2017 was a roller coaster year of emotional highs and lows.
Just as the year was coming to an end, the Hougang United family was hit with the heart-breaking news that our groundsman of two decades, Mr. Lambri Moondari, passed away on Monday, 25th December 2017, after a fall. We extend our deepest sympathies to his family.
As the Chairman for close to a decade in HGFC, I remember Mr. Lambri as someone who treated his work with pride and dignity. Almost every morning, Mr. Lambri would fulfill his duty, caring for Hougang stadium’s pitch by scattering fertilizer and trimming the grass to maintain and ensure the pitch would always be in top condition for the players. Mr. Lambri will always be an inspiration and reminder to the Hougang United family on the importance of teamwork; that although glory and winning are easily associated with men on the forefront, we must always be humble and remember that this would not be possible without the team of people quietly supporting them from behind.
To add, I would also like to commemorate other unsung heroes who have passed on. Mr. Bruce Tan, Team Manager from 2010-2013, who left us in November 2016. Mr. Amin Nasir, Head Coach in 2013/2014, who passed on earlier in January 2017 due to cancer. They will always be remembered as part of the Cheetah’s family.
We started off 2017 on an optimistic note, buoyed by numerous additional infrastructural and technical support to our S.League and Prime League teams plus an image makeover to set the tone of what local professional football clubs should aspire to. Our committee believed that these were essential investments to enhance our chances to break our streak of elusive success from earlier seasons.
Sadly, this was not to be. Our senior team finished 6th in the League, way below the target we set this season. There is much to be done in this regard and we will strive to embark on the necessary measures.
Among the measures undertaken in 2017, we recruited a young and rising Head Coach, Philippe Aw; modernized in his methods where sports science and structured training systems worked in tandem. As well as Coach Robin Chitrakar, an experienced youth coach to lead our Prime League team.
For the 2017 season, our S.League team – led by Philippe Aw – managed to reach the RHB Cup Semi-Finals. Disappointingly, our hope for a berth in the final was dented by a single goal in the second leg. Some might point to the penalty appeal in the first leg as a pivotal moment that cost us a place in the final, but such is life. A win is a win and a loss is a loss, whichever way it goes for either team. That is football.
On a more positive note, our Prime League team led by Coach Robin Chitrakar, very proudly inked themselves into club history by finishing as runner’s up and many of the players have been promoted into our first team for next season. This is a historic feat that exemplifies both their talent and willingness to step up and be counted upon when required, as when our Prime League stalwart Justin Hui scored his first professional goal – a winning goal no less – whilst still a student at Meridian Junior College.
There were also positives in the development of our players. Our central midfielder Zulfahmi Arifin had a consistent season and has been signed by Thailand League 1 Club Chonburi FC for the 2018 season.
I see the emergence of a new and young breed of players with admirable personal values and most importantly, their hunger to personally develop, compete and play, which augers very well for Singapore football. Young guns like Lionel Tan, Justin Hui and Gerald Ting were developed well and given much exposure. Other players like Gareth Low, Prakash Raj and Amer Hakeem have also been signed up to be part of the 2018 Young Lions squad. We can expect to see them establish themselves in the 2018 season S.League, especially with the new U23 rules being introduced.
I foresee that come 2018, the focus will be on developmental football. If HGFC can continue to set the pace in nurturing and developing aspiring players for our national squad, just like we did in previous years, then 2018 will be a hopeful season for us in unveiling new talents.
With the proposed changes to the league in 2018, the majority of our squad remains intact and several youngsters from this year’s successful Prime League team will make that big step up by signing their first professional contract. I hope this blend of experience and youth bodes well for the long-term future and our senior players will act as role models and guide these youngsters to fulfill their potential.
From the national perspective on club football, there were limited results too. Albirex Niigata (S) has swept away all trophies available. The difference between Albirex Niigata (S) and our local teams is clear. Measured from their string of successes in the past 3 years, our invited Japanese club has proudly and incisively demonstrated to our local boys what it takes to achieve success in a sustainable way. I think many will agree that all aspiring success stories fundamentally flows from two traits- discipline and attitude.
It has been a difficult year, both for the club and myself. In April 2017, I led a team of very dedicated men and women to offer ourselves and our collective vision for Singapore Football, in our first ever FAS Council open election. We were genuinely very committed to bringing this sweeping change. Personally, I had also put in a lot of my resources in this election as I really wanted change to take place.
Nevertheless, although the majority of affiliates did not choose us, we humbly respect their decision. The Singapore football fraternity has been heavily misunderstood, both locally and internationally. Amongst many things, I hope that with the passing of time, we can undo and clarify these misunderstandings eventually as I trust that majority of the people who love football still want to see Singapore Football return to its glory days. For my part, my committee and I remain fully committed in making HGFC a beacon of how a professional football club can continually thrive, even in the midst of uncertainties and changes.
There is a maxim; “Success is walking from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” I believe this aptly defines our club’s journey onwards and onto 2018. While my committee and I have continued to provide and improve the club’s infrastructure year on year, it is ultimately the commitment of our people, especially our players that will make that added difference.
To every new and retained player who will don the Cheetah’s jersey in 2018, my message to you is a simple one: your personal values of hard work, discipline, attitude and team work WILL define how much you can stand and rise above the competition amongst your peers. Never forget that signing up as a Cheetah is a privilege, and talent without hard work is meaningless.
Not forgetting the ever hardworking journalists; just to name a few, Shamir Osman, Gerard Wong, Neil Humphreys, David Lee, Leonard Thomas, Wang Meng Meng, Suresh Nair, Duncan David Elias and Sazali Abdul Aziz for lending support, providing coverage and even working till the wee hours so our fans and families are able to get first-hand updates and news quickly on the local football fraternity.
Last but not least, our continuing journey would never be possible without the ardent and diehard supporters of the Cheetahs, our most esteemed sponsors, the Hougang HOOLS along with their families, friends and all our well-wishers.
From each and every one within the club, your support, trust, camaraderie and undying loyalty to the Cheetahs has and will always be most valuable. Thank you very much! Each and every one of you has more than proven that you are very much part of our greater family.
We will continue to walk this journey together as we trudge on towards 2018, while embracing the lessons of 2017.
We will brave whatever challenges thrown our way and emerge better than before in 2018.
I wish each and every one of you a Happy New Year and a fulfilling 2018!