by Lee Yung Hwee
There has been a tremendous amount of coverage and opinions on Ben Davis in the recent days. He is one of our first Singaporeans to be signed into a top-tier football academy with newly elevated EPL football club Fulham on a 2-year scholarship.
For those who are unfamiliar with Singapore football, we are currently ranked #169 in FIFA and our football scene has been floundering since the days of the Malaysia Cup. Our world cup dream once targeted by 2010 has come and gone by. Today we are still nowhere near it.
I am not a major football fan but I had the opportunity to watch some of the recent World Cup matches and I could not help but reminisce about the days when Singapore played the Malaysia Cup. It was not as internationally acclaimed as the World Cup or the other international leagues but it was something we were in together as a nation. There was great pride.
The pride and joy we had as we watched some of our players like Fandi Ahmad, V. Sundramoorthy, Nazri Nasir, Malek Awab, Steven Tan, Lim Tong Hai, Kadir Yahaya, Aide Iskandar, David Lee and many more others who played for our country. They played their hearts out with blood, sweat & tears and we won or lost together as a nation. Supporters would travel up to Malaysia in the busloads to support our home boys. Stadiums were packed and you would hear the lion roar.
Since then, our football scene faded away and so did my following. We went on to win 4 times at the AFF championships and the players did well to win them but that was as far as we went.
Our local league then, the S-league, lacked the excitement and attraction with games played to empty stadiums. There was no excitement like the other leagues you see in the other countries. A former S-league player reportedly once lamented that the S-league was a graveyard for footballers (Source: CNA). The importation of foreign players did not improve things and it was just a really sad state of affairs for our football scene.
Yet to this day, we fail to recognise our mistakes and persist in policies that are wrong. We have been a society that has been built on rigid policies and economic growth at almost all costs. Picking up a ball and just playing at the void decks are no longer allowed.
Kids need to go to designated tiny football “courts” to play and those are now often empty or shunned by parents with young children as the older kids play there as there is no room for them to try to kick a ball freely. We have become so sterile that we have killed off enthusiasm in so many things. Our young are all in an academic rat race.
Professional football as a career is frowned upon and unimaginable. Few Singaporeans see any hope in doing so in Singapore.
We are a society that now sees hope only in being in a top paying white-collared profession. We lament at our football scene and most will not take time out to pay and watch our boys play. But yet we will pay much to watch the other leagues on TV. We have ardent foreign club fans in Singapore but few of our own.
Football is a sport like no other. It unites a nation and nurtures the soul of the nation. It is a sport where everyone will rally behind their country regardless of race, language or religion. Football is a game that requires players to start young and to be in their prime when they are in it. Football is a team game and you need to invest in all your players to win.
It is a big mistake to think that we need to import foreign players and we will just improve our standards. We need to import great coaches to teach our clubs and coaches. We need great strength and conditioning coaches to elevate the physical prowess of our players. We need to have a great training system in place and we need to help find the opportunities to get our players out there to play in foreign leagues outside the South-East Asia region to gain even more experience in the international scene.
Most importantly, we need a Government that understands and supports the football scene, helping fulfil the dreams and aspirations of our great potential football players to bring back pride for the country instead of crushing it.
So here we are today with a golden opportunity to start getting things right with Ben Davis but yet we decide that our policies are still right despite the results showing for themselves.
We need to re-examine our conscription length and our policies for deferment. We need to reexamine how this nation is growing and has become. We need to realise that we are not just denying the opportunities of Singaporeans but that of our nation.
We need to change and grow in many more areas if Singapore is to continue to progress and not deteriorate into a beautiful looking country but yet is nothing but an empty shell.
Look at Iceland, Uruguay and Croatia. I am sure we have hidden and talented people in our midst in our population. We must give them the opportunity to step out, grow and importantly help nurture them if they want to pursue football as a career. We must not determine their dreams, aspirations or capabilities for them.
As a Government, we must help our people flourish and thrive, so that they may explore and find their own personal areas of growth & happiness as well. As they grow, our country grows.
We must change now.
Grant Ben Davis his deferment.