S.League Old Boys: Nicodeme Boucher, the towering Senegalese goal machine

Nicknamed the ‘Black Pearl’, Nicodeme Boucher terrorised many defences in the early days of the S.League. FourFourTwo caught up with the former Tanjong Pagar United forward to chat about his Singapore adventure, playing alongside Dimitri Payet and of course, that infamous bust-up with Tan Kim Leng in the 2000 season…

It happened 17 years ago – May 19, 2000 – to be exact.

However, if you asked any fervent S.League follower, this incident would probably be still fresh in their mind. After all, it was an incident that rocked the S.League fraternity at that point of time.

Boucher allowed emotions to get the better of him as he charged into the Warriors’ dressing room to throw punches at Tan

That night, Tanjong Pagar United and SAFFC (now Warriors FC) locked horns in a top-of-the-table clash.

Games between the two teams were famous for being a feisty affair back then, as both teams were consistently challenging for honours.

SAFFC pipped Tanjong Pagar to the 1997 and 1998 S.League titles, while the Jaguars got one over the Warriors in the 1998 Singapore Cup final with a 2-0 victory.

It was to be no different in that clash at Queenstown Stadium, except that things boiled over and spilled beyond the field of play after a 0-0 draw.

Tanjong Pagar forward Nicodeme Boucher was unhappy with events that transpired on the pitch between him and Warriors midfielder Tan Kim Leng, with both carrying on the heated verbal exchange when walking back to their respective dressing rooms.

Tanjong Pagar clinched the 1998 Singapore Cup. Photo: Samawira Basri

Eventually Boucher allowed emotions to get the better of him as he charged into the Warriors’ dressing room to throw punches at Tan.

The latter then made a police report, but subsequently withdrew the complaint after Boucher, under the advice of Jaguars general manager (GM) Richard Woon, offered to settle the case out of court.

The Senegalese was, however, suspended for one year by the S.League. His absence upfront was sorely felt by Tanjong Pagar as they fell off their rails thereafter, allowing SAFFC to claim the 2000 title with three games to spare.

What would surprise people most was that he and Tan shared an amicable relationship prior to that

Reflecting on that infamous incident, Boucher knew he only had himself to blame.

“I would prefer not to go back (to talk about this) because it was a difficult time for me, my wife and the whole club,” he admitted to FourFourTwo. “It cost us the title at that time so it was a very sad moment.

“I don’t want to share too much into details… Sometimes football is about emotions and the desire to win. When you have too much desire and don’t control the moment, this kind of thing can happen. I can’t use the excuse that I’m immature because I was 33 at that time.”

What would surprise people most was that he and Tan shared an amicable relationship prior to that.

Nobody can deny that Boucher lit up the S.League. Photo: Samawira Basri

“We knew each other because we met at the (old) National Stadium in the same room many times,” he revealed. “We were both injured at that time so we met during treatment; we discussed things and sometimes I give him some advice because he was younger than me.

“That’s why some things, it’s difficult to understand. On the football pitch, sometimes you can have a problem with your friend or even your brother. All I can say is I regret and learnt a lot from this incident.

“We never talked after that, but it’s not a problem for me (to say sorry) if we ever meet again.”

That was perhaps the only blemish on Boucher’s time in Singapore as the dreadlocked Senegalese forward lit the S.League alight with his towering presence upfront.

Not many defenders could handle his sheer physical strength, aerial power and astute ball control.

The arrival of the big man

Boucher first arrived in the Lion City to trial for Tiong Bahru United (Tanjong Pagar’s former identity) at the end of 1996 and did enough to earn a contract with the Jaguars the following season.

Iconic Dutch coach Robert Alberts quickly snapped up the then 28-year-old, who played in the Reunion Island League for the past four years where he was the top scorer with an average of 18 goals per season for US Possession.

A fairly younger Boucher. Photo: Provided by Boucher.

Taking a pay cut to play in Singapore, Boucher quickly impressed with five goals in his first four games and recorded double figures as the Jaguars finished just three points behind eventual champions SAFFC.

“It was Mr Alberts who came to pick me up in Reunion Island,” he recalled. “He heard good things about me so he came to see me play. I needed a new challenge at that time and he presented to me a good project, so I agreed to come to Singapore.

“It was a really good first season because we finished second. We had good foreigners like the Cameroon World Cup player Emile Mbouh, the Swedish player Hakan Soderstjerna and Croatian goalkeeper Dragan Talajic whom made up a good team.”

That special year

Boucher could have missed Tanjong Pagar’s greatest-ever season in 1998 thereafter as he chose to return to Reunion Island for ‘personal reasons’.

However, he would return in mid-season after being persuaded by Tohari Paijan – who took over from Alberts as head coach.

Boucher was among the league's top scorer. Photo: Provided by Boucher.

Boucher rejuvenated the Jaguars with his powerful performances as he scored 11 goals to fire the Jaguars to a Singapore Cup and FA Cup double.

The pick of the bunch was undoubtedly the stunning 30-yard volley in the Singapore Cup final, which helped Tanjong Pagar defeat SAFFC 2-0 in front of 15,000 fans at the old National Stadium.

I remember those days, it was like yesterday! I scored many goals because we had such a good team spirit. All the players (including the reserves) were really involved with the team and the atmosphere was really good

“I kept a good relationship with Mr Woon and coach Tohari came to Reunion Island to convince me to return to the club,” he shared. “Coach Tohari came for 15 days; he came to watch me train and we went out for dinners to communicate about the club.

“The foreigners were different from last season (except Talajic) but still very good, players like Vlado Bozinoski, Majid Motlagh, Jorg Steinebrunner. We also had strong local players, with eight playing for the national team – Lim Tong Hai, Steven Tan, Samawira Basri, Basri Halis to name a few.

“I remember those days, it was like yesterday! I scored many goals because we had such a good team spirit. All the players (including the reserves) were really involved with the team and the atmosphere was really good.”

Boucher was also keen to give credit to Tohari for the team’s success.

Boucher was nicknamed the 'Black Pearl'. Photo: Samawira Basri

“When he took over, he continued the work of Mr Alberts but kept his own style of coaching,” he said.

“He’s a good person who have a good relationship with all the players. We always go for lunches together after training and speak about many things… All these small little things to keep the spirit of the team.”

Boucher then re-joined US Possession in the 1999 season but found the lure of playing of the Jaguars too hard to resist as he returned the following season.

His third stint with the club looked to be going swimmingly well as he forged a fearsome ‘Twin Tower’ strike partnership with compatriot Boubacar Seck, scoring 11 goals in 13 games as Tohari’s men posed a threat to SAFFC’s title hopes.

That was until the bust-up with Tan, as Boucher left the club shortly after being given the one-year playing ban in Singapore.

Boucher was then swiftly snapped up by SS Saint-Louisienne – winning the 2001 and 2002 Reunion Island League, as well as participating in the 2002 and 2003 African Champions League campaigns with the club.