Set just three degrees off the equator, in the heart of Southeast Asia, Singapore’s climate could easily see torrents of rain or wells of sunshine inside a day.
By Gordon De Souza
However the gods blessed the day with the latter when over 600 children from ages 10 to 20 made their way down to Singapore’s historic Padang to compete in the Singapore Recreation Club’s annual youth 4-a-side tourney.
With a few weekend tournaments happening all over the island, SRC at the Padang was elected as the master ground to celebrate the WorldHockey Youth Challenge 2008 and 100 years of Hockey in the Olympics - both for the sheer number of participating youths and its historic links to hockey in Singapore.
The Green Square in the Heart of The City
If you were to drive through the business heart of Singapore, you’d be easily shadowed by immense buildings, many with glass panels and interestingly modern architecture.
But through the almost feverish upward construction for more office space, there’s a patch of holy ground that will not be churned up for that sake. It’s called the Padang. It simply means “field” in the Malay language.
Simple is the word, but for those who grew up in the pre-independence era in the 1960’s will understand that political significance of the Padang - the very spot where Singapore and Britain signed off the documents giving Singapore independence from British colonial rule.
But the history of the Padang spans very much earlier to the beginning of the 20th Century. It heralded the time when the sport of hockey first showed itself with its crook at the end of the stick as early as 1902- 6 years before hockey was first played in the Olympics.
Introduced by the British Royal Engineers for the first time at the Padang, the game sprung forth two clubs at the opposite ends of the Padang: the Singapore Recreation Club and the Singapore Cricket Club.
Within half a century of passionate growth of the game, other clubs like the Ceylon Sports Club, the Indian Association, Jansenites and the Police Sports Club became the real advocates of the game, and later provided the majority of the team that would reach the Melbourne Olympics in 1956.
Rise Hockey Players
At present, we now have the potential of over 300,000 youths aged 10 – 20, immersing themselves in a growing sporting culture in Singapore schools. From these, we’ll see some of them compete at the first Youth Olympics to be held in Singapore in 2023.
But the real good news is that, according to recent statistics from the Singapore Sports Council, participation in hockey has skyrocketed to sit easy as the 3rd most played sport in Singapore.
Too Good Not To Play
After WWII in 1945, a few schools developed hockey as their niche sport, creating a championship circle within their ranks.
However over the last decade or so, many coaches from those schools and hockey-playing clubs began a push in the opposite direction, delivering their brand of the game to more schools.
For the new schools without the logistics, it was tough going. However by the sheer determination of school administrators, hockey players and coaches, and the exciting nature of the sport, it moved forward quickly.
At this point, it’s not easy to predict the national championship winners, as they could come from anywhere in Singapore – a good sign of healthy competition and growth.
International Citizens Of Hockey
As Singapore came to exist through an immigrant population, the intermingling with other nationalities during the tournament at the Padang, is really a picture of how life here in Singapore is.
The Ma family from hockey-playing Holland, who’s been living in Singapore for 2 years, joined the Hollandse Club for a chance to stay in the game.
“We enjoy playing hockey here in Singapore. We try to play every week. This is our first time at this tournament at the Padang. The local schools standards, I must say are very good,” said Libin Ma, father of Edwin, 10, and Julian, 6.
For Libin and his wife Afra, their idea of exposing their children to other kids in the game here can only serve to improve their own styles and learn about the other ethnic groups and their very interesting cultures.
“Everyone should play hockey. It’s one of the few great games that can build you mentally as well as physically,” added Libin.
For Enkhbat Urtnasan, 14, her foray into hockey was equally fascinating as her entry to Singapore life. Born in Mongolia, Enkhbat’s parents decided for her to be educated in Singapore. Unable to speak a word of English, the first language of Singapore, she went through an 8-month English course at age 12. At 13, she joined the Singapore school system in Primary 5 reserved for 11-year olds.
Doing real well in English and her other subjects, she was advanced to her first year at secondary school at Jurong West, where she picked up hockey.
“I knew about hockey, ice hockey while I lived in Mongolia. It looked challenging, which is why I took up hockey here. I think it’s easier to learn than ice hockey. I really love hockey now as it’s very fast moving and really exciting,”
Her friends have recognized her determination and teamwork and have cited it as her greatest strengths.
As for the hockey community here in Singapore, we’ll watch and see if Enkhbat rises to the challenge and maybe play for her adopted country?
For young Firdaus, aged 9, from Chongzheng Primary School, its clear what he wants himself of the game.
“After watching hockey games on TV and playing it, I think it’s the best game in the world. I would like to play for my country,” said young Firdaus.
With much encouragement from his parents, it would be likely he would be “living the dream” to participate at a higher level like the Youth Olympics for a start.
Compared to Firdaus, 13-year old Ronald Toh, from Orchid Park Secondary school was a late starter to the game.
“I was not very interested in sport, until I discovered hockey. It’s really quite difficult to learn and very challenging. But the challenge is what’s keeping me in the game,” said Ronald.
Ronald like Firdaus, are a few of the lucky ones, whose parents are supportive of them playing the sport – something thoroughly essential if the child is to grow to greater heights.
“Playing makes me very happy. I have good friends in the game. I can keep fit and feel better,” added Ronald.
For those who lived and played in the era past, like Annabel Pennefather-Dillon, the President of the Singapore Hockey Federation, seeing an upsurge of players running around in the tropical heat, all smiles and trying their best to play their best must have brought back some memories of her playing days at the Padang.
“The Padang is where I enjoyed some of my happiest moments initially watching my parents play hockey and later playing the game myself as a student and at national level. The venue just inspires you to want to be and to do something special”
Live The Dream
For many a youth player here in Singapore, hockey represents fun time with friends, a chance to excel in a challenging sport and feel good about their whole selves.
The development of the sport here in terms of numbers and standards represents a healthy growth pattern that with constant nurturing will reap well in future events like the Youth Olympic Games and Olympics.
For those who have never played hockey, they will probably never be able to understand the pull of the sport or what it means to live the dream.
So if you can, get them in the game and share the dream!