RIP Chan Siew Kay: Teacher, coach and gentleman

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By Suresh Nair

FANDI AHMAD offered the biggest salute to the late Chan Siew Kay in hailing him as a “great teacher, coach and a beautiful person”.

Thursday’s death of the 81-year-old retired teacher at Sang Nila Utama School may not hit the big sports headlines or ring loud bells in the football fraternity simply because Chan went about his lifestyle as a simple-minded teacher, football and rugby coach.

He groomed countless numbers of teenagers especially in football skills when he was first the Combined Schools coach in the mid-1970s and later the Lion City Cup Under 16 national squad, when the tournament kicked off in 1977.

But Chan was like a typical wallflower, always played it low-key in public profile, never sought out personal glory and gave his best shot in whatever he did.

He found the greatest pleasure when the secondary students he taught got on to high academic professional lives or the sportsmen he trained attained top regional performance levels.

No, he never expected any pats on the shoulder and never got any feathers-in-the-cap. But in my books, Chan ranks as one of the nicest football gentlemen, with a heart of gold, whose good-natured personality never failed to leave an instant “first impression”.

News of his death, on the eve of Good Friday, shocked me as family members kept it the way Chan wanted, personally and privately as he always led his life, since he was born in China on October 18 1935, sincerely and straightforwardly.

His modest memories will surely leave an unforgettable impression. In my thoughts, as I write this humble obituary, I want it recorded that he was amicable and approachable, cordial and congenial, gentle and good-natured and so polite and pleasant.

FANDI AHMAD PRAISE

Fandi’s applause and appreciation are perhaps the highest compliments. In a SMS note, he said: “Suresh, please convey my condolences to the Chan family. He was a great teacher, coach and a beautiful person from the FAS-Milo School and Lion City Cup era of the late 1970s.”

Chan was equally skilful in football and rugby, from the 1970s when he taught at the now-defunct Sang Nila Utama School. He played for East Coast-based club, Telok Kurau, and at rugby for the leading club, Blacks Rugby Football Club. When he hung up competitive sports, he still played for the Veterans Football Club (VFC), even past the half-century mark, when he joined even in the overseas playing tours.

SNOC 1981 ‘Coach of the Year’ Jita Singh hailed him as an “unassuming and soft-spoken gentleman” who generously shared his football and rugby knowledge with the younger generation. He added: “If you learnt the sporting skills from Siew Kay, you’ll just love him because he had a special knack of teaching with a positive mindset and very passionate.”

Chan was one of six senior coaches out of 30 who passed the FAS (Football Association of Singapore) Advanced Level coaching course under British coach Trevor Hartley of West Ham fame.

He later became one of the pioneer coaches at the FAS-Milo School, the first football nursery academy in the late 1970s, The other five were Jita Singh, Mat Ariff Bujang,  Yusope Mohd, Ibrahim Awang and Abdul Manan Shariff.

Chan was also national coach of the Singapore “B” team in the inaugural Lion City Cup Under 16 team in 1977, together with John Fernandez, during the glorious FAS era of the late Chairman Nadesan Ganesan.

RUGBY KICKER

SNOC 1978 ‘Coach of the Year’ Natahar Bava, who won the 1978 and 1982 Malaysian Rugby Union (MRU) trophies, praised Chan as an “excellent flyhalf at rugby…a very good kicker with great speed that made him outstanding on the field”.

He said: “He played for Blacks Rugby Football Club, as one of the founder-members, and his wife, Maggie Lee was a Physical Education (PE) teacher, who excelled in the hurdles and the jumps.”

Former Singapore skipper and national coach Seak Poh Leong, who was in the graduating batch of mid-1970s coaches under Hartley, said: “The younger players Siew Kay taught and trained revered him as he was a rousing teacher on his favourite subject of football. He could explain the football basics, even demonstrate the playing fundamentals and everyone enjoyed learning from him because he was very patient and caring.”

Johana Johari was a schoolboy international, together with Fandi Ahmad, who played in the Lion City Cup 40 years ago. He summed up Chan as a “fatherly figure, who was always prepared to go the extra mile”.

Johana, the former coach of S-League Hougang United in 2013, said: “Mr Chan was very kind, always encouraging us to give our best, he was caring, patient, approachable, humble, knowledgable and, most importantly, always there when we need advice or help.”

  1. Kandasamy, who manages the Singapore Veterans FC, cheered Chan as a “very loyal veterans player” who travelled with the team to Australia, Indonesia Thailand and Malaysia. He added: “He was simply excellent in every sense of the word, just a beautiful gentleman, who was dazzling with his footwork and speed with the ball, and yet graceful in his mannerism. We’ve lost a very special role-model teacher and coach.”

HUMBLE PERSONALITY

Former FIFA referee T. Rajamanickam singled him out as “heavenly humble in personality and always heartfelt and trustworthy in every dealing”. He explained: “He is one of the best Singapore examples of a football teacher. He was strict yet caring and treated the young players like his sons.”

The Ex-Singapore internationals, too, showered their appreciation. Team manager Richard Wong said: “Siew Kay made his mark with the FAS-Milo School in the late 1970s, a football-kindergarten which produced scores of future national players, like Fandi Ahmad, V. Sundramoorthy, Razali Alias, David Lee, Malek Awab and many more. His dedication to nuture the younger players must be commended.”

Chan leaves behind wife, Maggie Lee, and son, Raymond Chan. The wake is at Singapore Casket, Level 2, Sapphire Room, at 131 Lavender Street, Singapore 338737.

The cortege leaves on Sunday at 12.30pm for a pass-by at the Chan’s apartment at Block 1, Marine Terrace, and then to Mandai Crematorium Hall 1 for cremation at 2.00pm.

Rest in Peace, Siew Kay, my friend, you’ll always be on my mind as a man of football honour, a man of his word, a refined teacher and coach, and truly a “bola” don.

Now’s the time to put on record and to blow your trumpets to let Singaporeans know that you were a passionate “papa” coach, revered by thousands of kids you were taught the ball skills, including Fandi Ahmad, the “Son of Singapore Football”.

Suresh Nair is a Singapore-based journalist who has known the late Chan Siew Kay for over four decades. Both hail from the same Padang club: Singapore Recreation Club.