Dream Team 1994: The one who was a giant between the sticks – David Lee

Just over two decades ago, the Singapore FA team completed a now legendary cup and league double to sign off in style from the Malaysian leagues. Weixiang Lim talks to the man who returned to don the gloves – David Lee...

What have you been busy with since 1994?

After Singapore came out of the Malaysia Cup, I continued to play in the S.League with Geylang United before I retired in 1997. After retirement, I remained involved with football as a goalkeeping coach with SAFFC and the Singapore Sports School. I am currently the Business Development Manager of a waste management company. I have been in the industry since 1991.

How did you get started in football?

Badminton was actually my best game during my school days. Football was something I only played occasionally, usually after school with boys in the Queenstown neighbourhood I grew up in. It was only after secondary school  that I got into competitive football. Back then the Singapore Police Force ran these neighbourhood Boys’ Clubs, and they organized a nationwide youth football tournament known as the Police Cup. I played for the Queenstown team, and we somehow made it to the final, which was played at the Padang. Our opponents in the final were the team from Bukit Timah. They were a much  stronger team and they had plenty of chances. I had a very good game as goalkeeper and we kept the score down to lose 1-2. 

The late Mr N. Ganesan, who was the FAS president then, was the guest of honour for the finals. After the game, when he was handing out the medals, he praised me, asked me for my contact number, and said he would pass my name and contact number to the national youth coaches. So that’s how it started. He gave me the inspiration to take football more seriously.

How did you then progress into the national team?

Together with Fandi I was one of the youngest players on the team in 1980 and later on when Singapore won the Malaysia Cup in 1994, I was the oldest player on the team

Shortly after the tournament, I enlisted in the Police Force to serve my National Service. While I was in the Police Academy, the team manager of Cairnhill F.C (I think Mr Ganesan must have recommended me to them) actually paid me a visit at the academy and asked me to sign for them. They were in  Divison Two of the National Football League at that time but they had two national players in their team – S. Rajagopal and Leong Kok Fann. I started off as the second choice goalkeeper for a few games, and then I was given a chance for one game. I did very well, and after that I was first choice till the end of the season. We were promoted to Division One at the end of the season and I was called up to the national intermediate squad in 1976. The two goalkeepers ahead of me in the senior national team were Eric Payne and Edmund Wee.

I spent two years with the intermediate squad before I was promoted to the senior national team in 1979. 1979 was also the year Fandi (Ahmad) made his national debut. He didn’t have to play for the intermediate team. They called him up straight from the youth team.

And then you won the Malaysia Cup for the first time the next year in 1980!

Yes. I was the second choice goalkeeper in the 1980 season. Jita Singh was the coach. Edmund Wee was the first choice keeper in front of me. But I was quite fortunate to have played in the second leg of the semi-finals and in the final. Edmund Wee was down with jaundice so I had to step up. And we won 2-1 in the final against a really top class Selangor side with Malaysian legends like Santokh Singh, Soh Chin Aun, and Mokhtar Dahari. They were the favorites but somehow Leong Kok Fann scored and then Fandi scored a second and that was my first time winning the Malaysia Cup at age 21. Together with Fandi I was one of the youngest players on the team in 1980 and later on when Singapore won the Malaysia Cup in 1994, I was the oldest player on the team.