Obituary: Tan Eng Bock, 'Mr Water Polo', dies at 84

Tan Eng Bock's dedication to the sport earned him the name 'Godfather of Water Polo'. PHOTO: LIM SIN THAI
Tan Eng Bock visits the Singapore men's water polo team preparing for the Asian Games in August 2018. PHOTO: LIM SIN THAI

SINGAPORE - Former national water polo captain and coach Tan Eng Bock died on Monday (Nov 30) morning after suffering a stroke. He was 84.

Along with his brothers Eng Chai and Eng Liang, who were also part of the national team, Tan excelled in the sport. He captained the national team to their first South-east Asian Peninsular (Seap) Games title in 1965, starting a glorious undefeated run that ended only last year.

Besides being a three-time Seap Games winner (1967 and 1969), he was also an Asian Games gold medallist in 1954 and an Olympian at the 1956 Melbourne Games.

After retiring from the sport, Tan went on to helm the national team for over 20 years. His decades-long dedication to the sport earned him the name "Mr Water Polo".

He was also appointed deputy chef de mission for Singapore's 1988, 1996 and 2000 Olympic delegations.

Still in shock, Eng Liang, a veteran sports administrator, paid tribute to his brother.

The 83-year-old said: "Our relationship is not just as brothers, but also comrades in arms in the water polo and swimming worlds.

"Eng Bock is very close to me because we've done a lot of things together. We worked together all the time in the water polo and swimming arenas, of which I have great respect for him, his eagerness, commitment, dedication towards water polo."

Brothers Tan Eng Bock (far left and far right) and Eng Liang. PHOTOS: ST FILE, TAN ENG BOCK

Eng Chai, the eldest brother, died last month. He was 86.

Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Edwin Tong noted the influence Tan's family had in nurturing his interest in water polo in a Facebook post entitled "Goodbye, Mr Water Polo".

He added: "Mr Tan's legacy as a player and mentor will be remembered by the sport fraternity. He will continue to be an inspiration and role model for future generations to come."

Singapore National Olympic Council president Tan Chuan-Jin, who was also saddened by the news, said: "He was a stalwart and devoted leader, having contributed more than half of his life to Singapore sport and water polo.

"As a firm disciplinarian, he continued to coach for decades after retiring as an athlete. His dedication is unparalleled and his legacy will live on in the many lives he has touched."

Eric Song, former deputy chef de mission for the 2000 Sydney Games and himself a long-time sports administrator, described Tan as an affable person who was the life of any gathering.

Calling Tan his mentor, Song said: "With him there was always laughter and he cared a lot for friends.

"He has personally called me many times to check that I am okay and would offer valuable nuggets of advice. Beneath his booming voice, he was a very humble and down-to-earth person."

Former national water polo players recalled how Tan would always ask after them.

Tan Eng Bock (front row, fourth from right) with his national teammates in 1956. PHOTO: ST FILE
Tan Eng Bock (in blue) visits the Singapore men's water polo team preparing for the Asian Games at the OCBC Aquatic Centre in August 2018. PHOTO: LIM SIN THAI

Sport Singapore chief executive Lim Teck Yin, a six-time SEA Games gold medallist, said: "His first words to me were to encourage my love for the game.

"His emphasis on being proud to play for the love of the game and for country resonated strongly with me. He was exemplary in serving through water polo for many years."

Tan initially came across as someone who was very strict to former national water polo vice-captain Yip Ren Kai, but with time, Yip began to see him as a father figure, who shared his life experiences with them.

Yip, a three-time SEA Games champion, said: "I'll miss him for who he is. Singapore sport has lost a very good mentor."

SPH Brightcove Video
Champions should never be forgotten and nations should be proud of their sporting history. As the SEA Games unfolds, take a stroll down memory lane and talk to SEA Games gold medallists over the years. This episode: Tan Eng Bok - Water polo.

As a police officer, Tan also earned many accolades. He rose to become Assistant Commissioner of Police before retiring in 1991. Along the way, he received a Public Administration Medal (Silver) in 1981, a State Long Service Medal the following year and a Public Service Star in 1986 for his years of distinguished service.

Tan is survived by his wife Jenny, three sons Matthew, Mark and Mitchell, and three grandchildren.

The wake will be held at the Singapore Funeral Parlour in Tampines and the funeral will take place at Mandai Crematorium, Hall 2 on Thursday.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.