Aleksandar Duric: Tampines Rovers without 'Boss' feels very wrong

While the Singapore football fraternity continues to fuss about Tampines Rovers’ surprising financial crisis, club cult figure Aleksandar Duric questions about the abrupt exit of the ‘Godfather of Tampines’, Teo Hock Seng, and warns that the new people in charge cannot let this club suffer any embarrassment... 

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When I was 40, even I doubted my own ability to perform on the pitch and wanted to retire from football after leaving Warriors FC (then known as Singapore Armed Forces FC).

But Mr Teo Hock Seng believed otherwise, and repeatedly told me that I still could contribute to Tampines Rovers’ cause in 2010.

I was not close to the man back then, but he was persuasive and that was when I joined Tampines and began to know the real him, which turned out to be one of the best things that happened to me since playing in Singapore.

Mr Teo was given many nicknames in the local football fraternity, including the not-so-flattering Teo Hock ‘Sack’, after he wielded the axe on a succession of coaches from 2010 to 2014.

But to me and many other players, he was only ever ‘Boss’ — the man who helmed Tampines in 1999 and did so for 16 years with distinction. During this time, the Stags won five S.League titles, three Singapore Cups and four Charity Shields.

Teo believed in Duric even though he was in his 40s

Beyond football, ‘Boss’ was always there for us. Whenever I was facing off-the-pitch difficulties, he never failed to offer counsel or aid — and I am not even sure I deserved it.

One incident that has been talked about is how he unconditionally lent Noh Alam Shah money to post bail for his younger brother. Mind you, it wasn’t a small sum of money by any measure.

‘Boss’ was honoured by the S.League at the 2015 Awards Gala for his immense contribution to Singapore domestic football, before he stepped down as chairman of the Stags.

He continued to serve as an advisor to Tampines. Well, until mid-April this year, that is.

Due to unknown reasons, ‘Boss’ has relinquished his role and even went as far as to say he will not be involved in any club matter from now on.

For a man who has been the iconic kingpin of Tampines Rovers Football Club for 16 years, I am very concerned as to why he has decided to make a clean exit.

The man is nearly irreplaceable and there is no one like him around at the moment. It will be a tough act for anyone trying to fill his shoes as an advisor, much less the club’s chairman.

‘Boss’ will be missed, but the new people in his place need to step up, now.

Duric would have done anything for Teo on the pitch

It’s not easy to wear his shoes, but it will be shameful if this club goes down now just because he’s no longer around.

‘Boss’ gave his all just so that this great club could continue for the years to come, even without him, and it’s only right the people in charge make sure this happens.

This is even more heartbreaking news for me than when I had to hang up my boots. As a player, I won and celebrated many titles and shed tears with ‘Boss’. While I love Tampines, I loved ‘Boss’ more and would have died for him on the pitch.

Nobody could have seen this coming, not when Boss was vital in helping Tampines secure funds to finance Jermaine Pennant’s signing. Tampines sponsor Komoco Motors, where he is the managing director, offered $400,000 to the club.

At this point, already $360,000 of that amount has been paid out despite only a third of the season passing.

Knowing the man himself, ‘Boss’ probably had a very compelling reason to leave the scene. I don’t know what that is, nor will I speculate why.

But I do know this: Singapore football has suffered a very big loss and we need to work immediately to ensure more people like him stay involved in the game.

Football is a commercial business, but we need to grow steadily. If we have the means, then go for it, if not, let’s take this one step at a time. Tampines is not a new club. It is a great club with great history. Don’t let it go to waste.

Photos: S.League