FFT's Telling It Like It is: John Burridge, Singapore

In the latest edition of our series, outspoken former Football Association of Singapore goalkeeping coach John Burridge – a League Cup winner with Aston Villa back in his playing days – explains his mixture of pride and frustration from his time in this country.

I enjoyed working with my four goalkeepers, Izwan (Mahbud), Hassan (Sunny), Syazwan (Buhari) and Rudy (Khairullah), during my time in Singapore.

I was working on getting Izwan out (of Singapore). He deserves it. He can definitely play in a bigger league than the S.League

It was a real pleasure coaching them and they all worked very hard for me.

The only problem for me was that we didn’t have a permanent training field. It was Geylang one day, Jalan Besar another day and the next some college pitch.

Singapore and the FAS (Football Association of Singapore) should be able to do better than that for the players.

I recommended Hassan to my friend Gary Stevens at Army United and he has done very well for himself over in Thailand. That’s my legacy. I send my players to a much higher level if they work hard for me.

I have many contacts around the world and I am not frightened to use them.

I got Ali Al-Habsi into the Premier League (with Bolton Wanderers) and Gurpreet Singh Sandhu (India’s national custodian) over to Norway.

John Burridge with Singapore keepers

Burridge enjoyed his time working with Singapore keepers

I was working on getting Izwan out as well. He deserves it. He can definitely play in a bigger league than the S.League. He’s a terrific keeper. He showed that in that 0-0 draw away against Japan last year.

I hope I can work with him again one day and if the opportunity arises, I will help him to get out of Singapore. That’s how you improve your national team. You get your players to play overseas in a better league.

Everything changed when the FAS got Michel Sablon in as the technical director. They say he did a good job with the youth system in Belgium, but he has not convinced me at all.

In fact in my opinion he has done more harm than good. He was hired to bring through the youth players, but it was obvious he wanted to be running all the teams in Singapore.

Jurgen Rabb did a terrific job with the Young Lions (after taking over from Aide Iskandar). The boys respected Jurgen because he was a German international, but they allowed him to leave and who does Sablon bring in?

People like (Richard) Tardy, (Patrick) Hesse, (Guy) Martens and (Frederic) De Boever – people who have never played a professional game in their lives.

All you have to do is look up Wikipedia and you can see a coach’s history and experience. It’s all on the internet. 

John Burridge at Wembley

Burridge meeting Princess Anne at Wembley

Sablon tends to get coaches in that don’t threaten him. In my opinion, Fandi Ahmad, Bernd Stange, V. Sundramoorthy, Jurgen and myself were all too powerful for him and he would prefer to move us on.

For some reason he didn’t seem to want ex-internationals in important positions around him.


Playing career: 1969-1997

Teams represented include:

Blackpool, Aston Villa, Crystal Palace, QPR, Southampton, Newcastle United

Member: Blackpool FC Hall of Fame

I don’t want to be negative, maybe these other coaches are good with the young players. But when you remove all the coaches with playing experience and bring in these people with no playing experience, what do you expect?

The team will decline vastly and you see it with the Young Lions in this year’s S.League (bottom with two wins from 23 matches) and you saw it in the under-19 team at the AFF Championship (knocked out in the group stage).

And it was a joke when they brought in the French keeper (Benjamin Bertrand) to play for the Young Lions this year. If he was any good, he would be playing for a big team in Europe.

They were paying him good wages and he was taking away vital experience from a Singapore lad. My philosophy is to take Singapore lads out to play in bigger leagues, not to bring in a French lad to take away their place. I couldn’t understand it.

So when my contract ended, I knew I did not want to be around anymore. All the other countries in the region are getting better, while I feel Singapore is going backwards.

I am with FC Global in the Philippines now and they have some fantastic players here. If they get their full team together, they will challenge Thailand for the Suzuki Cup at the end of the year.

Just look at the FIFA rankings. The Philippines (No.125) are 30 spaces above Singapore (No.155) and I believe they are the best team in Southeast Asia.

Photos courtesy of John Burridge