Eat and remember Uncle Choo

Eat and remember Uncle Choo

Farrer Park was known as the cradle of Singapore football, the nurturing ground that produced national footballers and Malaysia Cup-winning teams until the 1980s.

And the person widely revered as the father figure of Singapore football, Choo Seng Quee, lived nearby in Owen Road.

The national coach, who groomed stars like Dollah Kassim, Quah Kim Song and R. Suriamurthi, died in 1983 but one of his players, Syed Mutalib, intends to honour his mentor in his restaurant, The House Of Briyani.

It is near the home of the man he still fondly remembers as Uncle Choo.

The 58-year-old told The Straits Times: "Uncle Choo is the best coach I ever had. There is nobody else like him.

"When the opportunity came to take over the shop, I didn't waste time. I hope to do him proud by having my restaurant in Owen Road, which is such a special place to all those who remember the story of the 1977 Malaysia Cup."

The 150-seater restaurant, which opened on Saturday, is at 96 Owen Road, a stone's throw away from Choo's former residence at 87A. It is a joint venture by Mutalib - who used to run an eatery in North Bridge Road - and his business partners Yunus Mohammad and Tony Ng.

The decor will reflect on Singapore football's halcyon days in the 1970s, the period of flared trousers and disco dancing.

Taking pride of place on the wall will be a photo of the 1977 Malaysia Cup-winning team that featured household names like Mat Noh, Samad Allapitchay and the late Dollah.

Another black-and-white photo to be put on the wall was taken in Mutalib's last game for the Lions, the 1981 Malaysia Cup final which saw Singapore losing 0-4 to Selangor. Seated alongside him was Fandi Ahmad, just 19 then.

Down the road at No.60 was the former Majujaya Sports Shop owned by Choo, who was famous for his tough training, discipline and fierce patriotism.

Ex-Lions striker Ho Kwang Hock recalled: "If we couldn't afford new boots or sportswear, he would say, 'Go and take from my shop, say Uncle sent you.'

"We were not paid much but we did it all for the love of Singapore and football."

Each player was given a training allowance of $120 a week then. During matches, there was a $10 bonus given to each player for a goal scored, $30 for two goals and $70 for three goals.

"That was why we were so motivated to thrash teams by 6-0, 7-0 scorelines," Mutalib, who was nicknamed "The Gangster" for his hard tackles, said.

But the players also responded to Choo's personal touch as well.

Said Mutalib, who has five children and seven grandchildren: "He cared for us individually. He would give the needy boys bus fares. Suria was skinny. So, he was given cod liver oil."

Small wonder that, despite Choo's death 30 years ago, his protege would still want to preserve memories of him in a restaurant near the coach's home.

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