minute left, Singapore did its second Houdini in 48 hours when it drove back the Taiwanese before hooker Gaspar Tan leapt over the line to score the try. Mohammad Ismail then calmly converted the try to give Singapore the win.

You can read the full-match report here.

But even though Singapore reached the top of the table with its draw and win (giving it a total of eight points), there was still every chance that Sri Lanka, lying second with three points, could pip the Republic to the sole qualifying slot. All the Sri Lankans needed was to beat Taiwan in its last match by two points to shatter Singapore’s dreams.

As such, you can imagine the butterflies in the stomachs of the nerve-wracked Singapore players as they watched the Sri Lanka-Taiwan test from the stands.

But thankfully, all that worrying came to naught and instead, the Singapore team erupted with joy as Taiwan easily defeated Sri Lanka 35-23 (you can read the match report here which also has a nice picture of Singapore skipper Chris Gilbert receiving the Division One trophy from HSBC representative Peter Davies.)

So Singapore will now take its place among Asia’s rugby elite next year.

But to be realistic, it is going to be a mammoth struggle for the Republic to avoid relegation in its first year in the A5N.

Singapore has not played against Japan and South Korea since 1992 and 1994 respectively but the results weren’t pretty. Singapore was hammered 3-120 by Japan at the 1992 ARFU competition and crashed 3-90 to South Korea two years later in the same competition.

And although Singapore has come a long way against Hong Kong since its world-record 13-164 mauling in 1994, it has still not been able to beat the largely expatriate Hong Kong side (it lost 10-12 and 5-25 in 1999, 6-30 in 2000 and 8-26 in 2001).

And although Hong Kong lost to Japan (29-75) and South Korea (24-50) in this year’s A5N, it evnetually finished third by beating Kazakhstan 23-17 and the Arabian Gulf 20-12 (the Arabian Gulf were subsequently relegated after finishing last in the competition).

So unless Singapore can pull off a win over Kazakhstan in next year’s tournament, chances are it will be heading for a drop back into Division One when the dust settles on the A5N.

What I think could be Singapore’s strength though is this never-say-die spirit that it seems to be exhibiting. The fact that the Republic pulled off those two last-gasp wins also attests to a high fitness level which could stand the team in good stead next year.

This assessment aside, Singapore’s promotion means a television treat for local rugby fans. They could get to watch the Singapore tests on television as all the Asian Five Nation matches were screened on ESPN STar Sports (Ch 24) this year. 

I’ll certainly be looking forward to catching all the action on television.

In the meantime, the Singapore Sports Fan sends his heartiest congratulations to the Singapore team for earning promotion. You can find the full squad listed below.

Let’s take it one step at a time – and just savour the joy of promotion first. Cheers to all.

Yours in sport

Singapore Sports Fan

The Singapore ARFU SQUAD


Props: Norman Sin, Mark Lee, Nick Dance

Hookers: Gaspar Tan, MD Suhaimi Amran

Locks: Chris Gilbert (Capt), Steve Horsfall, Jeremy Chan

Flankers: Rong Jing Xiang, Andy Bennett, Romi Musa, Jonathan Lee

No. 8: Ben Wheeler                         

Scrum-halves: Tong Chin Hong, Andrew Lee

Out-half: John Forrester                       

Centres: Daniel Thiam, MD Ismail Kadir, Lionel Robinson

Wings: Jonathan Chen, Eric Ng, Pete Williams

Fullbacks: Gareth Pritchard, MD Zaki Mahmood


Related links:


22 Sept – A toast to our rugby heroes of ’78 – and to some fundamental principles of sport 


24 July: Remembering the National Stadium – Best Memory #5

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