John Chia Keng Hock
by Chua, Alvin
John Chia Keng Hock (b. 1913, location unknown–d. 1 December 1993, Singapore) was a former footballer who represented Singapore several times in the Malaya Cup. Nicknamed “Cannonball Chia” and “The Bull” for his playing style, Chia was an all-round sportsman who also represented his country as a cricketer and excelled in other sports.1
Early life and career
Chia attended St Joseph’s Institution (SJI), and was said to have honed his football skills by playing with a tennis ball near the Church of Saints Peter and Paul on Queen Street.2 His talent was spotted by the school’s sports master, Frank James, who drafted Chia into the football team.3 Chia was a prolific goal-scorer for the SJI team, finding the net in every match he played in, with the exception of two games between 1930 and 1932. He picked up cricket after being called upon to make up the numbers in a game, and was soon picked for the school team by P. H. Stewart-Brown. Chia became one of the best schoolboy batsmen in Singapore, and his fielding skills were considered advanced compared with those of his contemporaries.4 He captained the Combined Schools team in 1932.5
While still a schoolboy, Chia was selected to play for the Singapore Chinese Football Association (SCFA) team in the Singapore Football League. His performances catapulted him into contention for the representation of Singapore in the Malaya Cup in 1931.6
Weighing 75.6 kg and standing at 1.72 m at the peak of his football career, Chia stood out among his contemporaries with his playing style. He earned the nicknames “The Bull” and “Cannonball Chia” for his powerful shots on goal.7
Chia made an instant impact in his first Malaya Cup game in 1931, scoring twice as Singapore beat Negri Sembilan 4–3.8 His goals helped Singapore progress to the Malaya Cup final, where, despite Chia’s goal in the final against Perak, Singapore lost 3–1. That year, Chia also represented Singapore in a friendly match against South China, a visiting side from Hong Kong.9
In 1932, the SCFA toured China and Chia was lauded by the media in Shanghai as “the best of the visiting forwards”.10 The following year, Chia picked up his first Malaya Cup winner’s medal, turning in a dominant showing in the final as Singapore hammered Selangor 8–2 at the Anson Road Stadium. His hat-trick contributed to Singapore’s biggest win in a Malaya Cup final.11 Singapore retained the trophy in 1934 and Chia again excelled in the final, scoring both goals in a 2–1 win over Penang.12 Chia also led SCFA to the Singapore Football League that year.13
Chia’s fine performances throughout Singapore’s 1933 Malaya Cup campaign boosted his popularity. When soft-drink manufacturer Fraser & Neave held a competition for fans to vote for the best footballer in Malaya, Chia and his Singapore teammate, Dolfatah, were the leading contenders for most of the voting period. However, the Selangor forward A. L. Henry eventually beat Chia to the title, with 28,617 votes against Chia’s 27,293.14
In 1935, Chia was part of the SCFA team that participated in the 6th All-China Olympiad in Shanghai. He scored five goals in his first match15 and four in his second as SCFA cruised past Liaoning 9–1, and Chekiang 12–0. SCFA went on to beat Shanghai 3–1 before losing 3–2 in the final to Hong Kong. Together with teammate Chua Boon Lay, Chia was named in the China Representative XI, a selection of the best players in the tournament. That put Chia in contention for selection for China’s national team, which was to participate in the Berlin Olympics in 1936.16
When the All-China Amateur Athletic and Sports Association released its initial list of players for the Olympics, Chia was selected together with other players from Singapore – Chua, Lim Chwee Chua and Choy Khun Onn.17
Chia’s football career was interrupted by the Japanese Occupation of Singapore from 1942 to 1945. When football in Singapore restarted in 1946 after the war, the then 33-year-old Chia featured in the SCFA team in a series of friendly matches for charity. A newspaper report noted: “Although he has seen his best days, Keng Hock still holds a place among the leading civilian players of today”.18
The following year proved to be Chia’s swansong in football. The SCFA reached the Singapore Cup final, where they lost 2–0 to the Malay Football Association before a crowd of 13,000 at Jalan Besar Stadium. Chia went out on a high, however, displaying his goal-scoring skills when the SCFA took on the visiting Sing Tao team, who were regarded as the best from Hong Kong after the war. In front of a 15,000 crowd at Jalan Besar, Sing Tao led the game 3–1 until Chia scored two goals in the last 15 minutes to salvage a draw.19
Keng Hock led the Singapore forwards for six years in Malaya Cup games. He also played several games in South China, and represented South China in Manila.20
