Singapore Indians’ “bola” reunion

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By: Suresh Nair

SOMETIMES, we take life for granted. We tend to overlook the importance of simple stuffs like even a football reunion.

But believe me, the merry-making get-togethers establish healthy sporting relationships that even go back more than half-century and they’re a means of sharing football history stories.

Hey, as I start this “mama drama” tale, let me reiterate that no football family is perfect! We all have skeletons in the sporting closets, “bola” buddies that drive us crazy, and unresolved issues involving hurt feelings and jealousy. Yes, all of us deal with dysfunctional football relationships on some level.

I’m inspired to write this sentimental tribute after the Wednesday evening pow-pow at Balestier Road of past and present brothers of Singapore Indians Football Club (SIFC).

05The long overdue reunion was organised by Soundarajan and buddies to rekindle the good ‘old spirit of SIFC, which in the 1970s and 80s, actively took part in the Causeway-version of the Bardhan Cup, with their Malaysian state counterparts. (Those were the profound football days when Singapore Chinese played in the MCFA Cup, Singapore Malays in the Sultan Gold’s Cup and even the Singapore Sikhs in the Gurdwara Cup).

NOSTALGIC DATE

I must confess I couldn’t make it for the October 5 nostalgic date because of personal reasons but when Suresh Kandasamy sent me this pre-match photo (see above), I was just overwhelmed, and it brought back a flood of wonderful memories.

It shows the genuine brotherly camaraderie of SIFC, over three or more decades. And in the photo ranks, I see outstanding Singapore football personalities like S. Subramani (S-League Player of the Year, Singapore skipper & FIFA Century Club member), Terry Pathmanathan (longest serving Singapore skipper), M. Neethianathan (who played three sports, football, hockey and cricket, for Singapore) and Malaysia Cup stalwarts like R. Suriamurthy, Somoo Manoharan, Jaya Prakash, S. Mahalingam, Selva Kumar, E. Shanmugaratnam, Kannan Kunjuraman, Kanacha Sundram, R. Seenivasan and M. Aravinthan.

From the sentimental photo, I may have missed a few other names and I apologise in advance (not forgetting, too, G. Balaguraman, one of the outstanding young breed of S-League coaches at Hougang United). But what a rip-roaring feeling to see so many SIFC heroes, who, in their own special ways, helped to light up the Indian-spirited football flag.
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Soundarajan, who organised the exceptional reunion, said:  “Bringing these former SIFC players back to the Indian Association (IA) campus for the first time in umpteen years is just an awesome experience. So many of them have been legendary cornerstones of the Singapore football tradition from the 1970s onwards.

“The pride and the passion of the SIFC heroes are, without question, the highest they’ve been in decades. The most important purpose of this reunion is to allow this special group of buddies to come back and relive those ‘bola’ experiences and to rebuild a sense of friendship and community.”

MALAYSIAN LEGENDS

From the Bardhan Cup era, which is organised by the Malaysian Indian Sports Council (MISC), rose many Malaysian football legends, too, like M. Chandran (skipper of the 1972 Olympic Games), Santokh Singh, M. Karathu (hailed as the ‘Brian Clough of Malaysian football’), Shebby Singh, K. Rajagopal, B. Sathianathan, K. Devan, N. Thanabalan and Arumugam “The Spiderman”.

SIFC still plays a low-profile activity role, under the reliable leadership of V. P. Jothi, the current Indian Association (IA) Vice President. But Wednesday’s reunion clearly shows there’s a lot of fire in the belly of the “old guards” and a true down-memory-lane spirit.

Oh yes, when the “mama” brigade get together after their post-match showers, you can bet the Wednesday evening pow-wow camaraderie at the Indian Association (IA) will spiritedly go on very, very late, probably until the Indian cows jump over the moon!

But to SIFC, and landmark founder members like the late S. Sugumaran, it’s a dream-come-true reunion date, always to be cherished.

And, more importantly, to keep the football flag flying, as majority of the players have gone past the half-century mark, and yet remember the good ‘ole evocative era of the 1970s and 80s.

BEST BONDINGS

Yes, read my lips and mark my words, football reunions can be the best bonding of sorts.

It increases sporting (and yes, drinking!) interactions, serves as a means to share and research football heritage, build family-like unity, make family connections, foster intergenerational relationships and, most importantly, change your life!

Remember: Life is short and unpredictable, so it’s important to take the time to attend reunions whenever possible. All these people were important to you at one time and it’s nice to go back and rediscover that importance.

Family-styled football reunions just become more important the older one gets.

Let’s really drink to this extraordinary yesteryear “bola” bonding!


Suresh Nair is a Singapore-based journalist, who has followed the trail-blazing path of Singapore Indians FC from the mid-1970s, when they took part in the Bardhan Cup.