Farewell, Farrer Park: 5 things about the place where Singapore's sporting spirit burned bright

Local football greats Dollah Kassim (right) and Quah Kim Lye training at the Farrer Park Athletic Centre in 1983.
Local football greats Dollah Kassim (right) and Quah Kim Lye training at the Farrer Park Athletic Centre in 1983.PHOTO: ST FILE
The power and drive of Tan Cheng Joo (right) proved too much for Chia Soon Gin, who preferred to stay low and away from the thundering blows in the flyweight bout of the Singapore
Amateur Boxing Association's final trial at the Farrer Park gymnasium
The power and drive of Tan Cheng Joo (right) proved too much for Chia Soon Gin, who preferred to stay low and away from the thundering blows in the flyweight bout of the Singapore Amateur Boxing Association's final trial at the Farrer Park gymnasium in 1979.PHOTO: ST FILE
A hockey game between Malaysian All Stars and Singapore at the Farrer Park Athletic Centre in 1983.
A hockey game between Malaysian All Stars and Singapore at the Farrer Park Athletic Centre in 1983.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Farrer Park fields, where a variety of sports in Singapore from boxing and swimming to athletics and football flourished from the 1930s to the 1980s, will be redeveloped into a residential area.

The plot of land sits between Dorset Road and Northumberland Road, and is five minutes' walk from Little India Station, occupying about 9ha or the size of about 10 football pitches.

The land is leased to national sports agency Sport Singapore, which has to return it to the state by the middle of 2020.

The redevelopment means that all structures sitting on that land, which has seen the blossoming of local sport champions such as Ang Peng Siong and Fandi Ahmad, must be demolished before then.

Here are five things to know about the Farrer Park area.

1. It started out as a racetrack in 1842, 176 years ago

The history of Farrer Park's sporting legacy began in 1842, 176 years ago.


Race day at the racecourse in the early 1900s. PHOTO: ST FILE

The first racecourse in Singapore was built there. Known as the Serangoon Road Race Course, it drew Europeans and created employment for early settlers from Java and India.

Members of the Singapore Sporting Club, which was founded on Oct 4, 1842, wanted a racetrack.

The amateur racing enthusiasts who formed the club, including William Macleod Read, Charles Spottiswoode and William Napier, made a request to the government for the land, which was granted.

 
 

The racecourse was also used as a runway, with one of the earliest planes flown there in 1911 by Frenchman Joseph Christiaens.

It was also the backdrop for grand parades including 1919's Centenary Day celebrations, which marked 100 years since Singapore's founding by Stamford Raffles.

The Singapore Sporting Club was renamed the Singapore Turf Club in 1924 and moved to a new racecourse in Bukit Timah in 1933.

Farrer Park also saw its share of political gatherings. In 1942, following the fall of Singapore, Indian soldiers were mustered there and urged by nationalist Subhas Chandra Bose to switch allegiance to fight for India's independence from the British.


Lee Kuan Yew speaking during a PAP rally held at Farrer Park in 1955. PHOTO: ST FILE

On Aug 15, 1955, the People's Action Party campaigned there for self-government.

The Farrer Park gym that is the current home of the Singapore Amateur Boxing Association was officially opened by former minister of social affairs Othman Wok on Nov 30, 1968.

2. It became a haven for athletics with the opening of the Athletic Centre


In its heyday in the 1950s and 1960s, the Farrer Park Stadium was the nerve centre of the country's track-and-field events. PHOTO: ST FILE

In 1956, the Farrer Park Athletic Centre was opened, complete with a seven-lane-track stadium, playing fields suitable for soccer, rugby and hockey, as well as tennis courts. The new cinder track cost an estimated $30,000.

The new stadium, which cost $200,000, hosted the 440-yard hurdles of the Amateur Athletic Association championships as its first event.

A swimming pool was added to the centre a year later, and administrative offices set up there in a venue that was known as Sports House in 1971.

The Sports House was home to 14 sports associations and seven affiliates, including Ten Pin Bowling Association, Singapore Squash Association and Singapore National Olympic Council.

In its heyday in the 1950s and 1960s, the stadium was the nerve centre of the country's track-and-field events.


Aftermath of the hour-long fire at the Sports House in Farrer Park in 1985. PHOTO: ST FILE

The Sports House was razed by an early morning fire in 1985.

Today, the site of the Farrer Park Stadium is occupied by Farrer Park Primary School.

3. It saw the blossoming of local football greats


Fandi Ahmad (centre) training with the ex-international soccer team in 1983. PHOTO: ST FILE

Farrer Park has been given many names thanks to its association with the sport of football, including the "cradle" and "spiritual home" of football.

It was the nurturing ground that produced national footballers and Malaysia Cup-winning teams until the 1980s.

Farrer Park Stadium was the home stadium for the Farrer Park United football club, later known as the Tyrwhitt Soccerites, which took part in the National Football League.

The club won the trophy in the inaugural Prime Minister's Cup in 1972, beating out Pasir Panjang to receive the prize from then prime minister Lee Kuan Yew.

Former national coach Choo Seng Quee, widely revered as the father figure of Singapore football, lived nearby in Owen Road.


Singapore coach Choo Seng Quee (right) consoling Quah Kim Song after Hong Kong beat Singapore 1-0 in the final of the pre-World Cup soccer tournament at the National Stadium in 1977. PHOTO: ST FILE

Under his tutelage, stars like Dollah Kassim, Quah Kim Song and R. Suriamurthi were groomed.

It was also in Farrer Park that Fandi Ahmad used to play as a boy, sitting behind the goal post guarded by his late father, national goalkeeper Ahmad Wartam.

4. Farrer Park Swimming Complex was where Ang Peng Siong trained


Local swimming champion Ang Peng Siong's father, Mr Ang Teck 
Bee (right) at Farrer Park Swimming Complex in 1983. PHOTO: ST FILE

Local swimming champion Ang Peng Siong, the world's fastest swimmer in 1982, learned to swim at Farrer Park Swimming Complex, which opened in 1957.

He did his laps in the pool under the supervision of his late father Ang Teck Bee, who worked there as a lifeguard.

The pool is also where Paralympian swimmer Theresa Goh has trained for more than 10 years.


Paralympic swimmers Theresa Goh (right) and Yip Pin Xiu at Farrer Park Swimming Complex. PHOTO: ST FILE

"Here, I trained under former national swimmer Ang Peng Siong and we all called him Uncle Siong because we all felt close to him," she told The Straits Times in 2014.

"Here is where a lot of my blood, sweat and tears have been shed. The place holds so many memories for me."

The pool is currently leased to Ang's eponymous swim school, which will likely have to move out of the area by the end of next year.

5. It was named after the former president of the British-sanctioned Singapore Municipal Commission


The Farrer Park Boxing Gym. PHOTO: ST FILE

Farrer Park, along with Farrer Road, was named after Mr Roland John (R. J.) Farrer. He was the president of the former Singapore Municipal Commission, an authority created by the British colonial government in 1887 to oversee local urban affairs in Singapore.

Mr Farrer died in St John's Island in 1956 aged 84.

He had arrived in Singapore in 1896, aged 24, and spent 35 years in public service.

He oversaw the completion of major municipal projects including the Gunong Pulai waterworks, St James Power Station and Elgin Bridge.

SOURCES: National Archives of Singapore, National Library Board, The Straits Times archives