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 a tricky striker who made his name as a super-sub – Steven Tan...
What have you been up to since 1994?
As you know, the team was kept together for an additional year and we played in the Premier League in 1995. After that the S.League was formed, I played for Tiong Bahru for eight years before joining Sengkang Marine and then Tampines Rovers. After I retired, I became a coach with Tampines Rovers, taking charge of the Prime League team before being promoted to S.League coach. As a player, I won the S.League in 2004 and 2005 and as a coach I won the title with Tampines Rovers in 2012. I left the S.League scene in 2013 to become a youth coach with F-17 Academy, a private football academy.
How did you start off in football?
I started out like many other players then, in grassroots football. My uncle played for Mountbatten FC, one of the pioneer clubs of the National Football League (NFL). They had quite a good side in those days. Salim Moin and the late Borhan Abu Samah used to play for them. I started tagging along whenever my uncle went for training and eventually I started to join in the trainings.
I played my first competitive match for them in the NFL when I was just 16-years-old. It was against Sembawang FC and I can still remember the game was played at the Deptford field near the port in Sembawang.
From there I progressed to play for the national youth teams, U-16, U-17, U-18. We had to go for trials in those days. The coaches would inform our clubs about the trial dates and we would just go down to play. Sometimes you get in, sometimes you don’t.
For the national team, it was Milous Kvacek who gave me my break. He was Singapore’s first foreign head coach; he came in with a open mind and really just selected whoever was playing well and on form then. Although he was here for a very short few months, he gave many young players their chance.
I was very lucky. Back then, it was really difficult to break into the national team. I think today, not just in Singapore but all across world football, caps are being given out more easily.
Why do you think the 1994 team was so successful, when the original “Dream Team” in 1993 fell short?
There is no question about it that individually, the 1993 team had more skilful players but we were less a team than in 1994. Although we lost Sundram and Alastair Edwards after 1993, the team spirit in the team became better.
The camaraderie between the players was amazing. We spent so much time together. Unlike in 1993, when everyone would go their own way after training ended, we would go out for breakfast together when we had trainings in the morning and dinner for trainings in the evening.
The senior players really made the young players like me, Rafi (Ali) and (Lee) Man Hon feel at home. They didn’t have any airs. Malek (Awab) was the one who brought everyone together. He made sure everyone mixed with each other. There were no foreigner-foreigner cliques that you sometimes see in the S.League clubs today. Abbas always shared his room with Fandi (Ahmad) and Jang Jung shared a room with (Lim) Tong Hai. Abbas had a wonderful personality, he integrated really well with the team. He didn’t get any special treatment, he was just like any other player.
We had Chinese, Malay and Indian players and we could all tease and make fun of each other. The Malay and Indian players would tease Man Hon for being a “Chao Ah Beng” and we would even joke that we couldn’t see the Indian players when we trained at night. It was all good natured fun. Nobody got angry.
Our coach Douglas Moore was well-liked by the players. He was like a father figure and he gave us the freedom to express ourselves.
Moore was actually the national technical director but he stepped in as team coach after Ken Worden (who was supposed to coach the team for the 1994 campaign) resigned. Worden wasn’t as well liked by the players but we have to give credit where it is due. He was a task master and we endured an extremely tough pre-season. As a result we were all super fit. So it was really the perfect combination of Ken Worden’s tough preparation and Douglas Moore’s excellent motivation and man-management skills which contributed to our success on the field.