Steven Tan: When I was on the bench, I would study our opponents for weaknesses

Singapore's 1990s "Super-sub" Steven Tan talks to Weixiang Lim about his Malaysia Cup days, playing in front of 30,000 fans at an S.League game and the lack of local investment in youth development.

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Before Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, there was Steven Tan.

FourFourTwo caught up with the original 'Super-Sub' from Singapore's golden generation of players from the 1994 Malaysia Cup winning team at Yishun Junior College School Field.

I remember playing for Tiong Bahru at the National Stadium and there were close to 30,000 fans and when we played at Queenstown Stadium, it was completely packed and people who couldn't get in watched from outside.

Having just finished coaching the F-17 Academy's Elite Youth Team, the time seemed ripe to bring up the state of football youth development in Singapore, but we couldn't resist asking him a few questions about those heady Malaysia Cup days to kick things off.

What was it like being a Super-sub, Steven?

(Laughs) That was a tag given to me by you guys in the media. No player likes being on the bench. Everybody wants to be in the first eleven.  But the team in 1993 and 1994 had so many good players. Guys like Fandi, Sundram, Abbas, Malek, even (Michal) Vana, it was very very difficult to displace them. So it was just me seizing whatever opportunity I was given to play and trying my best to impress the coach.

Photo: Supplied by Steven Tan

But you must have had something special to have made an impact so often as a substitute, surely.

Luck plays a part. Being at the right place at the right time too.

I think it was really about cherishing every moment I got to be on the field, because like I said before, it was so difficult to get into that team. Players like Fandi, or Abbas, even when they were carrying little knocks and sprains, would play on. Everyone wanted to play in front of 40,000 fans.

Today, it feels like they are giving away national caps too easily. You have players who haven't played in months for the Lions XII getting national call-ups. The competition back then was a lot stiffer and you were thankful for whatever time on the field you got.

When I was on the bench, I would study the opponents on the field, see if there were any weaknesses I could exploit, for example which player was tiring, or whether a player was left or right footed.

What are some of your best memories from your playing days?

It has to be the last minute winning goal I scored against Pahang. I will always remember that goal. It was pure instinct, putting the ball through Alan Davidson's legs and then shooting from outside the box.

A close second would be the 2-1 win over Kedah at the National Stadium when I beat three players and crossed for Fandi to score.