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Asia » Singapore
September 17th 1999
Published: August 24th 2006
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DAY 29 - FRIDAY 17 SEPTEMBER

Got up at 5am as I didn?t want to take any risks. Thankfully the weather had cleared up and it looked like the flights would be on. Not that you would know, however, as it was virtually impossible to get through to Cathy Pacific on the phone number they gave me.

I arrived at the airport at 7.30am and joined one of the very, very long queues. I ended up waiting in line for ages and thought I was going to miss my 9am flight. I managed to check in just time, only to be told that it had been delayed until 9.50am. Not a worry, I was just glad to be finally leaving.

I went to board at the advised time, only to be told that the flight had left at 9am. I was furious! I finally got on a 10.30am flight to Singapore via Bangkok but I was not happy. I doubt I will ever use Cathay Pacific again.

I finally, finally arrived in Singapore at 4.15pm and caught a cab to Adam Djokovic?s place. He had forgot I was coming, the bastard, so I couldn?t get into his unit. Ended up catching a cab to his work and getting a key off him.

Adam Djokovic, 28, hails from Melbourne and is the President of the Singapore Wombats. He is a Business Group Accountant with Unilever East Asia Pacific and has been in Singapore for 18 months. Prior to his arrival he spent 2 years in China as the Commercial Manager and Business System Manager for Walls Ice-cream in Beijing.

It was great to see the sun again. In 4 days in Hong Kong and Macau I had not seen the sun once. I was also impressed at how clean Singapore is.

You should see Adam?s place. A spacious 3 bedroom unit on the 16th floor of a huge high-rise complex, it?s a virtual resort. A massive pool, gym, floodlit tennis courts, cafe and shops are just some of the features. Adam obviously earns too much.

Adam had to go to a Rugby Sportsman?s Night, where Sir Richard Hadlee, former All Black captain Sean Fitzpatrick and former Scottish captain Gavin Hastings were the speakers. Apparently Hadlee, who works in the banking industry, knew he was going to become a banker because whenever he bowled in Australia the crowd would yell "Hadlee?s a banker!". That?s what he told the audience anyway.

As Adam was busy I went for a walk to see some of the sights. I had already lost a day and wanted to see at least some of them. First stop was the $800 a night Raffles Plaza. You can sit in the famous Long Bar and sip on a Singapore Sling for only $18.00 (the conversion rate is roughly 1:1). I wasn?t thirsty.

I walked past the War Memorial and into the Padang, home of the Singapore Cricket Club. The Padang is a very impressive facility, with fields for cricket, rugby, tennis and soccer. There were 4 Indian blokes having a hit in the nets and I asked if I could join in. Had a bowl for about an hour and really enjoyed it. I really needed the workout after the previous 24 hours.

Said goodbye to the cricketers and headed towards the Merlion statue. The Lion is Singapore?s national symbol - in fact the name of the city, Singapura, means the City of Lions.

Went back to Adam?s place and had a swim before getting ready to go out with a female friend of Adam?s. We went to Zouk, a huge dance club that is very popular with the locals. The club attracts some of London?s leading Underground DJ?s so it must be OK. Dance music is not my scene at all but it was an interesting experience.

DAY 30 - SATURDAY 18 SEPTEMBER
Watched some of the Brisbane v. Kangaroos preliminary final on Australia TV (cable) before departing for the Singapore v Malaysia game. The match venue was Sentosa Island, which with its theme parks, attractions and hotels is Singapore?s answer to Disneyland. Entry to the island costs $6, which is not bad as it gets you unlimited travel around the island.

We ended up catching the bus into Sentosa, although you can also get there by boat or cable car. I was very impressed with the field, very picturesque, although the surface could use a bit of work. Helped the Singapore boys set up the field by removing the soccer goals. It was a glorious day for football.

The game got underway and was quite competitive in the first quarter. The Tigers were getting a fair share of the footy and were unlucky to register only 3 behinds for the quarter. Unfortunately the second quarter was marred by one of the worst injuries I have seen, with young Brad Schwarz, 18, suffering a compound fracture of his left forearm. The game was stopped for some time while an ambulance was called and at one stage it looked like the game would be called off. It was eventually resumed, but before going into that the following important point needs to be made.

If you?re playing club footy in Australia and get seriously injured there?s generally no problem. Even if you don?t have insurance Medicare will cover the treatment cost at a public hospital. But the situation is vastly different when two teams of Australians are playing in a foreign country.

