News Singapore Premier League • July 3, 2020
25 Moments in 25 Years: Vote for Singapore Football’s Greatest Team!
SINGAPORE, 3 JULY 2020 – From the all-conquering Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) FC side of the late 2000s to the invincible Albirex Niigata (S) team of two years ago, Singapore football has witnessed some truly spectacular teams since the S.LEAGUE was established in 1996.
Now, as part of the 25 Moments in 25 Years campaign, we want YOU to pick Singapore Football’s Greatest Team from the past quarter-century!
How does this work? Well, we have selected 11 teams that we felt were outstanding from the past 25 years. All of them have won at least one league title or Singapore Cup trophy and will be pitted against each other in a knockout “tournament” to crown the champion. The entire voting process will be conducted solely via the Singapore Premier League (SPL) Instagram Story, which will feature different match-ups every weekend starting from 4 July, so keep a lookout for it!
You will find that there are two clubs that have two entries each, namely SAF FC and Tampines Rovers – as such, we have paired each of them against in two of three qualifying ties, meaning only one representative of each club enters the knockout rounds. The third qualifying tie sees Tanjong Pagar United go up against Balestier Khalsa – these are the only two teams that have not won the league title at least once. The three winners of the qualifiers will proceed to the quarter-finals, which have been pre-drawn randomly.
From there, the knockout rounds will proceed until one team is left to be crowned as Singapore Football’s Greatest Team! To help you decide who to vote for, we have provided some background information on each of the teams involved, which you will find below.
SAF FC (1996-1998)
The Warriors were a force to be reckoned with right from the very start. A solid Croatian backbone saw them go thrill in the 1996 season, going through the Pioneer Series unbeaten and only falling at the final hurdle to Geylang United. Ivica Raguž won Player of the Year and Jure Ereš took the Golden Boot that year and they would go on to win the next two league titles. New signing Nazri Nasir succeeded Raguž as Player of the Year in 1997, helping SAF win their first league crown, while Fandi Ahmad proved evergreen in 1998 to help them seal a second straight triumph by edging Tanjong Pagar. Vincent Subramaniam, at the helm throughout, could also count on the likes of Rezal Hassan, Veselko Paponja, Hairi Suap and Velimir Crljen.
Tanjong Pagar United (1998)
While this side may not have won a league title, they were nevertheless a force to be reckoned with during the early days of the league. Having finished second (as Tiong Bahru United) the season before, Robert Alberts’ side mounted a ferocious challenge to SAF FC in the 1998 season, conceding a league-best 15 goals and were unfortunate to finish second on goal difference. Tohari Paijan took over on short notice after Alberts left in October but he led them to triumph in the Singapore Cup as they exacted revenge, defeating the league champions 2-0 in the final to win the inaugural edition – their only piece of silverware to date. S. Subramani and Lim Soon Seng were crowned Player of the Year and Young Player of the Year respectively, excelling among a side that had Steven Tan, Lim Tong Hai, Dragan Talajic, Nicodeme Boucher and Vlado Bozinovski.
Geylang United (2001)
Five years after they won the inaugural S.LEAGUE title, the Eagles returned to the top by edging SAF FC to their second league crown by just two points. Jakbir Khalil’s side conceded less than a goal per game – 28 in 33 – to nip ahead of the defending champions, with Aleksandar Duric scoring 32 times. Brian Bothwell, William Bone, Mohd Noor Ali, Hasrin Jailani, Zulkarnaen Zainal all played their part as they staved off SAF’s late push – a 3-0 win over the Warriors with seven games left proved crucial as Geylang eventually sealed a memorable triumph, despite SAF winning their last seven games.
Home United (2003)
The 2003 vintage edition of the Protectors were virtually unstoppable as they became the first ever side to win the Double in local professional football history. Steve Darby, who had joined in 2002 and led Home to second place behind SAF FC, saw the fruits of his labour blossom spectacularly as the trio of Peres de Oliveira (37), Egmar Goncalves (29) and Indra Sahdan (26) combined to score 92 of their 104 league goals – equalling SAF’s record for a 33-game season in 2002 – to win the title by 14 points ahead of Geylang United. Peres, the undisputed Player of the Year and Golden Boot winner, tallied an astonishing 45 goals in 38 games to help Home, who also had the likes of Sutee Suksomkit, Surachai Jaturapattarapong, William Bone, Aide Iskandar, S. Subramani and A. Siva Kumar, to bag the Cup as well.
Tampines Rovers (2004-2005)
These two seasons were the first golden period for the Stags, who won their first ever league titles under the guidance of Vorawan Chitavanich, having never finished higher than fourth in any of the preceding seasons. Nazri Nasir, Mirko Grabovac, Noh Alam Shah, Sead Muratović, Fahrudin Mustafic, Aliff Shafein, Santi Chaiyaphurk and Choketawee Promrut were the star names as they won the S.LEAGUE with a game to spare and went on to win the Singapore Cup to make it a Double in 2004, before retaining the league the following year. Mustafic was Young Player of the Year in 2004, while Grabovac and Alam Shah won the Golden Boot and Player of the Year accolades respectively in 2005. Unsurprisingly, Chitavanich was Coach of the Year in both seasons.
