Hockey fraternity divided

Former Singapore Hockey Federation (SHF) president Annabel Pennefather remembers the brickbats all too vividly, when critics called for her head and even asked for the players to burn their sticks.

The Singapore women were trounced 16-0 by South Korea, the then-world No. 3 side, at the 1990 Beijing Asian Games, and they were subsequently branded as "tourists", as star player Melanie Martens and Co. were lambasted from all sides.

But most of the same squad returned in 1993 to famously strike gold at the South-east Asia (SEA) Games on home soil.

The 16-1 trouncing the Singapore men's team suffered at the hands of Malaysia in the World League Round 2 clash at the Sengkang Stadium on Tuesday resurrected painful old memories for Pennefather, who called for calm in the aftermath of the worst loss in history on home soil.

"(Tuesday's) result brought (the 1990 incident) immediately to mind and I hope people won't overreact.

"Make no mistake, the scoreline was a complete shock and something went awry, and it would only have come with a complete meltdown, but it still doesn't reflect the capabilities of this team," she told The New Paper.


"While a double-digit scoreline is reflective of the gap between our boys and Malaysia, the nature of the modern game is such that little things can make a massive difference and a large scoreline doesn't mean that a team are that much worse than their opponents," she insisted, pointing to Australia's 6-1 thumping of Holland in last year's World Cup final and the Aussies' 4-0 win over India in the final of the 2014 Commonwealth Games.

"I believe the 16-1 result was a one-off and maybe the boys gave up and that's wrong, but the team are capable of more," she added.

Singapore finished bottom of Pool A and will play Pool B winners Poland today in a quarter-final fixture and Solomon Casoojee's men will look to regain some lost pride.

But many fear another drubbing, as the 36th-ranked Singapore side take on world No. 18 Poland with the wounds from the Malaysian massacre still fresh.

The home side were 6-0 down at half-time on Tuesday and the 500-odd fans at the stadium could only watch in horror as the conceded a whopping 10 goals after the break.

Former international Farouk Marican, who also served as national team manager after he hung up his stick, won't be surprised if Singapore's hockey fortunes are further hit.

"Alarm bells were raised a long time ago, not at the Malaysia game, this was just a very upsetting symptom of what's been wrong with Singapore hockey," he told The New Paper yesterday.

"I won't be surprised if things get worse."

Relating incidents in the past, of players not turning up for training and SHF officials not taking action - Farouk himself put up such a report to the SHF in 2006 - he called for officials to take responsibility.

"We got clobbered at the (2014) Asian Games and also at the 2010 Games.

I believe the coach isn't doing a good job and the officials don't know what is going on on the ground," he said.

Singapore fell to Japan (13-0) and hosts South Korea (12-0) at the Incheon Asian Games last year, en route to finishing ninth out of 10 teams.

Four years ago in Guangzhou, decent performances against Malaysia (3-0 loss) and China (2-0 loss) were overshadowed by a 12-1 drubbing against South Korea.

Singapore finished 10th.

"The SHF officials should be responsible for what's going on," said Farouk.

South African coach Casoojee has been at the helm for four years and he insists the team will be much better at this year's SEA Games, which Singapore will host in June.

Former Singapore goalkeeper Sani Mohammed has urged the players to be strong mentally, starting today, as they build towards the Games.

"Poland are tough opponents and winning will be an uphill task but, more importantly, the boys have to show mental strength and show what they are really capable of," said Sani, who starred for Singapore in the late 1980s into the 90s.

"I think the 16-1 score was a one-off, and even in my day we had some double-digit losses, but these boys have had quite a bit of exposure and they have already shown that can compete against Oman and Ukraine, teams who are more than 10 places above them in the world rankings."

Singapore could have beaten both opponents in their earlier group fixtures, but fell 3-2 to Oman (world No. 22) and 2-1 to Ukraine (24).

Farouk is not as optimistic.

"Watching (the national team) play is painful and people won't like it, but I think we'll lose to Poland by at least five goals," he said.

This article was first published on Jan 22, 2015.
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