S.League Old Boys: Tan Sio Beng, the pint-sized fighter who never shirked a challenge

Not the biggest nor the most skilful, Tan Sio Beng more than made up for that with his fearlessness on the pitch. FourFourTwo caught up with the 41-year-old, who has unsurprisingly not mellowed one bit…

“Last time … even in the changing room before we stepped onto the pitch, the bloody ref(eree) will come and tell me to watch it (my challenges),” Tan tells FFT with a grin.

“I’ll f*** the ref upside down and tell him ‘you bloody biased or what? The game hasn’t even started, why you come and warn me?’ That means his mindset is already set on punishing me for whatever I’ll do.”

TAN SIO BENG

  • Born: Jun 27, 1976 (age 41) 
  • Clubs: Balestier Central (1998-2001), Marine Castle United (2002), Sengkang Marine (2003), Tanjong Pagar United (2004), Balestier Khalsa (2005), Sengkang Punggol (2006-2007)

Known for his no-holds-barred approach during his professional career which spanned 1998 to 2007, Tan was often perceived in many quarters as a dirty player.

“I’ve gotten a few red cards, but I didn’t use my mouth (to talk back) or elbows; it’s all about tackling,” Tan emphasised. “Some of them were legitimate red cards, but some were not. I’ve seen players doing worse tackles, but they didn’t get carded. 

“Anything I did was like a trigger to the ref ‘that’s Tan Sio Beng!’ Sometimes you go in for the ball and end up hitting the leg with the follow-up, then no choice lah. But I’m proud to say my football is never about going in to hurt someone.

“For all my red cards, I’ve never been fined by my coaches or management because they knew at end of the day I was trying my best to help the team.”

Tan (front row, second from left) with his Sengkang Punggol teammates

Tan recalled an incident while playing for Sengkang Marine (now Hougang United) in the early 2000s, when he felt his reputation counted against him. 

The club management had intended to appeal against his red card against SAFFC (now Warriors), but that was ultimately rejected. 

If you want to ban me or do something, you at least make sure you take a look and consider first

- Tan Sio Beng

“I remember the game was just 20 minutes in and I got sent off (for two yellow cards) already!” he shared. “That means for every tackle I did, he gave me one card – which we felt was unfair. 

“We were asked to bring the evidence down to FAS (Football Association of Singapore) to appeal. We brought our own TV and DVD player to set up, but the three committee members came in and one of them said ‘I’m not interested in all your evidence, I just want to ban him for three more games and fine him extra $500'.

“If you want to ban me or do something, you at least make sure you take a look and consider first!” 

Being put under the microscope by officials led Tan to try to change his playing style earlier in his career.

An old newspaper cutting featuring Tan

But he gave up that idea after just a few games. 

“I still remember this game against Clementi Khalsa in the 2000 or 2001 season. I was subbed out by coach (PN) Sivaji in the first half and I knew exactly why he did so,” he recalled. 

I’m small-sized (1.65m tall) and don’t have skill. If I’m not brave or hard enough, bloody hell – anyone can replace me

- Tan Sio Beng

“The next day, Sivaji called me to his office and f***** me upside down - he said ‘If you start to pull back, that’s not you and that’s not what I want from you’. 

“That was a huge wake-up call for me that I should be playing to my capabilities. 

“I’m small-sized (1.65m tall) and don’t have skill. If I’m not brave or hard enough, bloody hell – anyone can replace me! How can I survive in the S.League where there are so many good players then?

“To be fair, some of my challenges were really rough. But if I don’t do my job, I may lose my spot in the starting 11. I’m someone who doesn’t like to sit on the bench, so I continued to go all out in every game.” 

[NEXT: No friends on the field]