SAF FC (2006-2009)
After the successes in 1997 and 1998 – and a first Singapore Cup trophy in 1999 – the Warriors went on to win two more league titles in 2000 and 2002. But three barren years followed before the arrival of Richard Bok as head coach ushered in a glorious period. The Singaporean led SAF to a record four consecutive titles and added two Singapore Cups (2007 and 2008) victories – still the only back-to-back Double by any club – for good measure in one of the most dominant eras for any team in local football history. They registered a staggering 72 per cent winning percentage in the league, losing only 17 times in 126 games and scoring and average of 2.57 goals per game. Therdsak Chaiman pulled all the strings and Aleksandar Duric got all the goals, the latter winning three straight Golden Boots from 2007 to 2009. Bok, who was named Coach of the Year thrice (2006, 2007, 2009), also steered the club to two landmarks in the AFC Champions League – first, becoming the first Singaporean club to win a point in the group stages (2009) and then to win a match (2010).
Étoile FC (2010)
New entrants to the league in 2010, French side Étoile FC made an immediate impact by winning the title in their first season. Patrick Vallée guided the Stars to triumph ahead of Tampines Rovers, pipping them by just one point. Frédéric Mendy was the undoubted star as the then 21-year-old scored 21 times to win the Golden Boot and lead his team past the finish line, as well as helping them to the League Cup trophy. The striker would go on to bang in the goals for Home United before a move to Portuguese top-flight side Estoril and then the K-League with Ulsan Hyundai and Jeju United; he also made his international debut for Guinea Bissau and returned to Portugal’s top flight in 2018 with Vitória Setúbal. Other stars of that side included Yohann Lacroix, who conceded 23 goals, the least in the league, Flavien Michelini and Matthias Verschave.
Tampines Rovers (2011-2013)
The Stags had to wait a while for their next sustained period of success. Having finished second in the league in 2009 and 2010, they then reeled off three consecutive league triumphs to take their total haul to five titles. Steven Tan, who was part of their winning squads of 2004 and 2005, led them to the 2011 title as head coach to join Richard Bok and Fandi Ahmad as those to have won the S.LEAGUE as both a player and coach. Tay Peng Kee, who stepped in during the 2012 and 2013 seasons after Tan and Nenad Bacina were dismissed respectively, kept them on course to seal two more titles. Aleksandar Duric was named Player of the Year for a record third time in 2012 and shared the Golden Boot in 2013 with Moon Soon-ho.
Balestier Khalsa (2014)
This was a historic season for the Tigers, who built on their growing reputation as a surprise package by winning their first ever Singapore Cup trophy. Having finished sixth and then fourth in the past two seasons under Darren Stewart, his successor Marko Kraljevic kept them in the top half with a sixth-place league finish and experienced Cup glory in his debut campaign. Thanks to the likes of Goran Ljubojević, Park Kang-jin and Kim Min-ho in attack and the solid defensive pairing of Paul Cunningham and Emir Lotinac, Balestier ousted league champions Warriors FC, Geylang United and heavyweights Tampines Rovers in the knockout stages – the latter two on penalties – before stunning holders Home United in the final. The triumph also saw them qualify for their first ever AFC Cup the following season.
Albirex Niigata (S) (2016-2018)
When the White Swans won their first league title in 2016, no one could have predicted just how dominant they would go on to be. Having already won the Singapore Cup and League Cup in 2015, Naoki Naruo’s side retained both titles to make it a clean sweep of all domestic trophies for the year. But his successor, Kazuaki Yoshinaga, elevated Albirex to new heights by repeating the feat in both 2017 and 2018 to firmly establish the club as one of the most successful in local football. This, despite, having to revamp most of the squad at the start of every season. In particular, the 2018 team will be remembered for being the first to ever go an entire season unbeaten, winning the league by 13 points. During this period, Albirex also maintained an unbeaten home record at Jurong East Stadium from November 2015 to July 2019 – a total of three years and eight months. Atsushi Kawata, Kento Nagasaki and Wataru Murofushi clinched the Player of the Year award from 2016 to 2018, while Adam Swandi won 2018’s Young Player of the Year. Other stalwarts included Yosuke Nozawa, Hiroyoshi Kamata and Kaishu Yamazaki in an Albirex team that won everything – 21 of 24 league games, scoring 69 and conceding 17 – while playing a fluid, attacking style of football.
Brunei DPMM (2019)
Adrian Pennock tasted success in his first league season, leading DPMM to their second league title four years after Steve Kean won in 2015. An outstanding campaign from veteran Wardun Yussof, who kept a league-best 10 clean sheets, laid the foundation for their triumph. Charlie Clough at centre-back, Blake Ricciuto in midfield and Andrei Varankou upfront formed a solid spine for Pennock to build his side around, with local stars Azwan Saleh, Azwan Ali, Shah Razen Said stepping up as they won the title by six points ahead of Tampines Rovers. Varankou was especially instrumental, scoring 21 times in 22 games to win the Golden Boot as DPMM led the standings for much of the season.