Most expats working in a foreign country are covered by their employer?s insurance. Hopefully all of them are as the costs of receiving medical treatment without insurance can be horrendous. At the match I heard a story that somebody without insurance was required to pay $30,000 before being treated. Now I don?t know if that?s true but it certainly doesn?t come cheap.

Having said that I would recommend the following:

1. All participants in international matches should be fully insured before being allowed to take the field. Responsibility for ensuring this should lie with the Team Manager, and if there isn?t one, the committee.

2. At least one medical person should be present. At the very least there should be somebody present with a St. Johns First Aid Certificate or equivalent, or Sports Medicine Australia (SMA) Level 1 Accreditation or equivalent.

This situation also occurred in Denmark, where one of the Wimbledon Hawks players required stitches to a nasty gash to his chin. Thankfully there was a medical person there and DAFL paid for his cab to the hospital. Let?s face it, it?s a physical game and people are going to get injured. As a result it?s irresponsible not to have qualified medical people present.

Speaking of qualified people, another thing I would like to see is a full complement of umpires at international matches. It was disappointing to see only one field umpire and no goal or boundary umpires. Along with somebody pulled from the crowd, yours truly did some goal umpiring. Although I enjoyed helping out, this situation should never have arisen in the first place. To be fair to the other bloke, he was giving up his time and had obviously not done it before. But going to get the footy and then signalling a goal hardly adds to the game as a spectacle.

I would strongly recommend that it is the responsibility of the home team to supply a full complement of umpires for all international matches i.e. 2 field, boundary and goal umpires. Ideally they should all possess Level 1 accreditation. If not, they should at the very least be instructed in their responsibilities and positioning (eg., boundary umpires behind point posts when a player is shooting for goal). They should also possess appropriate equipment (eg. flags and scoring cards for goal umpires and whistles for field and boundary umpires). Further, correct attire is also important. If the club/league does not possess a set of official umpire uniforms, then at the very least white shorts and shorts should be worn. Running the boundary in a Hawaiian shirt and thongs, for example, is a no no.

Back to the footy. After Brad was taken to the hospital the teams agreed to play a second half of 20 minutes. The Wombats dominated this period, kicking 8.1, although to be fair to the Tigers their minds were no longer completely on the job.

Singapore Wombats v Malaysian Tigers
Final Scores: Singapore 2.2 2.4 10.5 (65)
Malaysia 0.3 0.4 2.4 (16)


Presentations were made after the game and it was a nice touch to see the Wombats present the best Malaysian player award to Brad Schwarz. He had been having a great game before his nasty injury and the award was accepted on his behalf by David Knight. Best player for the Bats was Colin Stimpson. As is Wombat tradition, the best players from both teams have a beer sculling competition immediately after receiving their awards. David?s girth showed his many years experience in amber disposal, but Colin?s nocturnal Wombat skills saw him emerge victorious in a titanic struggle.

Apart from the injuries it was an enjoyable day and I had the chance to speak to quite a few people from both teams.

Among them was Malcolm Paul, the Regional Manager for Fosters International in South-East Asia. Mal plays for the Wombats and has been very supportive of footy in Asia. Apart from providing assistance to both the Dragons and Wombats, he was responsible for the staging of the inaugural Fosters Asia Cup in Vietnam in June 1998. This fantastic initiative illustrates the can-do attitude of people such as Mal who love their footy, no matter what part of the world they are in.

I spoke to Mal at length about the World Nines and he was very keen to be involved. It would be great to have the support of a company such as Fosters.

I was surprised to learn that the Wombats Secretary is actually a Canadian. Barry Sutherland is from Toronto and has been in Singapore for 2 years. He has an ice hockey background and played his first footy in Singapore. He is the Vice Principal of the Canadian International School. He got involved because one of the wives of the Wombats works at the school and he was invited down to training. Barry thinks it?s a great game and a great bunch of guys.

I enjoyed speaking to Jeffrey Peng, 20, a local who had trained twice with the Wombats and was at the match to watch his first live game. He found out about the Wombats via an article in the newspaper and called Adam. A water polo player, Jeffrey wanted a change and the chance to play a more physical sport. "Training is a lot of fun but I still don?t know much about the game. I wish there were more games. I?m having a bit of trouble learning the skills but I?m sure I?ll pick it up."

Jeffrey?s aim is to play for the Wombats. "I?ve tried to get some friends to come down but they don?t like the physical contact. Australian football has the stereotype of a no holds barred, no rules game, so a lot of them see rugby as a more refined football code. To succeed here the sport needs some coverage in the newspapers as well as games shown on free to air TV, like rugby."

