Choo Seng Quee
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Choo Seng Quee (b. 1 December 1914 – d. 30 June 1983, Singapore) was a former coach of the national football teams of Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia. Popularly known as Uncle Choo, he greatly influenced the development of football in these countries from the late 1940s to the 1980s. Well-known as a disciplinarian and a father figure to many players, Choo introduced modern methods of training, tactics, nutrition and psychology into the post-war game in the region.
Choo attended Raffles Institution and picked up football while studying for his Senior Cambridge certificate. While playing for his school team, Choo was mentored by Singapore’s Malaya Cup player Lim Yong Liang.
In 1934, Choo joined the Singapore Chinese Football Association (SCFA) and progressed to their first team in 1936. The following year, SCFA won the Singapore Amateur Football Association (SAFA) Senior League and SAFA Cup.
Having impressed while playing in the SAFA League, Choo was selected to represent Singapore in the Malaya Cup between 1937 and 1939. He won the Malaya Cup in 1937, and played in the final in 1938 when Singapore were defeated by Selangor. In 1939 Choo left SCFA and co-founded the Chinese Athletic Association team (also known as Chung Wah). Chinese Athletic made their debut in the SAFA League in 1941 and Choo later became player-manager of the team.
Choo also represented the Malayan Chinese team which toured Manila, Hong Kong and Macau in 1939, and impressed selectors from the China national team. He was named as a likely selection for the China team for the 1940 Olympic Games, but missed out as the Games were cancelled with World War II looming. In 1941, he played for the Sing Tao club in Hong Kong. During World War II, Choo spent time in Macau and China, managed the Macau Tribune newspaper and wrote propaganda for the British.
Early coaching career
After World War II, Choo was a player-manager for Chinese Athletic until his retirement as a player in 1949. That year, he coached SCFA, the Raffles Institution team, the Chinese YMCA team as well as Singapore’s Malaya Cup team on an honorary basis. In late 1949, Choo self-funded a trip to Bombay, Saigon, Hong Kong and Manila to canvass support for a regional football tournament involving national teams. When he later became national coach of Malaya in 1958, Choo was involved in the formation of the Merdeka Tournament which featured top Asian teams.
In 1951, Choo was appointed coach of the Indonesia national team, and led the team at the Asian Games in Delhi that year. He coached Indonesia until 1954, concurrently coaching Star Soccerites and a number of youth teams in Singapore from 1952. In 1954, Choo won the SAFA League title with Star Soccerites.
Career in Malaya
Having left Star Soccerites in July 1957, Choo was appointed national coach of the newly independent Federation of Malaya in January 1958. He was Malaya’s first professional football coach, with a monthly salary of $700. Choo’s brief was to run coaching clinics in every Malayan state, scout for talented players and coach the national team.
In Choo’s first match as national coach, Malaya defeated Singapore 5-2 in March 1958. Malaya went on to win the first Merdeka Tournament in 1958, and in 1959, and were joint champions in 1960. Malaya also won a gold medal in the 1961 South East Asian Peninsular (SEAP) Games and a bronze medal in the 1962 Asian Games. Besides coaching the national team, Choo also trained Malaya’s youth teams for international tournaments.
When his contract with the Football Association of Malaya expired in March 1963, Choo was appointed Malaya’s national schools coach. This was a position created for him by Malaya’s Prime Minister Tengku Abdul Rahman, and Choo was responsible for talent scouting and conducting coaching courses for schoolboys and teachers.
Choo continued to coach Malaya’s youth teams and the national team for a number of tournaments, including the qualifiers for the Asian Cup and the Olympics in 1963, and the Merdeka Tournament in 1964. With the approval of Tengku Abdul Rahman, Choo trained Singapore’s national team for two months from June 1964, with Singapore winning the Malaya Cup and Aw Hoe Cup during that period.
Return to Singapore
After the Merdeka Tournament in September 1964, Choo left his job and returned to Singapore. He applied for a coaching job with SAFA, and was appointed to train the national team together with incumbent coach Harith Omar from March 1965. That year, Singapore won the Malaya Cup and the Aw Hoe Cup once more.
Choo then coached Singapore’s football team for the SEAP Games in Kuala Lumpur in December 1965. After the tournament, team manager Tan Peng Ghee alleged that Choo and a number of national players showed “gross insubordination” during the Games. Choo and six national players were subsequently sacked by SAFA.
Choo refuted the allegations and called for an independent inquiry, but SAFA stood by its decision. In January 1967, Choo rejoined SAFA’s panel of coaches and began training the national reserve team. He was then appointed national coach in August 1967 and trained Singapore for the Merdeka Tournament that year. Choo then left the SAFA setup and coached a number of local club teams including Police and Burnley United.
In July 1971, Choo was reappointed to the national team’s coaching panel with national coach Andrew Yap, Abbas Abu Amin and Sebastian Yap. He took charge of Singapore for the Merdeka Tournament that year and achieved a notable 1-0 win over Burma, which was considered one of Asia’s strongest teams at the time. Choo left as national coach in December.
In September 1976, the chairman of the Football Association of Singapore (FAS, the renamed SAFA) N. Ganesan reappointed Choo national coach. A number of national players subsequently quit the team after disagreements with Choo, and Singapore suffered a run of poor results in friendly matches. In February 1977 however, Choo was credited with guiding Singapore to victories over Thailand and Malaysia in the World Cup qualifiers, losing out only to Hong Kong at the penultimate round.
Choo then announced he would leave the national team due to the pressure of the job, before returning to coach Singapore to the Malaysia Cup final in May 1977, where they defeated Penang 3-2. The Cup triumph was Singapore’s first in 12 years, and Choo was praised for a crucial substitution at half-time which turned the game.