Chia excelled at cricket, playing regularly in club and representative games. In 1932, in an annual match between Rest of Singapore team and Europeans, Chia was the first Asian to score a century.21
In 1935, he was selected to represent the Colony (made up of players from Singapore), but had to decline as the match clashed with Singapore’s Malaya Cup final against Penang.22
Chia was chosen for the Colony side again in 1939, representing Singapore in a series against the Malay States. He played regularly for the Rest of Singapore team in the Clarke Cup, competing against the Europeans.23
A newspaper report in 1934 noted that he was also proficient in hockey, tennis, badminton, athletics, swimming and baseball.24
Chia died of a heart attack at his home in Serangoon Gardens on 1 October 1993, at the age of 82.25
Wife: Teresa See Gim Wah
Sons: James and Hilary
1. Soccer legend dies of a heart attack. (1993, December 2). The Straits Times, p. 31. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
2. Soccer stalwarts of 2 decades. (1947, May 8). The Singapore Free Press, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
3. Malaya’s greatest all-rounder. (1947, May 8). The Singapore Free Press, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
4. Malaya’s greatest all-rounder. (1947, May 8). The Singapore Free Press, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. Tan, C. L. (1972, March 31). Chia Keng Hock, superstar of Singapore sport. New Nation, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. In the sporting limelight. (1933, October 8). The Straits Times, p. 3; Singapore win at Seremban. (1931, June 8). The Straits Times, p. 13. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7. Yap, S. (1975, May 30). Cannonball Chia…. New Nation, pp. 10–11; Soccer legend dies of a heart attack. (1993, December 2). The Straits Times, p. 31. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. Singapore win at Seremban. (1931, June 8). The Straits Times, p. 13. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. South China beat Singapore. (1931, July 23). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 20. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. Chinese footballers. (1932, January 29). The Straits Times, p. 13. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. Football Association of Singapore. (2011). History of Singapore football. Retrieved 2016, December 7 from The Football Association of Singapore website: http://www.fas.org.sg/fas/history-singapore-football
12. Malaya cup final teams. (1934, August 9). The Malaya Tribune, p. 14. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13. Weekly sporting notes. (1934, September 26). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 15; The Chinese enter semi-final of Cup competition severe trouncing for the S. R. C. (1934, September 15). The Malaya Tribune, p. 15. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
14. Best footballer in Malaya. (1933, December 20). The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15. Keng Hock scores five goals in first match. (1935, October 12). The Straits Times, p. 14. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16. Goalkeeping won China soccer title for Hong Kong. (1935, November 1). The Straits Times, p. 14. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
17. Local footballers to represent China at Olympic Games. (1936, February 14). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
18. S.C.F.A. beat Changi R.A.F. four-one. (1946, July 29). The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
19. Tan, C. L. (1972, March 31). Chia Keng Hock, superstar of Singapore sport. New Nation, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
20. Malaya’s greatest all-rounder. (1947, May 8). The Singapore Free Press, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
21. Soccer legend dies of a heart attack. (1993, December 2). The Straits Times, p. 31. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
22. The Club Verandah. (1935, March 12). The Straits Times, p. 15. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
23. Clarke Cup match drawn. (1931, July 6). The Malaya Tribune, p. 10; Rest team to play Europeans. (1939, May 18). The Straits Times, p. 18. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
24. Mainly about Malayans. (1934, August 19). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
25. Soccer legend dies of a heart attack. (1993, December 2). The Straits Times, p. 31. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
26. Deaths. (1993, December 2). The Straits Times, p. 32. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
The information in this article is valid as at 2011 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.