You run into all sorts of people at the footy. Rebecca Dillon, Assistant to the Marketing Manager at Richmond from 95-98, was in charge of the barbeque at the match. Now based in Singapore, she has her own business, Blue Chilli Consulting. Also ran into Scott Beasley, grandson of Geoff Beasley, who played in the 1927 & 1928 VFL grand finals.

Malaysia

It was great to catch up with the boys from Malaysia. David Knight (Coach), Paul McCalman (Secretary), Mark Werner and David White are obviously passionate about their footy. The Tigers are based in Kuala Lumpur, which is about 330km or a 4 hour drive from Singapore. They have been through the doldrums with the economic downturn in Asia, typically only getting 4-6 to training. A lot of people tend to finish their contracts after Christmas time and so a lot of rebuilding needs to be done. However it has been picking up lately and they fielded 18 at the match. It was the first international match they had played for more than 12 months.

They have virtually no sponsorship. Their major fundraiser is the AFL grand final at the Australian High Commission. This hugely popular event draws between 500-600 people, making about $5000 for the Tigers. That money is their only source of income.

The Tigers started 7 years ago, playing against Singapore. In fact they have only ever played Singapore and Jakarta, nobody else. They are hoping to play more teams in the future. They are not competing in the Asian Championships in Jakarta (October 30-31), however they would play if it was switched to Singapore.

There are no locals playing, although they have had Malaysian and Chinese players in the past. The rugby isn?t too bad in Kuala Lumpur and they have managed to pick up a few players from there.

Training is once a week on Wednesday nights. Unfortunately they lost their training venue, at Mindef (Ministry of Defence), a week before the match. Mindef have a new 2IC in charge of base who has denied access to their training venue and clubroom. They used to watch tapes of AFL games there as well.

So why aren?t they watching the AFL on TV, like the boys in Singapore, Indonesia and Thailand? It?s a simple answer - there is no AFL on Malaysian television. And that?s a huge problem because the average Malaysian thinks the sport is way too rough. Soccer and badminton are the big sports in Malaysia, and the key to promote footy is to get the AFL on television. So awareness is the Tigers? biggest problem.

American football (NFL) and rugby league (NRL) are both on free to air TV in Malaysia, so there is no reason why the AFL can?t be shown. Like free to air, none of the cable channels (ESPN, Star Sports and Astro) show the footy. Also the Malaysian government won?t allow Australia Television as it contains news programs which they can?t control.

Unfortunately the Australian High Commission, which has a satellite feed, makes it very difficult for the Tigers to watch the footy. It?s actually easier for them to go to the USA Embassy and watch it with the marines.

The Tigers two goals that day were kicked by Geoff Blethyn, 48. Later that night we were all sitting in a bar watching a tape of the Essendon v Carlton Preliminary Final. Out of the blue Channel 7 commentator Drew Morphett referred to Geoff as "the Buddy Holly of Australian Football". It was a weird experience as Geoff was sitting in the bar with us. Understandably the Malaysian boys went wild and replayed it 3 times.

So who is this bloke? He is one of only two Essendon players to have kicked more than 100 goals in a season, the other being the great John Coleman. Belthyn?s third game of VFL football was in the 1968 Grand Final when he kicked half of Essendon?s eight goals in a narrow loss to Carlton.

There are several points that stand out about Blethyn. He wore glasses in matches, he had a great leap and in 1972 he kicked 107 goals.

For the past 18 months he has lived mostly in Malaysia where he has interests in his direct marketing business. Back home in Adelaide, his wife Sue runs the Australian end of the business.

The Blethyns have been based in Adelaide since 1977 when Geoff played in Port Adelaide?s premiership side. He left Essendon after the 1972 season and played three seasons with Claremont in Western Australia, but returned to Essendon for one season before heading to South Australia.

Caught the bus back into town with the Tigers. Some of the boys had had a few beers and good fun was had by all. Later that night both teams enjoyed a feed at Mama Africa while watching the Essendon v. Carlton game, with Fosters supplying affordable refreshment (beer in Singapore is terribly expensive). A few of us ended up at Carnegies, where they encourage you to dance on the bar. This was my second visit to a Carnegies, having been to one with Patrick in Hong Kong. I was introduced to the Wombats custom of diving off the bar into the interlocked arms of fellow Wombats. A great night.

DAY 31 - SUNDAY 19 SEPTEMBER
The last day of my trip and I was absolutely knackered. It had been a long and tiring trip and I decided to do not much at all. It was a good opportunity to have a chat with Adam about Singapore footy.