During the Malaysia Cup campaign, Choo had suffered a fall at the Merdeka Stadium which resulted in an infection on his right leg. Caught up with the demands of coaching the team, he did not seek treatment for the wound which worsened and eventually turned gangrenous with complications from a diabetic condition. In September 1977, Choo was admitted to Outram General Hospital. After 10 days of treatment, doctors were forced to amputate his right leg at the knee to prevent the gangrene from spreading. Another amputation on the upper part of his leg followed, and he also suffered internal bleeding.
During his recovery from the operations, Choo was visited by fans, players, officials and ministers including Minister for Law E. W. Barker, Minister of State for National Development Tan Eng Liang and Singapore’s ambassador to Indonesia Othman Wok. Fans and officials also donated blood for Choo.
While still in hospital, Choo told the press of his determination to return to coaching despite the loss of his right leg. However, the FAS subsequently appointed Hussein Aljunied as national coach. In April 1978, Choo was voted the Coach of the Year at the Singapore Sports Awards, and later received the Pingat Bakti Masharakat (Public Service Medal).
In April 1980, Choo became coach of Johor for their Malaysia Cup campaign. He left the job in January 1981 and the following year was presented with a gold medal by the Indonesian Soccer Federation for his services to Indonesian football.
In June 1983, Choo was admitted to hospital with kidney problems. After two weeks in hospital, he passed away in his sleep at home on 30 June 1983. More than 1,500 people attended the wake at Choo’s Wolskel Road home, and around 500 mourners were present when he was buried at Choa Chu Kang Christian Cemetery.
Wife: Boon Khin Siang
Son: Robert Choo Boon Keng
Daughters: Theresa Choo Geok Lan, Helen Choo Geok Kim
C.A to re-affiliate. (1948, May 5). The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved on August 21, 2011, from NewspaperSG.
Dorai, J. (1964, June 9). Tengku gives SAFA ok on Choo. The Straits Times, p. 16. Retrieved on August 21, 2011, from NewspaperSG.
Dorai, J. (1965, February 13). Choo gets an offer. The Straits Times, p. 19. Retrieved on August 21, 2011, from NewspaperSG.
Dorai, J. (1965, December 28). Safa axe six national team men and coach. The Straits Times, p. 15. Retrieved on August 21, 2011, from NewspaperSG.
Dorai, J. (1976, September 3). Seng Quee is in and three quit. The Straits Times, p. 27. Retrieved on August 21, 2011, from NewspaperSG.
Dorai, J. (1976, December 16). Fans petition. The Straits Times, p. 23. Retrieved on August 21, 2011, from NewspaperSG.
Dorai, J. (1977, March 5). Coach Seng Quee to quit after Mar. 12. The Straits Times, p. 23. Retrieved on August 21, 2011, from NewspaperSG.
Dorai, J. (1977, October 29). Seng Quee ‘died’ three times. The Straits Times, p. 30. Retrieved on August 21, 2011, from NewspaperSG.
Dorai, J. (1989, March 10). Seng Quee in another league. The Straits Times, p. 38. Retrieved on August 21, 2011, from NewspaperSG.
Francis, P. (1979, November 10). The wily wizard’s waiting – wistfully. The Straits Times, p. 35. Retrieved on August 21, 2011, from NewspaperSG.
Last goodbye. (1983, July 3). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved on August 21, 2011, from NewspaperSG.
Lim, H. M. & Lee, D. (2008, February 9). A job well done. The New Paper. Retrieved on August 21, 2011, from Factiva.
Low, J. (1983, July 1). A beautiful dreamer. The Straits Times, p. 47. Retrieved on August 21, 2011, from NewspaperSG.
Miller, B. (2007, July 1). That day in June. The New Paper. Retrieved on August 21, 2011, from Factiva.
Missed place in Olympic XI. (1949, April 6). The Singapore Free Press, p. 10. Retrieved on August 21, 2011, from NewspaperSG.
Palakrishnan, R. & Das, M. (1996). S.League: The Kick-off, p. 77. Singapore: Singapore Professional Football League.
(Call no.: RSING 796.33406095957 S)
Raymond, J. (2007, June 21). A salute to ‘Uncle’ Choo’s Lions. TODAY, p. 59. Retrieved on August 21, 2011, from NewspaperSG.
Rozario, F. (1957, December 26). Seng Quee has a formula to hasten success. The Singapore Free Press, p. 14. Retrieved on August 21, 2011, from NewspaperSG.
S.A.F.A. coach has plan for victory. (1949, March 18). The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved on August 21, 2011, from NewspaperSG.
S.E. Asia soccer tourney planned. (1949, September 1). The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved on August 21, 2011, from NewspaperSG.
Seneviratne, P. (1977, May 29). A gamble for victory. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved on August 21, 2011, from NewspaperSG.
Siebel, N. (1963, February 12). Seng Quee’s 5-year term will end next month. The Straits Times, p. 15. Retrieved on August 21, 2011, from NewspaperSG.
Siebel, N. (1963, March 5). Govt servant Choo Seng Quee now schools coach. The Straits Times, p. 17. Retrieved on August 21, 2011, from NewspaperSG.
Singh, D. (1977, September 15). Seng Quee loses leg. The Straits Times, p. 28. Retrieved on August 21, 2011, from NewspaperSG.
Tengku to Choo: We need you. (1963, August 25). The Straits Times, p. 14. Retrieved on August 21, 2011, from NewspaperSG.
Cheng, D. A. (Director) & Tay, H. W. (Producer). (2008). Kallang Roar: The Movie. [Motion picture]. Singapore: Merelion Pictures.
(Call no.: RSING 791.4372 KAL)
Information in this article is valid as at 2011 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.