Football: 'Godfather' Teo Hock Seng steps down as Tampines Rovers chairman with no regrets

Players effusive in praising ex-Tampines chairman for care, generosity and big heart

After 15 years at the helm, five S-League titles, three Singapore Cups and an Asean Club Championship trophy, it is the end of an era as Teo Hock Seng, one of local football's most colourful officials, has stepped down as Tampines Rovers' chairman.

Murali Krishna Ramachandra, a 44-year-old lawyer and the club's vice-chairman, has succeeded him.

Sounding cheerful and relaxed, Teo, 69, told The Straits Times yesterday: "Yes, I've retired from Tampines. I am not young any more, I am tired.

"I have slowed down and it is not fair to the club that I continue.

"Running a football team takes a lot of time and commitment.

"It has been a good 15 years."

Teo added that he has to take care of his health after undergoing back and hand surgery this year.

Teo Hock Seng back in 2004 with the Singapore Cup trophy. In 15 years as the Stags' chairman, he took pleasure in winning silverware and developing young players rather than aiming for lucrative returns.
Teo Hock Seng back in 2004 with the Singapore Cup trophy. In 15 years as the Stags' chairman, he took pleasure in winning silverware and developing young players rather than aiming for lucrative returns. BH FILE PHOTO

Murali, who watched Tampines' 0-0 draw against Warriors FC at Jurong West Stadium yesterday evening, said: "It's a great honour and privilege to take over from Mr Teo. His presence is always felt among the players, he's someone who rolls up his sleeves.

"It's a challenge to carry on the legacy that he has set. It's something that inspires me because I'm passionate about Singapore football too. To be in the front line and in a position to make a difference, it's challenging."

Outspoken, larger than life and sometimes trigger-happy when it came to hiring and firing, Teo is also equally loved by his players and staff for his generosity, warmth and loyalty.

Nicknamed "Teo Hock Sack" and "The Godfather", he was decisive when coaches failed to deliver. Croat Nenad Bacina lasted just five months in 2013 while Salim Moin fared slightly better, spending six months in charge until last April.

But there is also a tender side to Teo. Noh Alam Shah cried when the businessman lent him $70,000 without hesitation to post bail when his younger brother Noor Ashiq was sentenced to six years behind bars for a drug offence and possessing live ammunition.

Choking with emotion, the 35-year-old striker said: "Nobody has treated me better than he (Teo) did. I feel like I have lost a father.

"It's sad, all my life I've been trying to repay him on the field.

"My brother's bail amount was $80,000 and I had about $20,000 in my savings.

"He gave me $70,000 straightaway and told me that I need to have some money in my savings. It was the only time in my life that I cried so hard.

"He stands up for his players. When he cares for his players, it is really out of genuine concern. He has a heart of gold.

"We are nobodies, just Singaporean footballers. He's a big boss.

"Yet, he cares so much for us."

Captain Fahrudin Mustafic, a tough-tackling midfielder, added: "He saw something in me and how I play is how I repay him.

TEO HOCK SENG ON...

HIS NICKNAME

People used to call (his predecessor at Tampines) Quah Kim Song 'Quah Kim Sack'. Well, you can call me 'Teo Hock Sack'.

HELPING PLAYERS

Some players say they want to get married, so they borrow some money, but up till today, they haven't got married yet. You've got to stomach all this because it's all part of the game.

WHAT THE WORD 'GIANT' MEANS

The papers always label Tampines Rovers as a 'giant'. We're not. Giant is a supermarket. We are highly spirited. Can you change it to that? Giant is where you buy toilet paper, five rolls for $1.

ON HIRING V. SUNDRAMOORTHY AS COACH

You bring a foreign coach here, he has to learn the culture, tolerate the stupidity and complications of handling a local football team, and he has a lot of problems.

"He is everything to Tampines. He's like a second father to me.

"He's a good man with a big heart. His door is always open for the players. I'm very sad. If he leaves football entirely, it will be a big loss."

Tampines, who had never won the S-League until Teo's appointment in 2000, went on to lift the title five times (2004, 2005, 2011, 2012 and 2013). The Stags also have a hat-trick of Singapore Cup victories (2002, 2004 and 2006).

They are also the last winners (2005) of the now-defunct Asean Club Championship, a biennial tournament for the region's top clubs. They beat Pahang 4-2 in the final.

Reflecting on his tenure, he said: "We are hardly out of the top three every year, we were the Asean champions. I'm also very proud that our youngsters won this year's Prime League.

"The club has a bright future."

Although he has closed the chapter on his beloved Tampines, Teo will continue in his other roles as chairman of the Formula One Singapore Grand Prix and managing director of Komoco Motors, which distributes marques like Hyundai, Ferrari and Harley-Davidson.

Word has it that he has pumped more than $2 million of his own money into the club, a rumour that he denies. It is believed thousands of dollars more were extended as personal loans to needy players.

The S-League is not a money-making machine, unlike its glamorous cousins in Europe. Teo, however, finds satisfaction in silverware and watching players grow.

"No regrets," he insisted. "I came into Tampines Rovers with my eyes wide open and I don't want any reward for it."

  • Additional reporting by Alvin Chia
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 03, 2015, with the headline ''Godfather' retires, no regrets'. Print Edition | Subscribe