By Suresh Nair

SINGAPORE’S turbaned Santokh Singh may not come close to Malaysia’s legendary non-turbaned Olympian footballer by the same name. But his untimely death on Friday night created noteworthy ripples in the Singapore sporting fraternity.

Even V. Sundramoorthy and Fandi Ahmad offered their immediate faraway condolences from Myanmar to the family of the 56-year-old sports journalist after he died in his Toh Yi Drive apartment while watching the “live” AYA Bank Cup opening match between Myanmar and Singapore.

For Santokh Singh Grewal, his passion has always been sports and football, after a distinguished 17-year journalism career with The Straits Times and The New Paper before he moved on in 2012 to be Director of Community & Outreach at Nanyang Polytechnic (NYP).

What a difference a week makes: Just seven days ago, he was at his bubbly best as Chairman of Singapore Khalsa Association’s Vesakhi Mela 2016 celebrations when I met him at the Sembawang Country Club. Exactly, a week later, without any signs of serious medical setbacks, he suddenly collapsed and died of a heart attack.

Sports and the highest values of sportsmanship were in Santokh’s blood and, in his final moments, ironically, he was glued to the television as Singapore beat Myanmar 1-0 at the Thuwanna Stadium in Yangon.

“That’s probably the way he would like to go. He just loved sports,” said grieving wife, Sukhdevi, who added: “He had a really good sense of humour. He had strong beliefs, he was a man of principle. He had very solid values and he lived that.”

Santokh leaves behind his wife of 30 years, Sukhdevi, and four children – sons Ishwarpal (23 years), Jaspal (22) and daughters Jaskiran (20) and Parven (18).

Like father, like son: Santokh, proficient in football, was also a terrific hockey striker, playing the top Singapore Hockey Federation (SHF) league with Khalsa. His sons, too, Ishwarpal and Jaspal, starred in the SEA (South East Asia) Games last year, when Singapore narrowly missed out on the hockey gold medal, on sudden-death penalty flicks, to Malaysia. Both lads rushed down from Seremban, Friday night, as they were playing in the Gurdwara Cup tournament.


Education was, however, his first love as Raffles Institution-cultured Santokh, a former teacher at Victoria School, relished teaching the younger generation. He always stressed that education is most important. It plays a very important role in life.

Be it a toddler or a teenager, his driving message was always that in today’s competitive world, education stands out as an absolute necessity for man after food, clothing, and shelter. Education is the solution of any problem, it is the only education which promotes good habits, values and awareness towards anything like terrorism, corruption and much more, he says.

Santokh’s famous words: “A person who gets a good education will become good citizen, more dependable worker. Without education, a person is incomplete, so education makes man a right thinker and a correct decision-maker.”

In an interview with the Old Victorians’ Association (OVA) in 2011, Santokh recalled the priceless pride in education: “Perhaps my fondest of the lot was turning students around to believe in them, meeting with gangsters to help a student out of the group, arguing with parents to take a greater interest in their boys, defending the boys against some rather vindictive teachers, trailing students to catch them smoking, etc. These same students have called years later to thank me and that for me is priceless.”

And his “marriage” of sports and education in many editorial scripts proved to be winners. He topped the charts at the Singapore Press Holdings’ annual awards in 1997 for the English/Malay Newspapers Division, winning the Feature of the Year Award for his story, “Better grades for sportsmen under change in ECA scheme”.


There were countless condolence-tributes, early Saturday morning, for the departed Santokh, from Europe, USA and Asia. Perhaps the most endearing was from veteran Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) journalist Gloria Chandy, now migrated to France, who said:He was a true Sikh, Suresh. He followed all the tenets of Sikhism. And he was what all religions teach their followers to be.

“Kind and considerate to his fellow man, always giving and never a nasty word or action to anyone. This is really sad. He was much younger than us and I think his kids are still young. He told me once that he and his wife did not have kids till 10 years after their marriage. Then had four, one after the other.  This sort of true-blue Sikh goes straight into the arms of God.”

In my books, knowing him for over three decades, every best attributes in sports, from fairness, honesty, sincerity, veracity, righteousness, incorruptibility and simplicity bore Santokh’s integrity signature.

Born a turbaned sportsman, he lived life the highest Sikh-like sportsmanship way, and went down, the passionate sporting way, watching his No 1 sport.

His sharply-tied turban always made a big difference in his rousing personality as much as Malaysia’s turban-less Datuk Santokh Singh was renowned as an excellent ball-heading defender. (Wonder if you could seriously head the ball with a turban?) His partnership with Soh Chin Aun was said to be the most solid defence in the much-feared Malaysian team that qualified for the 1980 Moscow Olympic Games.

In the final count, God must have special reasons to do an unanticipated transfer swoop, probably because the Singapore-turban-starring Santokh’s outstanding personal and professional attributes were something money can never buy.

RIP, Santokh Singh Grewal.

As Gloria Chandy says, you’ll walk straight into the arms of God.


  • Suresh Nair is a Singapore-based journalist who knew the two Santokh Singhs, on either ends of the Causeway, for over three decades. He ranks the turbaned Singaporean Singh as an absolute gentleman of sporting principles.
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