HE came clutching a priceless collection of schoolboy photos. His students, too, came with treasured albums and print-media cuttings from the 1960s and 1970s when St Joseph’s Institution (SJI) ruled as the undisputed kingpins of Singapore youth hockey.

The reunion, after more than 45 years of teacher-coach Peter Colaco, with seven of his hockey prodigies on Thursday, on the eve of Hari Raya Puasa, was more than just dewy-eyed at The Eurasian Association (EA) Clubhouse along Ceylon Road.

Indeed, true coaches find the smallest of things to get excited about and Colaco, now looking a sprightly 82 years, was just fired up to see his schoolboy stalwarts who have grown to be role-model hockey legends, with six of them even making it to the 1973 SEAP Games gold-medal winning team, the first and only time Singapore won the regional hockey top prize and was decorated SNOC ‘Team of the Year’.

From the varying shapes and sizes, garnered over half-century, it would’ve been hard for Colaco to make out his adoring students. But he reserved a special hug for everyone in the first formal reunion since the early 1970s. From Arul Subramaniam, Gerard de Cruz, Farleigh Clarke, Keith Kleinman, Edwin Ebert, Vincent Schoon and yours truly. Ng Hoi Kah apologised for a very late bout of flu while Nantha Kumar sent his adoring long-distance wishes through SMS from Mooroolbark in Victoria, Australia.

Tears welled as I watched Colaco recount the good ‘ole days where he led the Josephians to countless City District and National hockey titles, in the shorter version six-a-side and 11-a-side tournaments.

It could well have been a Made-in-Singapore script of  the iconic 1967 Hollywood-movie, ‘To Sir, with Love’, set in downscale East London – starring Sidney Poitier, Judy Geeson, Lulu and Christian Roberts – where inspirational teachers are portrayed as God-send role-models, who play an undeniably integral role in education. Simply because they are the primary purveyors of it.

Colaco wielded the power to make a difference and he ranks as a magnificent teacher-example of someone who believed in the process that is team development and division of labour and team building, I just have the highest respect and appreciation for it.

Fittingly, when he heard that I was set to do this nostalgic article, Colaco whispered to me: “No, Suresh, nothing in print now, it was just awesome to meet my Josephian hockey heroes after more than four decades. If you want to write, please do something as an obituary for me!”

Colaco’s career, like Sidney Poitier, is a question of respect and self-respect. It’s about blossoming relationship built from mutual respect. It precisely and passionately sums up Colaco, who joined SJI in 1954 as an 18-year-old just after completing his basic secondary education. And 18 years at Bras Basah Road, when he left in 1972 for a mid-career publishing progress, he excelled as an extraordinary hockey coach, who knew how to get the best out of his students.


The four-hour reunion reminded me that education, academic or sports or even humanity, is the key to success in life, and exemplary teachers who go the extra-mile like Colaco make an everlasting impact in the lives of their students.

Former military senior officer Arul Subramaniam, the SAF Sportsman Award 1973/1974 winner,  who was vice-skipper of the 1973 SEAP Games gold-medal team, says: “Peter Colaco ranks as a one-in-a-million guru. Everyone who remembers his own education remembers teachers, not methods and techniques. The teacher is the heart of the educational system and we’ll be ever grateful to him for teaching us, on and off the classroom, to rise to the occasion from boys to men.”

Edwin Ebert, who migrated to Perth, Western Australia in 1972, says mentor-teachers like Colaco know how to bring out the best out of the students. He adds: “One looks back with appreciation to the brilliant teachers, but with gratitude to those who touched our human feelings. The academic and sporting curriculum is so much necessary raw material, but the Colaco-styled warmth and dedication rank as the most vital element for the growing plant and for the soul of the child.”

Keith Kleinman, who excelled in hockey and football, believes that education is a shared commitment between dedicated teachers, motivated students and enthusiastic parents with high expectations.

Endearingly, reflecting on the Colaco-way of imparting specific knowledge, he says: “Grades don’t measure tenacity, courage, leadership, guts or whatever you want to call it. Teachers or any other persons in a position of authority should never tell anybody they will not succeed because they did not get all A’s in school. Peter, rather extraordinarily, fired us to unbelievable sporting heights as teenagers.”

Gerard de Cruz, who went on to skipper SRC for more than a decade as a championship-winning club, says: “If you have to put someone on a pedestal, put teachers. Peter among a number of dedicated educationists, rank as society’s heroes and deserve to be praised. On hindsight, most of us end up with no more than two handfuls of people who truly remember us. Teachers like Peter have thousands of people who remember them for the rest of their lives.”

Farleigh Clarke, who rose to be one of Asean’s most feared strikers in the 1970s and 80s, pays compliment to Colaco’s “creativity” in teaching the elementaries of hockey stickwork, teamwork and sportsmanship. He explains: “As I now coach the younger generation in the primary and secondary schools, I know that creativity is the key to success in the future, and primary education, in and out of the classroom, is where teachers can bring creativity in children at that level.”


