Southeast Asian Regrets: Local football legends that didn't move abroad
Rahim Omar was one of the stars of Singapore football in the 1950s and 60s, one of those talents who honed their skills in Farrer Park.
This was a magician and there was something of a maverick about him.
I am sure he would have made it in England if he only had taken the offer from Arsenal. He had the ability and the mentality to make it at the very top
He could be found in billiard halls on game days with rumours that football officials paid opponents to lose so Rahim, later found innocent in court after being charged with bigamy, would be in a good mood at kick-off.
In 1955, there was an offer from England of a trial. Luton Town were chasing promotion to the top tier and also wanted greater squad depth. Word of the Singapore gunslinger had made its way west. Luton's coach 'Dally' Duncan made the offer.
There was one catch: the attacker would have to pay his own way, which was quite an undertaking at the time.
“Naturally I'd like a chance to play in England,” Rahim told the Straits Times (who had named him as one of their players of the year). "The problem is to get there.”
A year later, Portsmouth, then in the First Division, were also interested and wrote to Singapore.
But once again, getting the player there was tough and there were rules at the time in England that foreign players had to live in the country for two years before playing competitively. As this move too never materialised, we will never know just how that snag would have been tackled.
In the 70s, there was the Malaysian legend Mokhtar Dahari. One of the best strikers the ASEAN region has ever produced, he showed Arsenal what he had been tormenting defenders in the region with for years in 1975: his disappearing backside and then arms raised in celebration.
MORE FROM THIS SERIES
'SuperMokh' scored twice against the Gunners in a friendly win in Kuala Lumpur. Both goals in the 2-0 victory were special and there were soon rumours of a move to London.
Three years later, Singapore coach Trevor Hartley went on record claiming that this Malaysian mauraurder was better than Arsenal and England hotshot Malcolm Macdonald. Again, though, it never quite happened.
“I am sure he would have made it in England if he only had taken the offer from Arsenal,” former national teammate and ex-national team coach B. Sathianathan told this writer.
“He had the ability, the strength and the mentality to make it at the very top.
“He always had the confidence to take on players and could shoot with both feet. He was fast, had a good touch and a great sense of receiving the ball in good positions in the attacking third. For a person who was not that tall, he was surprisingly good in the air.”