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'Twinkletoes' Chia Boon Leong, only Singaporean footballer to play in an Olympics, dies aged 97

Chia Boon Leong represented China at the 1948 Olympic Games in London.

'Twinkletoes' Chia Boon Leong, only Singaporean footballer to play in an Olympics, dies aged 97

A photo of Chia Boon Leong posted on social media by the Football Association of Singapore. (Photo: Facebook/Football Association of Singapore)

SINGAPORE: Mr Chia Boon Leong, the only Singaporean footballer to play at an Olympic Games, died on Tuesday (Dec 20) aged 97, the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) said on Wednesday.

Dubbed "Twinkletoes" due to his deft footwork and ball control, Mr Chia represented China at the 1948 London Games in a 4-0 loss to Turkey, said FAS in a Facebook post.

"Closer to home, Mr Chia was part of the Singapore team that won three consecutive Malaysia Cups, from 1950 to 1952," it added.

Following his retirement, Mr Chia continued to devote his time to local football.

"He became a council member at the FAS and was also team manager of its national team on a part-time basis between 1977 and 1980," FAS said.

As a mark of respect for Mr Chia, a minute's silence will be observed before Singapore's opening AFF Mitsubishi Electric Cup match against Myanmar on Saturday.

"Our sincerest thoughts and deepest condolences go out to Mr Chia's family and loved ones during this difficult time," FAS said.

Mr Chia first caught the eye of China's selectors when he represented the Lien Hwa, or United Chinese, team of Malaya during a tour in 1947, according to a 2018 story on the Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC) website.

In one match in Shanghai on Nov 19, 1947, he starred as Lien Hwa ran out 5-3 winners against the local champions Tung Hwa.

"Maybe it was the way the crowd reacted to my performance which made the Chinese officials decide to choose me for the London Olympics," he told SNOC at the time.

SNOC president Tan Chuan-Jin wrote about this tour as he paid tribute to Mr Chia on Wednesday.

"Boon Leong was a prolific footballer in his heyday. He toured with the Lien Hwa (United Chinese) team in 1947 as a 22-year-old and was the only one to appear in all 23 games," Mr Tan wrote in a Facebook post.

"A few months later, he was chosen to represent China in the 1948 Olympic Games in London. Back then, the rules allowed ethnic Chinese to represent China even if they were not born in the country."

According to SNOC's website, Mr Chia's participation in London "went against the Singapore football association rule that no player could compete abroad without prior approval".

No action was taken against Mr Chia, as his appearance for China "was deemed a great honour", SNOC added.

Unfortunately for Mr Chia and his team-mates, the football tournament at the 1948 Games was played entirely in a knockout format, and their loss to Turkey at the Green Pond Road stadium on Aug 2, 1948, was their only match in London.

Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean said he was saddened by Mr Chia's death.

"I was always struck by his positive spirit and passion for life. Deepest condolences to his wife Li Choo and their family," he wrote in a Facebook post.

In a tribute late on Tuesday, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Edwin Tong reflected on Mr Chia's talents.

"It is perhaps fitting that Boon Leong managed to witness his favourite player, Lionel Messi, finally lifting the World Cup before his passing," he said.

"While we will never get to witness the marauding dribbles Boon Leong made down the pitch whilst terrorising opponents – we can share his passion for football, and the contributions he has made to our football folklore.

"My deepest condolences to Boon Leong's family and may he rest in peace."

Source: CNA/kg(mi)


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