Singapore football must not overlook those who kept the game alive when no one cared, argues Neil Humphreys...
Daniel Bennett has a physical tick that he claims to be unaware of.
When he focuses during a game, the defender flicks his toes into the turf. It’s barely perceptible, but it’s always there and strangely reassuring.
Whether he was a callow youth at Balestier Central, a torchbearer for Singapore football at Wrexham or a Suzuki Cup winner with the Lions, the flick of the toes was a tick in the box.
It meant he was concentrating. He was switched on.
Against Albirex Niigata (S) last week, the Geylang International defender practically performed Riverdance at Bedok Stadium. He was flicking throughout to thwart the Japanese.
Watching the 38-year-old veteran snuff out one Albirex raid after another was a privilege, as if being wrapped in a warm security blanket of S.League nostalgia.
Whenever Bennett urged the Eagles to push out, he surged forward, always glancing over his shoulder, always looking back.
The S.League, and its new followers, must be careful to do the same.
Like the advent of punk music after prog rock, there’s an understandable tendency to get caught in the mania of the moment and overlook those who went before, the older, less fashionable performers who held everything together in the wilderness years.
They were undeniably dark days. Public interest waned, media coverage shrank and supporters vanished, but footballers like Bennett kept going, often unappreciated, usually neglected.
When the Lions XII project kicked off, the S.League’s old guard challenged its validity.
Aleksandar Duric, among others, was vocal in suggesting that the emphasis on one might kill the other, an opinion that almost proved prophetic.
But at the time, such contrarian views were either lost in the hoopla or dismissed as the bitter ramblings of angry old men, yesterday’s men. It was all about the Lions XII.
Out of sight and mostly out of mind, the S.League’s forgotten pioneers persevered with struggling clubs at near empty stadiums.
Duric, Bennett, Indra Sahdan Daud, Lionel Lewis and Noh Alam Shah, to pick a handful of examples, are domestic and international winners who either slipped away from a struggling local game or now risk being brushed aside as minor characters in the S.League’s rebirth.
It’s all about Pennant and the promise of brighter stars to come. The storyline makes for an uplifting one, after years of stagnation and decline, but it isn’t the only one.
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