The Sporting Legacy of Farrer Park

When it comes to claiming rights as the birthplace of sports in Singapore, several sites spring to mind. The National Stadium, also known as the Grand Dame of Kallang, is a colossal stadium in Singapore that has hosted several sports events such as the SEA Games, Malaysia Cup tournaments, and even most of Singapore’s National Day processions. The holy grail of football in Singapore was the Jalan Besar Stadium, which was formerly the National Stadium. The likes of Quah Kim Song, Wilfred Skinner, and Fandi Ahmad have raced down the fields of Jalan Besar during the Malaysia Cup and National Football League days.

Farrer Park field. Image Source (Wikimedia Commons)
Late Sunday Afternoon at the Farrer Park Fields. Image Source (THE HUNTER – WordPress.com)

Like the other two, Farrer Park is another Singapore location with a legendary sports record. It may now be a quiet suburb, but it has a long history in sports that dates back to the colonial period. It is also the home of many national and international athletes, including former Singapore footballer Lim Teck Yin. It was also the training ground for many track and field stars and national footballers. In 1919, the first aircraft landing in Singapore was made at the racecourse in a Vicker-Vimy flown by Captain Ross Smith.

Captain Ross Smith landed his three-engine Vickers Vimy. Image Source (Archives Online)
RACE COURSE (NOW FARRER PARK). Image Source (Pinterest)
Farrer Park Field. Image Source (Wikiwand)

R.F. Farrer, who served as the Municipal President of Singapore from 1921 until his retirement in 1931, is the namesake of Raffles Boulevard and part of what is now known as Farrer Park. During his term in office, he oversaw the completion of significant public works projects including the Gunong Pulai Waterworks, St. James Power Station, and Elgin Bridge.

The first recorded use of the phrase “Serangoon Park” dates back to 1859, when the Singapore Sporting Club operated a racetrack on land formerly occupied by Serangoon Garden. Horse races were usually held on weekends, and they drew a mostly European crowd. It was renamed Singapore Turf Club, and it stayed at Farrer Park until 1933 before relocating to Bukit Timah Raceway. In 1931, the original Darlington College was completed and Farrer Park was opened to the public. Playing fields were also made available at this time.

Fandi Ahmad (centre) training with the ex-international soccer team in 1983. Image Source (The Straits Times)
Singapore coach Choo Seng Quee (right) consoling Quah Kim Song after Hong Kong beat Singapore 1-0 in the final of the pre-World Cup soccer tournament at the National Stadium in 1977. Image Source (The Straits Times)
In its heyday in the 1950s and 1960s, the Farrer Park Stadium was the nerve centre of the country’s track-and-field events. Image Source (The Straits Times)

The Farrer Park Athletic Center, which includes a stadium with a 7-lane running track, was erected in 1956. This was where many of the great track and field athletes trained in the 1950s to 1970s, including sprint legend C Kunalan, hurdler Heather Siddons, and triple jumper Tan Eng Yoon.

Local swimming champion Ang Peng Siong’s father, Mr Ang Teck Bee (right) at Farrer Park Swimming Complex in 1983. Image Source (The Straits Times)
Paralympic swimmers Theresa Goh (right) and Yip Pin Xiu at Farrer Park Swimming Complex. Image Source (The Straits Times)

In 1990, the Farrer Park Swimming Complex was constructed a year after the Farrer Park Athletic Centre. The modest-looking swimming complex produced a swimming champion in Ang Peng Siong, who set the world’s fastest 50m freestyle record in 1982. Ang Teck Bee began his career as an instructor at the swimming complex, where his father Ang Teck Bee, a Judo Olympian, was the supervisor. The swimming facility has been taken over by Aquatic Performance Swim School, which is run by Ang Peng Siong and has trained Leslie Kwok and Mark Chay among others.

The Farrer Park stadium, which was also a popular football field and had previously seen Dollah Kassim, Fandi Ahmad, Quah Kim Song, and Samad Alapitchay play on it, was still in use for sports.

A hockey game between Malaysian All-Stars and Singapore at the Farrer Park Athletic Centre in 1983. Image Source (The Straits Times)
Farrer Park Primary School. Image Source (Wikimedia Commons)

The Sports House, which served as the administrative headquarters for numerous sports clubs, was constructed. Unfortunately, the Sports House was destroyed by a fire on June 6, 1985. The affected sports associations eventually relocated to the Jalan Besar Stadium or the National Stadium, both in Bukit Timah.

The Farrer Park stadium site is now home to Farrer Park Primary School, while the remaining green fields around are known as the Farrers Park Field. On Saturday nights, the park is a popular gathering place for families and friends. It’s also common to see informal games of football and cricket played here without authorization. Is it a throwback to the park’s sporting heyday, or is it something closer to home? It’s up to you.

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