Hubert Burda Media

Let's Play Ball

To KRISHNA RAMACHANDRA, vice-chairman of S.League champs Tampines Rovers, nothing is more important than youth development.

Let's Play Ball

He may have kicked around every scrunched-up ball of paper he could find in the school yard and played humtum bola all through recess as a kid, but an all-grown-up Krishna Ramachandra will freely admit that as a footballer, he really couldn't stand up to the best. Instead, the lifelong stadium-goer — who still reminisces fondly about the good ole Malaysia Cup days of the late 1980s and early 1990s — earned a law degree, went on to lead Duane Morris & Selvam LLP as its managing director and became a father of three kids, including two boys who, in time to come, could well give Liverpool FC's Daniel Sturridge a run for the money. Now, vice-chairman of Tampines Rovers and right-hand man to one of local football's unsung heroes, Chairman Teo Hock Seng, he reveals to Prestige: “It's because of supporting my kids' interest and involvement with the sport that I got sucked into the whole world of football.”
We know you want to, so please, do brag about your kids' football achievements.
My eldest, Rohin (12), plays for Anglo-Chinese School (ACS) Primary. He's also plays for the Football Association of Singapore's Centre of Excellence elite squad. He's a naturally prolific striker and in one season in primary five, he scored 53 goals in 13 games. He's convinced that he's going to play for Liverpool and that he's going to be another Sturridge. My second son, Sharad (10), may be a technically more gifted player for his age, but he's not as passionate. The eldest is always kicking a ball against the wall or has one under the table as he's doing his school work. Sharad isn't as passionate but is a good national-level runner. My daughter, Rania (5), even wears the Liverpool jersey, when we watch matches on TV.
Because of them, you actually started a team, Wyvern United.
I get an immense amount of satisfaction when I'm involved in any form of mentoring. Running this Sunday team is a three-in-one for me: It allows me to get closer to my sons; it gives me satisfaction and fulfilment to mentor all the kids; and it gets the boys — who are mostly on the ACS team — playing together recreationally outside of the school's coaching curriculum so they can really bond. At the peak last year, I roped in a few other parents as Wyvern had grown to four teams of about 15 players each and they compete in JSSL Singapore or Alliance Youth Soccer League tournaments. Fathers, especially, like to connect with their boys on the pitch to impart life or technical footballing skills.
How did you then get involved with Tampines Rovers?
I was previously president of the Ferrari Club and got to know Mr Teo Hock Seng [CEO of Ital Auto and chairman of Tampines Rovers] quite well. I enjoyed running the club but I found myself increasingly disconnected from family activities, so when I stepped down, Mr Teo said: ‘Look, you have sons and always expressed an interest to be involved in football. Why don't you help me run Tampines Rovers as vice-chairman?' I had a think for a nanosecond and said: ‘Yes, sure!' For me, it was a natural amalgamation of my interest in football, my kid's involvement and my like for mentoring. I haven't looked back since being introduced to the professional footballing scene.
It's been said that you are the club's lucky charm.
This is my fourth season. The Stags have won the league the last three years and it's in no small part due to the efforts of Mr and Mrs Teo, and the coaching staff. I joined at the point they started winning, so maybe I can take credit for being a good luck charm. That said, we're lying fifth in the league now. Hopefully my lucky charm-ness comes into play and we can still win the league this year.
I can't brag about the team's glories without mentioning that I have never come across a couple who are as committed to local football as Mr and Mrs Teo. What Mr Teo does for Tampines Rovers is out of selfless love for a team and football. I'm amazed also by Mrs Teo who, when available, is at every game. They are my inspiration for continuing to be involved in football. I've never felt as passionate about the sport as I have in the last few years because I have seen how great an asset it is when it is utilised correctly.
As someone involved in youth development, what more can be done to groom future stars?
As part of Tampines Rovers, we have professional coaches for the youth team. Some of the other S.League clubs have that too. But more can be done and not necessarily by the S.League or the Football Association of Singapore. It can be an outside source. Perhaps the Ministry of Education or individual schools could promote football and allow it to coexist seamlessly with academia. In line with my vision of encouraging youth football, my wife and I have decided to send our older son to the Singapore Sports School next year. If I'm trying to advocate that [football and academic learning] can coexist, I have to walk the talk.
How can we change the mind-sets of parents who prefer to encourage their kids towards other occupations?
I think football shouldn't be viewed as something that links to a career option. It should be regarded as a lifestyle, a fitness programme and a way of socialising with people, particularly given this day and age where kids are constantly playing with mobile devices. We need to get more parents to change their mind-sets from thinking that one can't make a living from football and so they take their child out of it, to seeing it as a sport with many attributes. With my kids, I encourage them to run because it teaches them discipline and is a fitness choice that equips them for national service. If parents take this same approach to football, I think it will be more pervasive, rather than looked upon as something for only certain sectors of the community.
Give us an example of a life lesson that football can impart.
I've always told Rohin that the honour in playing a game is not in whether you win or lose but how you conduct yourself — you can own up for a foul, even if the referee doesn't spot it. Thierry Henry in the last minute of a game used his hand to keep a ball in play, which resulted in a goal that kicked Ireland out of the World Cup in 2010. There's no honour in that and I'm sure he feels lousy about it.
So Rohin participated in a tournament, his team was in the finals and he was captain. In the dying minutes, the ball came across from the left and he bundled it in. The team went wild but Rohin ran up to the referee and said that it had come off his hand. The referee was stunned. I was stunned. This boy had absorbed all the lessons and stories I had been telling him over the years and applied it at a time when he could have quite easily been the hero — that, for me, was one of the most poignant moments I've had as a parent. It's a validation for us as parents, coaches and teachers.