Vincent Schoon, now the EA Vice President, who hosted the Colaco reunion, specially saluted Colaco’s endearing style of imparting knowledge, through sheer grassroots education. He adds: “The true teachers and educators are not those who have learned pedagogy as the science of dealing with children, but those in whom pedagogy has awakened through understanding the human being. Peter was revered so much that everyone under his tutelage were fired up to give off more than their best, in and out of the classroom.”

Striker-extraordinary Nantha Kumar, in a long-distance SMS message, hailed the two ‘Peters’ at SJI, who produced an rip-roaring string of hockey stalwarts who went on to play for Singapore Recreation Club (SRC) at the Padang: Peter Colaco and Peter Martens.

“Both Colaco and Martens teach you more than the elementary books. They’ve an awesome personalised style where they teach you and steps to grow, but there is a confidence that is gained and a deep understanding of what it means to be supported by your knowledge – not by some team that is there to create confidence. Most importantly, it is there within you. That takes time. That takes teachers. That takes taking risks. That’s Colaco and Martens.”

Ng Hoi Kah, easily one of the best hockey goalkeepers of this generation and the hero in Singapore’s 2-0 SEAP Games gold-medal victory at Jalan Besar Stadium 45 years ago, offers this singular applause: “The influence of teachers, like Colaco extend beyond the classroom, well into the future. It is they who shape and enrich the minds of the young, who touch their hearts and souls. It is they who shape a nation’s future.”

From a personal perspective, as a journalist with over three decades of print-media experience at Singapore Press Holdings (SPH), I must put on record that I’ve “always adored and admired hockey-starring teachers like Colaco and Martens because teaching, like the priesthood, medicine and writing, is a vocation..you don’t become a teacher because you want wealth. You seldom ever get another generation of Colaco and Martens. It is the same with writing.”

In my books, sport coaching is an art as well as a science. An awe-inspiring coach needs to know more than just the rules of the game.  Great coaches like Colaco and Martens also know how to communicate with the younger generation in a way that gets results on the playing field. The goal of great coaching is to guide, inspire and empower an athlete to realize and develop his or her full potential.

Colaco, smilingly acknowledged the continuous flow of praises, and says “teachers can change lives with just the right mix of chalk and challenges”.

He adds: “As a SJI student in the early 1950s, I was taught more about gratitude and humility – that so many people had a hand in our success, from the teachers who inspired us to even the cleaners who kept our school clean. That’s what I always imparted to my students to truly value everyone’s contribution and treat everyone with respect.”


Colaco’s wife, who is also a veteran educationist-principal, makes a point that “teaching is a profession in which capacity building should occur at every stage of the career – novices working with accomplished colleagues, skillful teachers sharing their craft, and opportunities for teacher leadership…it’s an unending learning lesson in life”.

If he could turn the clock back, Colaco still relishes the Josephian spirit, where the Benedictine motto is ‘Ora et Labora’ (‘Pray and Work’ or ‘prayer and work’). The two stand side-by-side, complementary but distinct and always revered by those who graduated from St Joseph’s or any Christian Brothers’ schools.

Significantly, he adds: “What is a coach? We are teachers. Educators. We have the same obligations as all teachers, except we probably have more influence over young people than anybody but their families. And, in a lot of cases, more than their families.”

The evening ended, so nostalgically in a tear-jerking way with the impromptu EA band, with former Josephian Stephen Gomez holding the microphone, belting out the SJI school-rally song, which got Colaco and his hockey prodigies instantly on their feet.

The unforgettable opening lines reverberate like singing the elementary A-B-C alphabets:

“All through our college, a voice is resounding,
Promptly respond to your duty’s sweet call.
Harken you all for the trumpet is sounding,
Your Mater’s proclaiming her watchword to all.”

Now after four decades, I realised, too, that the best Colaco-doctrined teachers are those who keep students motivated, challenged and flourishing. That’s the genuine hallmark of the Josephian spirit.

Indeed, true teachers use themselves as bridges over which they invite their students to cross; then, having facilitated their crossing, joyfully collapse, encouraging them to create bridges of their own.

As Colaco privately told me: “I’m a teacher born and bred, and I believe in the advocacy of teachers. It’s a calling. We want our students to feel impassioned and empowered. I now have so many hockey role-models who advocate respect and self-respect”

Simply because, the Josephian-way, it’s about blossoming relationship built from mutual respect from the antiquated Bras Basah Road school to the SRC Padang and beyond, until we hit the proverbial sack. – By SURESH NAIR.


  • Suresh Nair is a Singapore-based journalist, who graduated from SJI in the 1970s and was a founding committee member of the SJI Alumni. He went on to play for hockey champions Singapore Recreation Club.
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