Dream Team 1994: The one who was the soldier – V Selvaraj

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 effervescent forward whose route to the team was a winding but ultimately glorious one - V Selvaraj.

At the start of 1994, you were an army regular, how did you go from being a soldier to scoring goals in front of 50,000 people?

I was an army regular for 6 years. After my ‘A’ Levels, I went into the army, did my BMT (Basic Military Training) and decided to sign on. I did my Guards Conversion Course and I was all set for a regular’s life.

After I had completed my course, I was posted to a unit in which the second-in-command was Colonel Chris Chan (presently Secretary of the Singapore National Olympic Council), and he was a big sports person. He really has been one of the biggest mentors in my life. He drafted me to play for the Guards Formation Team.

Colonel Chan really took care of us. He arranged so many friendly matches, with the top Premier League teams in Singapore at that time, and my football really grew. As a striker, I scored a lot of goals and we were army champions for 3 years in a row. 

From there, I moved on to play football for SAFSA (Singapore Armed Forces Sports Association) in the Premier League. It was my performances there which got me spotted by Douglas Moore. The team had already won the Malaysian Premier League when they were hit by an injury crisis, and I was drafted in for the Malaysia Cup campaign. I was only 23.

What a stint that was. So very brief, but oh so glorious!

(Laughs) Yes. It was a very short time, only a few months, but it was a golden experience. We won the double, it was an unforgettable introduction to professional football.

I remember it as a blur now but my first game in the starting XI was a big game, against Pahang, in Pahang. The forward slots were all full, so I started as a right wing-back in a 3-5-2 system. Moore wanted to utilise my speed and strength. I was able to make an impact, so I thought it was a very good debut. I worked very hard. I was composed defensively, I won a lot of challenges and I had a hand in both the goals we scored in a 2-2 draw.

Fandi was there along the way to keep me from becoming arrogant.

I provided the cross from which Fandi [Ahmad] scored the first goal and for the second goal, there was a goal mouth melee close to the end of the game. I blasted the ball towards goal, it took a deflection off a Pahang player, and Lee Man Hon tapped it in to give us a crucial point.

From there my name grew. The newspapers gave me a very good appraisals, and people started to recognise me. I also had coach Robert Lim [assistant to Moore] to thank. He came up to me after dinner once and spoke to me. He said, “Keep your feet on the ground, don’t let the hype get to you. Concentrate on the football.”

He was talking to me at the airport hotel. “This is your break. If you ever get a chance to play again, you must show the same desire and intensity and spirit.”

I started the next two games. Against Perak in another away game, I went on a run, beat five players and scored from an acute angle, leading the newspapers to try and make my name bigger. Once again, Robert was there, Fandi was there, calming me down, reminding me to stay focused.  These are the people in my life, along the way, who have kept me away from becoming arrogant.