Sunday, 24 September 2023

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“You are the footballer we need, but not the one we deserve”

A letter from James Lee

Dear Ben,

I am sorry. I am sorry because your faith in our meritocratic and highly efficient society has been misplaced. You had thought to go through the proper channels; to appeal to MINDEF with FAS supporting you. You thought that perhaps MINDEF would be compassionate to your dream, no, our dream. Singapore’s Dream. Perhaps your father was inspired by then PM Goh Chok Tong, who in 1998 sold Singaporeans a dream of a Singaporean team at the World Cup. It was called ‘Goal 2010’. Many of your father’s friends might know of it and how it fizzled out and died. We might have missed the boat for 8 years now, but perhaps that dream now lies on your shoulders. Yet I am sorry to say that maybe you should not have placed that much faith into the system that you thought was so dependable.

In your 17 years growing up in Singapore, you would have noticed something underlying about the efficiency of this country. I have seen it, and will let you in on it. There’s a phrase for it – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. You see it in our trains, in our systems and processes. “Don’t rock the boat”, they said. Unfortunately, your case has rocked the boat so hard that it has capsized and those on board now find themselves in the water and do not know what to do. It is as if you were given a multiple choice question, but your answer isn’t any of the four options given, and although there’s a blank field for you to key in your answer, the output from the machine is the same regardless what you type in –

<Error. Answer incomprehensible> <Error. Answer incomprehensible> <Error. Answer incomprehensible>

In frustration, you will probably bang on your head on the keyboard and give up on this country, when you sadly come to the realisation that our processes are so rigid that it takes an act of God (or Lee) to change anything. Citizen petitions and voices oft go unheard, but perhaps you are too young to know that.

“Don’t rock the boat”, they said. “Just go by the book”. Jack Neo even made a film called ‘Just Follow Law’ – you might have watched it in your growing up years. Tells you a lot doesn’t it? An elected MP once pointed out that the public service has lost its heart. And rightfully so.

That was in 2017, but nothing has changed. So I don’t suggest you keep your hopes too high. You already know your options, so I will not advise you which to take. So, Ben, I am sorry. For you unwittingly became our hope, our last Jedi, to perhaps re-ignite the passions of Singaporean football, to perhaps be the catalyst to make our World Cup dream come true. You had to bear this burden, and you have all our moral support, but sadly, not the most important support from the authorities. For all the imperfections and the unwieldy systems of our country, you probably deserve better, maybe in England, maybe Thailand.

So know this, Ben – You are the footballer we need, but not the one we deserve.

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