Voices From The Ground: RHB Singapore Cup; Warriors FC (Singapore) vs Boeung Ket FC (Cambodia) - An Emotional Game

Boeung Ket FC supporter Kim (far left) and his friends at Choa Chu Kang last night.
Photo: Chris Peng

Chris Peng
The Unofficial S.League Podcast

Voices From The Ground - It was my second game as a member of the media. The match was delayed by an hour due to the fasting month of Ramadan as matches normally start at 7.30pm sharp but all matches start an hour later during this period, a considerable concession that was very necessary. By starting later, players were able to break fast, refuel themselves physically and get ready for the upcoming battle. Singapore is a fast paced country where working adults often perform overtime work while students need to stay in schools for extended periods to complete their remedial classes and engage in co-curricular activities so starting the match late also meant that fans were able to have a leisurely dinner and slowly make their way to the stadium. Disappointingly, the turnout was still sparse once again but this was no surprise as the lack of attention given to our league is nothing new. What happened on the pitch over the ninety minutes proved a lot more surprising and entertaining and neutral fans certainly got their money’s worth. 

The game featured last-ditch goal preventing tackles, a few spectacular saves and five goals with a couple of them rather incisive and spectacular. It is highly unusual for a cup game to feature that many goals and for one-off games like these, teams often approach it in a cagey manner. Draws only serve to prolong the mental and physical exertion and often teams will just play it tight, try to score on the counter and proceed to frustrate the opponent with two banks of five once they have obtained the lead. This did not happen tonight though as both teams were offensive minded.

The Warriors were the better side in the first half, fashioning multiple decent chances without ever seizing the game by the scruff of the neck. If Geylang ate a single head of Balestier cabbage few days ago, the Warriors didn’t even pick up a single morsel of meat in the first half. Try as they may, the proverbial slice of meat just eluded their grasp.

The tide turned dramatically in favour of the Cambodian champions in the second half when an error by Warriors striker Joel Tshibamba resulted in Boeung Ket FC taking the lead. It was a testament to the pace and vision of the Cambodian side that they were able to quickly capitalise on the mistake to drive the ball home. Thereafter, the Cambodians scored a quick-fire second to place one hand on a ticket to the next stage and moments later, Singapore veteran Baihakki Khaizan was shown two yellow cards consecutively and was sent off for an early shower. 

To me, it was a real blow when the Warriors' centre-back missed a clear chance in the first half. His sending off only served to rub salt onto the collective wounds of the Warriors and thereafter, despite attempts by Warriors Coach Razif Onn to tweak his side, the pace and trickery of the Cambodians proved impossible to overcome. Everything else didn’t matter any more. Not the two extra goals Boeung Ket added after that nor the consolation goal from the Warriors. It was all over.

A couple of things blew my mind and I have to let it go.

Former Albirex midfielder Hikaru Mizuno commented rather contentiously that after playing for both in both Singapore and Cambodia, he felt that the standard of play between both countries was similiar. That comment stuck out like a sore thumb to me. I felt that he had committed a cardinal sin and it reeked of provocation and mind games, whether it was intended or not. I feel that Singapore football is superior to Cambodia’s and felt that his comments were unnecessary. I also felt that it may have served to fire up the Warriors and inspire them to a victory to prove Mizuno wrong. Warriors were able to attack with aplomb in the first half, possibly because of what Mizuno said, but they were not able to seize their chances and were left to lick their wounds as what the Japanese midfielder said proved to be prophetic. The Cambodians were able to slice up the Warriors at will, especially after Baihakki’s untimely departure. Maybe Mizuno was wrong,in terms of the standard of play for the night, Warriors and Boeung Ket weren’t level, Boeung Ket was the superior team. They were able to be decisive and clinical when chances were presented to them while I cannot say the same for the Warriors. It’s unfortunate but we have to accept that we were second best for the night, try to rectify the issues and fight on. The international break may have arrived at the right time for the Warriors to sort themselves outas their form has resembled a downward spiral and something has to be done if they are to live up to their pre-season billing as title contenders.

