Farewell Mr Football

Farewell Mr Football
Lawyer Nadesan Ganesan (N Ganesan), former football manager for Singapore.
PHOTO: TNP

N Ganesan, the man widely credited as the driving force behind Singapore football's golden years of the 1970s, died yesterday morning.

He was 82.

He suffered a stroke in March 2011, which left him bedridden and confined to the Good Shepherd Loft nursing home in Bukit Timah.

He collapsed yesterday while having breakfast around 7.45am. Paramedics later failed to resuscitate him.

Ganesan, who was divorced and has no children, worked as a successful lawyer but is best known for his time as chairman of the Football Association of Singapore's (FAS) from 1974 to 1981.

He made a bold decision to switch Singapore's "home" games in the Malaysia Cup from the 10,000-capacity Jalan Besar Stadium to the 55,000-seater National Stadium in Kallang, despite naysayers predicting the crowds would not turn up.

But they did, and Singapore, backed by the Kallang Roar, reached seven Malaysia Cup finals in the eight years he was in charge, winning two, in 1977 and 1980.

The national team also did well on the international stage, reaching the play-off final of the 1980 pre-Olympic qualifying tournament, beating the likes of China and North Korea before losing to giants Iran.

Local footballers like Samad Allapitchay, 
R Suria Murthi, Quah Kim Song, Dollah Kassim and Fandi Ahmad, to name just a few, became household names.

Midfielder Suria, 57, said: "Even though he was busy as a lawyer, he would come down to Jalan Besar to watch the national team train every evening.

"He was very, very passionate, and he was one of the best officials we ever had.

"He'd go out of his way for the players. He would do anything for football. He was a great man."

Striker Quah, 63, added: "He was charismatic, and walked the talk.

"He was not the type to just sit in the office all day, he often personally made sure every small detail was right.

"He even helped some players who had financial difficulty, out of his own pocket."

Defender Samad, who captained both Malaysia Cup-winning teams, praised Ganesan's personable character. The 66-year-old said: "Over the years, many officials have come and gone, but Mr Gani was the most passionate. And he just had a way with people.

"Once, Uncle Choo (Seng Quee, legendary national team coach) walked out of a training session and said he would not coach us again, after a misunderstanding with some players.

"Mr Gani was the one that drove to his place, chatted with him for four or five hours, and talked him into returning.

"That was how he was. You find it easier to talk to Mr Gani than anyone else. He really listens to you."

A former goalkeeper for the Singapore Indians team, Ganesan also made a difference at local club level, revamping the National Football League from a bloated 118 clubs to a strong 30.

He helped create the Lion City Cup, an Under-16 tournament that unearthed talent like Fandi, and subsequently became the model for Fifa's U-16 World Cup.

Ganesan was awarded the Public Service Medal (Pingat Bakti Masyarakat) during the 1978 National Day Awards, and he also served as legal adviser to the Asian Football Confenderation (AFC) for almost a decade.

Former AFC general secretary Dato Peter Vellapan, who led Asia's football body for three decades, hailed Ganesan's reforms.

"He rewrote the history of Singapore football with his leadership," Vellapan, 79, told TNP.

"He was very honest, transparent, and goal-oriented. He wanted to raise Singapore football to be one of the best in Asia.

"His commitment to improving Singapore football was very sincere. These days, many go into football for selfish reasons. But he was committed, dedicated.

"His passing is a great loss to me, as he was a dear friend, and to Singapore football."

Some of Gani's achievements

Revamped the National Football League, and helped to create the Lion City Cup, which subsequently became the model for Fifa's Under-16 World Championship.

Singapore, under the late Choo Seng Quee, beat Penang 3-2 to win the 1977 Malaysia Cup after a lapse of 12 years.

The Lions' 1980 Malaysia Cup victory also marked the emergence of Fandi Ahmad, who scored in the 2-1 win over Selangor.

Singapore just missed out on qualification to the 1980 Olympics after losing to Iran in the final of the qualifying tournament. En route, the Lions had beaten giants like China and North Korea. Some of Gani's achievements

Revamped the National Football League, and helped to create the Lion City Cup, which subsequently became the model for Fifa's Under-16 World Championship.

Singapore, under the late Choo Seng Quee, beat Penang 3-2 to win the 1977 Malaysia Cup after a lapse of 12 years.

The Lions' 1980 Malaysia Cup victory also marked the emergence of Fandi Ahmad, who scored in the 2-1 win over Selangor.

Singapore just missed out on qualification to the 1980 Olympics after losing to Iran in the final of the qualifying tournament. En route, the Lions had beaten giants like China and North Korea.

N Ganesan's body is resting at Singapore Casket. The funeral service will be held at around 5pm on Saturday at Mandai Crematorium.


This article was first published on July 2, 2015.
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