Dream Team 1994: The one who was top scorer at one point – Lim Tong Hai

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 one half of an excellent central defensive partnership – Lim Tong Hai...

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Wow, 21 years is a long time. Well in 1995, they kept the team together and we played in the Premier League. That was to prepare for the SEA Games in Chiang Mai. And from 1996-2003, I played in the S.League first with Tanjong Pagar United and then with Geylang United. After I retired in 2003, I moved into coaching as head of youth development, then coach of Geylang’s Prime League team, moving up to become their S.League coach, and then head of football and eventually as general manager of the team. I left Geylang in the middle of 2012. I am currently a senior lecturer of Physical Education at the Institute of Technical Education (ITE) College East.

So you have decided to step away from the football scene?

What happened is that Patrick Ang, who was my chairman for all my years there, decided to step down in 2012 and I thought the time was right for me to move on to a fresh environment. I am really enjoying my teaching life here at ITE College East. I am just trying my best to pass on the experience and knowledge from my many years as a player, as a coach and my journey in life basically. I am not away from football altogether, because I still coach the football team here. It’s a different scene but I am still doing my part to develop young players. I am also a FAS Council member and chairman of the FAS (Football Association of Singapore) Referees Committee.

You were a rock in the middle of Singapore’s defence for many years. How did you get started in football?

Since I was very young, I have looked up to my uncles, who represented the Malaysian state and national teams in football

I suppose it runs in the family. Since I was very young, I have looked up to my uncles, who represented the Malaysian state and national teams in football. In Malaysia, they were known as the “Lim Brothers” – Seng Koon, Kim Chon, Chuan Chin, Hong Guan and Teong Kim, who was the first Malaysian footballer to play in Europe with Hertha Berlin in Germany in 1987.

So it’s a football family. I would follow them around whenever they came down to Singapore with their teams to play against our team in the Malaysia Cup. I would watch them beside the pitch while they were training. Sometimes I even got to step on to the pitch to play with them. And gradually, I just got sucked into it, and there was no turning back. (Laughs)

As a young boy, I played many sports besides football. In fact, I think I was better in basketball when I was a secondary school boy in Tanjong Katong Technical School. 'TK Tech' we called it. We were always the whipping boys in football. I started out as the second choice goalkeeper, but decided to become an outfield player because I wanted more playing time. That worked out and I was selected for the Milo Football Scheme and everything moved on from there.

I played for Tyrwhitt Soccerites and after that Jurong FC in the Premier League before I was asked to join the national team in 1988 by Seak Poh Leong, who was the national coach then. 

The 1994 team was very successful on the field. Off the field, it captured the imagination of a nation. From your perspective, what was it that made you guys so special?

A lot has been said and published about 1994 already. From my perspective, I think it didn’t start in 1994, in fact it started from 1993. Of course, as you know in 1993, we came very close. We were runners up in the 2nd Divison and we reached the Malaysia Cup final against Kedah, which we lost 2-0. I remember the 1993 final very well because we played against my uncle Teong Kim in Kedah colours. My late mother had travelled up to watch me play and it was a reunion for my family members.

So in 1994, the team was hungrier, we wanted to make amends for the disappointment in the previous year and I think we were also more experienced and wiser from the previous campaign.

If you ask me, the team that was assembled in 1993, it was a godsend. You know the 1993 team was what they originally called the “Dream Team”. They brought back Fandi (Ahmad) and Sundram (V Sundramoorthy) and brought in three top-class foreign players. Our attack was so potent. You had Sundram’s trickery, the power and finishing of Alastair Edwards to add to the class of Fandi and Abbas (Saad). But it was just not meant to be.

NEXT PAGE Hostile stadiums, outscoring Fandi & Abbas and why youngsters need to go back to basics