Secondly, Baihakki let his club down. As a veteran S.League and national team steward, he should have known better than to lose his head at a critical juncture. Did the pressure get to him? Surely he had endured more pressure during his long spells in Indonesia and Malaysia. When the team was 2-0 down, the last thing they needed was to lose their captain and defensive rock. If the Warriors were shell shocked by the two goals they conceded, Baihakki’s dismissial just placed a stamp to confirm their defeat. The anguish plastered across the veteran defender’s face allowed us to look into his psyche. He knew that the game was as good as over. If the team couldn’t cope with him helming the defense, they were virtually dead men walking without him. The late consolation goal through a good Hafiz Nor effort could not sugar coat their cracks.

Warriors failed to take their chances, Baihakki did not keep his emotions in check and their opponents were able to show them what clinical finishing looked like. The Cambodians were worthy winners. The sooner we accept this reality, the sooner we can move on and improve.

That’s a whole bunch of voices but all mine. Let’s look at the other voices who really matter, the voices exuded by the heart and soul of football, the fans.

Kim is a Boeung Ket FC supporter and here are his set of thoughts before, during and after the match.


Chris ( C ): How do you feel about your team so far?

Kim ( K ): I haven’t followed the club lately, but we have not been doing as well as we did last season, we are currently fifth (in the Cambodian League).

C: Boeung Ket were the Champions last season so what do you think may have caused the downturn? Was it the players, the coach or the tactics?

K: We lost some superstars! We lost a few foreign players while Chan Vathanaka has been loaned to Fujieda MYFC, a J3 club in Japan.

C: Yes, that will be a blow to any club to lose one of their best players. I did look through the team sheet and noticed that there is still a number of foreign players, for example former Albirex Niigata (S) player Hikaru Mizuno. Who are the players who can still make a difference for your club?

K: Yes! Our number 99 (Samuel Ajayi)!

C: What’s special about this foreign import?

K: He’s good at passing, a good play-maker and creator.

C: Finally, what’s your prediction for the final score?

K: (laughs nervously
) A draw will be good! 

C: Good luck!

During Half-Time

C: How did you find the first half?

K: Very good! We had a few chances and almost scored.

(Chris: I think Warriors had the bulk of the chances, especially earlier on.)

C: It’s fairly even, 0-0, so what do you think the Coach can do to swing things in your team’s favor?

K: Not a technical fan!

C: Maybe a player on the bench or a technique?

K: I think that the team is doing well and there is no need to change any players.

C: So keep it as it is and try to get a goal?

K: Indeed!

C: Good luck!


C: Congratulations! The second half must have surpassed your wildest dreams, what happened in the second half?

K: (screams with great vigor): It’s a very good, very good, very good game!

C: Basically you guys sliced the Warriors up. That was unexpected. Did you find it surprising as well?

K: It was a complete surprise! Thank you to number 30 and 99! They were game changers. (He was referring to Boeung Ket's foreigners Esoh Paul Omogba and Samuel Ajayi)

C: How did you feel about your hat-trick hero, Laboravy?

K: Number 9, our national striker, very good!

C: You guys have been competitive and did well tonight. I am worried for our local side Balestier Khalsa when they take on another Cambodian team, Nagaworld FC, this coming Wednesday. Are they good?

K: Not sure, but I hope that their game will be as good as today’s!

C: So how do you feel about your progress in this event against other strong teams such as Home United?

K: We are confident. I think we can win!

C: It’s been a good game for you guys and not such a good game for the Warriors. Have a good night.

Kim was part of a small cluster of Boeung Ket fans. He was clearly not the most technical football fan out there and his knowledge about his club was average but he blew me away with his passionate outburst after the game. His loud cheers and shouts were primal and yet full of enthusiasm. Clearly his team’s performance brought him great joy as he expected little, hoping for no more than a draw but during our conversation at half time, he had seen enough from his team to tentatively suggest that perhaps they could nick a goal. They went on to surpass that and that is what football is all about, fulfilling the wildest dreams of a regular hardworking man. A Cambodian team, a relative minnow in the region, had just defeated a nine time S.League champion, a team which played in the Asian Champions League. Clearly it was a miracle of sorts for him and as a Singaporean, I was disappointed in the result. As a human, his joyful exuberance showed me why I love this game -  football brings out the strongest emotions within us.

