By Suresh Nair
FOOTBALL referees seldom let their hairs down but the changing demographics of the men-in-black were rightly reflected in Thursday’s 66th anniversary of the Football Referees Association of Singapore (FRAS).
From the “orang tua” like the award-winning Jita Singh (middle) and the new generation tertiary-educated Muhammad Taqi Aljaafari (left) came to celebrate a rare referees’ reunion to coincide with the SG51 National Day celebrations, graced by FRAS Adviser Dr Mohamad Maliki bin Osman, Senior Minister of State, Ministry of Defence & Ministry of Foreign Affairs & Mayor, South East District.
Looking at the past, present and future of the whistling referees and flag-waving assistant referees (previously known as linesmen) at the Village Hotel celebratory bash, it showed that the men-in-black still hold their heads high, over half-century of superlative history and heritage.
“It’s definitely a good time to blow the trumpets as football referees have done very well to boost the regional image of Singapore football,” says FRAS Vice President Ravi Krishnan, a former Class One referee and one of the main organisers.
In my opinion, I dare say the men-in-black have been the best flag-bearers over 50 years from George Suppiah’s astonishing debut as the first Asean referee to do a World Cup Finals in 1974 in the then-West Germany to Shamsul Maidin repeating the feat, 32 years later, also in Germany, at the 2006 World Cup Finals.
Shamsul is the exemplary new remake face of Singapore refereeing. He has officiated in the 1996, 2000 and 2004 AFC Asian Cups, as well as the 2001 and 2003 FIFA World Youth Championship, 2005 FIFA Confederations Cup and 2006 FIFA World Cup. He was also the only non-African referee at the 2006 African Cup of Nations. Today, he stands tall as the first Singaporean to be Director of Refereeing at the AFC (Asian Football Confederation) in Kuala Lumpur, overseeing referee development in more than 40 countries.
Shamsul, who I met in the Malaysian capital a fortnight ago, told me: “I’m very passionate about the education and development of referees in Asia and, together with the AFC member associations and stakeholders, I’m confident we can continue to raise the standard of Asian referees.”
BRIGHT REFEREE FUTURE
Likewise, the future is bright for Singapore. The shining generation of current Made-in-Singapore refereeing stalwarts include Yazeen Buhari, with a Masters in Sports Science from Australia and Muhammad Taqi, a candidate for the 2018 World Cup Finals in Russia, who holds a Bachelor of Science (Upper second-class honours). Both stand out as rip-roaring role-model examples and work with the FAS headquarters at Jalan Besar Stadium to mentor the younger generation of referees from tertiary institutions and schools.
The presence of 67-year-old Jita Singh, now based in Kuala Lumpur running a leading sports academy, as a special FRAS guest was inspiring as he was a stalwart referee in the early 1970s. A former Singapore international fullback and senior non-commissioned officer in the SAF (Singapore Armed Forces), he later moved on to coaching, where after winning the Malaysia Cup in 1980, he was decorated with the ‘Coach of the Year’ award by the Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC).
“I’m truly delighted with the progress of Singapore referees. The new generation are coming academically prepared, with a positive and pragmatic mindset, to make a global impact at FIFA assignments,” says Jita. “Muhammad Taqi, for example, is an extraordinary inspiration, for the younger generation to show that the new refereeing faces can reach the highest FIFA ranks, if they put their hearts and souls towards being world-class referee ambassadors.”
In my view, as a former referee and refereeing instructor, I believe that referees are indispensible simply because without referees, the grassroots game would not exist. The men-in-black must be respected as the bedrocks of the amateur and professional game because you need a referee to turn up in order for the match to go ahead. They’re the impartial judges, the sole disciplinarians over 90 minutes and their decisions cannot be questioned, in a reckless manner to bring the game to disrepute.
Thursday evening’s FRAS dinner bash also brought to the fore several former and present FIFA referees, who were presented with special SG51 medallions for their contributions to Singapore football. A significant name is Nadesan Chandra, a former civil servant, who was commended by FIFA in the 1980s for turning down hefty bribes from bookies to fix international matches.
It’s right time to note that FAS referees from the 1960s and 70s era of Govindasamy “George” Suppiah, Major John Ong, H S Dhillon, Lee Kok Leong, Nadesan Chandra, Maidin Singah, M. Maniam, P.T. Murthi have distinguished themselves as regional refereeing ambassadors and the new generation of Shamsul Maidin, K. Visvanathan, Salikin Sarkawi, Abdul Malik, Jeffrey Goh and Muhammad Taqi are continuing this exemplary tradition to show that the Singapore men-in-black, with their whistles or flags, can continue the top-level traditions.
This means that the new generation FAS referees must show the world that they have the tactical and academic know-how and the big responsibility, in terms of preparation and training, to reach world-class levels and to be important actors in the world stage.
The great challenges lie ahead as the FAS and FRAS work hand in hand to maintain Singapore’s high-standard reputation as a little island that can produce outstanding men-in-black.
As Jita Singh reminded: “You need talent, but talent is not enough. Talent must be aligned to hard work, and courage, which is needed to take difficult decisions quickly under pressure in important matches with high stakes. You have to learn to cope with this pressure.”
Indeed, the award-winning coach says “preparation is the key”. He adds: “As an athlete-styled referee, you must be in top physical condition. Tiredness means less lucidity and more chances to make a mistake, particularly at the end of a game.
“You should study the tactics of the teams you referee and the players who play for them. You must know the Laws of the Game and their correct interpretations. Learn from mistakes. Protect players from serious injury caused by reckless challenges, protect yourselves on the field, and protect the image of the game.”
FRAS, for the record, was founded in 1950 and it is the watchdog body for Singapore referees, working together with FAS, the parent body, towards enhancing the image of the men-in-black.
- Suresh Nair is a Singapore-based sports journalist, who ranks as a rare few in the world, who’s a former FAS referee and AFC referee instructor. He’s presently involved in referee development in the S-League.