Ex-Lion Foster does not regret his time in Singapore
Well-travelled Australian says the world needs the Beautiful Game now, more than ever
Former Australian footballer Craig Foster may have played only one season for Singapore in the Malaysian League three decades ago, but he says he will be forever grateful that he made the move to the Republic in 1991.
After Abbas Saad and Alistair Edwards sparked delirium across the nation as the Lions finished runners-up in the Semi-Pro League and Malaysia Cup in 1990, the pressure was on the new Australian pairing of Foster and Warren Spink to reproduce the magic, along with Myanmarese striker Win Aung.
But the trio struggled to shine, as the inconsistent Lions finished eighth in the 10-team Division One and missed out on the Malaysia Cup.
After that season, Foster left for a stint in Hong Kong, but he had no regrets coming here.
Speaking to The New Paper from Sydney last Friday, the 52-year-old, who is a prominent activist and football broadcaster, said: "I came to Singapore very young, when I was 21. It provided me with an opportunity to grow as a person, playing in front of huge crowds - 60,000 plus at the National Stadium - and also culturally it was fascinating, beautiful.
"The opportunity to live in Singapore among the very diverse community there and then on to Hong Kong and later London, all through the power of football, taught me much about the similarities between us all."
The attacking midfielder, who turned out alongside the likes of Terry Pathmanathan, Nazri Nasir and David Lee in a Lions team that was coached by Robin Chan, went on to play for English sides Crystal Palace and Portsmouth and was also capped 29 times by Australia. He also captained the Socceroos.
Though heavily involved in activism, Foster has never strayed away from football and in the 18 years he spent at the Special Broadcasting Service, he covered five World Cup Finals, starting in 2002 when Japan and South Korea were co-hosts.
Recently, he joined Australian streaming service Stan Sport and he is looking forward to covering the Champions League and Europa League.
Formerly chairman of the Australian players union, Foster is excited about the future of the game in the country.
"Australian football had explosive growth after qualifying for the 2006 World Cup Finals - the first time in 32 years.
"The league was fully professionalised following that and made some great strides.
"The national team (are) regularly qualifying for World Cups now through Asia, which is really important as it provides great benefits of visibility and commercial value.
"The game also continues to grow in player numbers, the Women's World Cup is in 2023 in Australia and New Zealand is going to be a really powerful moment. We expect several hundred thousand more young girls to take up football at that moment.
"And I think more Australians are going to fall in love with the Matildas and with football."
Foster, who is an adjunct professor of sport and social responsibility at Torrens University - it has campuses around Australia - currently plays football with an over-35 team in the city, injuries permitting, he says with a laugh.
He believes the sport remains a powerful tool in uniting people from all walks of life.
He said: "Football will always be the beautiful game because of the love and passion of the two symbiotic groups - the players and the fans. They hold and protect the real essence of the game.
"The governance and administration of the game around the world has always faced periodic challenges, it's deeply political and riven with self-interest...
"Being the world's biggest sport means football will always have challenges. But the simple pleasure of a team of 11 people collaborating to shift the ball from one end to the other in an attempt to score, or watching others do so, is something that unites literally billions of people and the world needs that connection now, more than ever."