By the end of 1999 the Wombats will have played approximately 20 matches (including Arafura and the Asian championships in Jakarta in October). They will also have toured 5 times: Darwin, Jakarta (twice), Ho Chi Min and Bangkok. Brunei, Malaysia and Jakarta have all visited Singapore this year, the first time the Wombats have had anyone but Malaysia tour.

The Wombats have played 6 games against visiting Australian Navy teams such as HMAS Success, Tobruk, Darwin and Melbourne. A game is organised whenever the Navy is in town. In the past the Wombats would chase them for a game, but such has been their popularity, that now the Navy are the ones ringing the Wombats.

And the more the better. Earlier this year the Wombats had a kids game, followed by 2 ships playing each other, which was followed by another ship against the Wombats. It was a great day and watched by a good crowd of over 120 people.

Each year the Wombats also play 2 games against the local Gaelic football team, the Singapore Lions. Sometimes they play International Rules and sometimes they play a half of footy and a half of Gaelic. From these games the Wombats have managed to pick up a few Irish recruits. They were even going to enter a team in the Asia Gaelic Championships, but it clashed with the Arafura Games. The Gaelic people were very keen to have the Wombats compete, but unfortunately they had to bring the tournament forward, which was played right at the time of Arafura.

The Wombats also play a regular series of intra club matches between the Reds and the Blues. In 1999 they have played 4 of these matches.

Training is at the Australian International School or the School of Physical Education, both of which have lit fields. Training is normally once a week, increasing to twice a week for tournaments such as Arafura and Jakarta. Playing venues include Sembawang, Bishan, Sentosa and the Padang.

In regards to junior matches, it?s mainly kids from the Australian International School and the Canadian International School that play. There has been 4 junior games this year, playing anything from 7 to 12 a side. So far 3 Singapore kids have played in these games.

The Wombats do not have the time as yet to promote the game to young kids. Their priority at the moment is getting locals aged about 20 and above to play. It can de done as they currently have 6 Singapurians on the Wombats playing list.

Their strategy will be to place flyers at the universities and to hire a lecture theatre (eg. ?Interested in Australian Football? Come to a seminar at Lecture Theatre 1 at 4pm?). The seminar will consist of a talk about the club, followed by a video, demonstrations of some basic skills and questions from the floor. The Wombats hope to be able to do this early next year.

They also hope to play an international match at the Police Academy to hopefully get the police interested in playing. Eventually the aim is to get a 4 team competition, but they will need the locals to do this. Their current playing list is 40 so there is enough for 2 teams if everybody is available.

Current sponsors include major sponsor Fosters, who provide subsidised beer and a full playing kit. QBE, who also sponsor the Sydney Swans, have signed up for 2 years and provide a cash sponsorship.

Media coverage is decent, with a half page story in The Straits Times (the national daily newspaper) in September 1999. Generally there is not a lot of print coverage, although the newspaper do print the location and times of Wombats? games. The Wombats now have a good contact at the sports desk through the above article and are looking to build on this. The Wombats have also had articles in two local expatriate magazines, Expat and ANZA (Australia & New Zealand Association).

In 1998 the local TV station, TCSS, filmed the Wombats at training prior to the Singapore v Malaysia game. In a major publicity coup, Mark Beretta from Channel 7 contacted the Wombats and said they were keen to do a story, after an initial approach from the Wombats. Channel 7 took footage in Singapore (including an interviews with Adam, coach Tony Boatman and one of the local Singapurians) and filmed the whole Singapore v Vietnam match, which was played at Ho Chi Min in Vietnam. This footage was shown on Channel 7, Sportsworld, Rex Hunt?s Footy Panel and Game Day.

A Wombats website is being constructed, their only current internet presence being a brief link to the Singapore Australia Community News website.

I also asked Adam about his thoughts on player eligibility for the 2002 World Cup. Apparently expats can get a Permanent Residency Card, although they are difficult to obtain. The major criteria is that you?re employed, adding benefit to the country and not taking somebody else?s job. Adam is going to discuss this issue with the committee.

Also had a good chat about the World Nines, which the Wombats are very keen to host. Potential venues include Sentosa or the Padang. Speaking of venues, Adam told me that the AFL wanted to play at the Singapore Polo Club years ago, but they wouldn?t let the AFL use the field.

Said goodbye to Adam and caught a cab to the airport. The airport is massive and is a tourist attraction in itself. If you?re flying out of Singapore make sure you know which terminal to go to. Singapore Airlines and Ansett fly out of Terminal 2 (12 airlines), while Qantas departs from Terminal 1 (50 airlines). There?s also the Skytrain which connects both terminals.


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