Mohd Noh is a Warriors supporter and the father of Warriors midfielder Hafiz Nor. Here is his set of thoughts before, during and after the match. .


Chris (C): Hi Sir, I understand that you are a big Warriors fan!

Mohd Noh (N) : Because of my son, he’s playing! (beams with pride)

C: Who is he?

N: Hafiz Noh! (smiles shyly but proudly)

C: Ah! That’s a familiar name. How do you feel about Warriors FC's chances tonight?

N: We should be the favourites, but let’s see how the first half turns out. If we do well, we can go all the way and win the game.

C: I spoke to the
 Boeung Ket FC fans and they felt that they are missing a number of key players and would be happy with a draw or a narrow victory. What do you feel about that? 

N: As far as I know, we have a full team. (Mr. Noh is enthusiastic but perhaps he was unaware that the likes of Basil Chan, Shaiful Esah, Jordan Webb and Firdus Kasman were all missing due to various reasons. Perhaps to him, his son is his world and his hero and his presence makes up the fact that others who were missing were not an issue. What a sweet and loving father!)

C: Maybe your son can score the match winner. Good luck to your team!

During Half-Time

C: Hi again Noh, our dear friend’s father, can I have your thoughts for the first half?

N: We look quite okay and tried to score but failed. So far so good lah! In the second half, we will attack and get to score.

C: Warriors had a handful of chances but failed to convert. Your son was also in the thick of the action, getting a yellow card for a foul. Did you see that tackle?

N: So we can definitely get a goal in the second half. (He tried to evade the question about his son’s tackle and I fully understand why, a father’s love! He doesn’t want to discuss something that may make his son look bad and I am liking this elderly gentleman more and more as we speak.)

C: Who were our best attackers in the first half?

N: It has to be Bamba ( Joel Tshibamba ) or Hafiz.

C: So your son can do it! He’s playing in a rather offensive position today, almost a striker.

N: I think that he is doing okay, but a bit slow. In the second half we will have more pace.

C: All out?

N: All out indeed!

C: One goal is all it takes!

N: Yes, we will get a goal. (His son did, but it was a case of too little, too late)

C: Your son must control himself as he is on a yellow card. He must be careful. He is an experienced player and he'll know what to do. Perhaps when you guys get home, you can congratulate him for scoring the match winning goal.

N: Sure, why not?


C: Your son did score!

N: (musters a weak smile) Yah.

C: Overall it’s not a bad game for him, the defense didn’t cover themselves in glory but that’s not your son’s fault. He did score. How did you feel about your son’s performance?

N: The second half was terrible!

C: Are you proud of your son? Despite getting the yellow card, he did score!

N: Of course i am proud of him! We did concede two silly goals though.

C: For the first goal, the striker gave it away. Hopefully your son can draw strength from the fact that he did score a goal. He can have a good rest during the internaional break and come back and help the Warriors. They are in mid-table and can still fight to finish in the top three. I hope that you can encourage your son.

As this will appear on our website, will you like to do a shout out to your son? Imagine that I am your son, what will you like to tell me?

N: You played well, very good in fact. What happened tonight is not your fault. Actually our opponents were not that strong and we could have beaten them! I think even Balestier (Khalsa) could have beaten them! The two silly goals cost us dear. Maybe it’s fatigue.(Chris: I guess he wanted to comfort his son)

C: Well, no matter what, please encourage your son. There is still a long way to go in the season and I believe they will still do well. Thanks and good night, Sir!

N: Good night!

Clearly this man was proud of his son and his concerned expressions and affection was clear for all to see throughout the different phases of the game. In turn it made me emotional. His fatherly love is understated but it can be acutely felt, even from my perspective as an outsider. I am sure that Hafiz Noh feels it strongly as well and this strong bond between father and son almost touched me to tears.

Five goals and two very passionate men - Kim’s emotions were positive while Noh’s emotions were in the reverse direction. In the end, their emotions stemmed from the love of a club and a son respectively. As long as humanity thrives on love, I think we will do just fine. 

Thank you football for being a beautiful game that showed me the beauty of emotions. This will be enough for me to overlook the sad fact that we succumbed to a Cambodian opponent. Nonetheless, we live to fight on!

All copyrights © 2017 are attributed to the respective contributors above.