Lion City Cup
by Chua, Alvin
The Lion City Cup is a youth football tournament for boys. First held in 1977, the Cup has been credited with inspiring the creation of the FIFA U-16 World Championship.1 The Lion City Cup has featured national youth teams from Asia as well as the youth squads of clubs from Europe, Asia, Africa, Oceania and South America.2
Conception and first tournament
The idea of a tournament for boys under the age of 16 (U-16) was conceived by Nadesan Ganesan, who was chairman of the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) from 1976 to 1982.3 The tournament was intended to encourage the development of young footballers in Singapore and help the FAS cultivate talented young players for its national team.4
The first Lion City Cup was held in 1977 and featured two Singapore teams alongside those from the Malaysian states of Penang, Perak, Johor, Selangor, Pahang and Kelantan. The tournament ran from 8 to 18 December with matches played at the National Stadium and Jalan Besar Stadium, and cost the FAS S$58,845 to organise. The Singapore “A” team, featuring a young Fandi Ahmad, emerged as the first Lion City Cup champion.5
Early history and suspension
The tournament soon attracted the attention of other Asian nations. The 1978 Lion City Cup was expanded to include Terengganu, Malaysia, as well as Thailand, Brunei and Indonesia, with the FAS envisioning the evolution of the Cup into an international youth tournament. Ganesan continued to lobby for support for the tournament from Asian football associations, resulting in the 1979 Cup featuring the national youth teams of Iraq, Indonesia, Brunei, Malaysia, South Korea, Australia, the Philippines, Bahrain, India, Hong Kong, Saudi Arabia and Thailand.6
The much-expanded 1979 tournament, won by Iraq, was a success and the Asian Football Confederation expressed an interest in taking over the organisation of the Lion City Cup from the FAS.7 While this did not come to pass, the tournament drew the attention of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), the international ruling body for football. In September 1981, FIFA sent its general secretary Sepp Blatter on a fact-finding mission to Singapore, and asked the FAS for a technical report on the organisation of the Lion City Cup. A month later, FIFA president Joao Havelange visited Singapore and congratulated the FAS for the conception and successful running of the tournament.8
FIFA eventually decided to organise its own international tournament for players under the age of 16, and requested that the FAS place the Lion City Cup on hold. The 1983 edition of the Cup was postponed and Singapore was selected to host one of the qualifying groups for the inaugural FIFA U-16 World Championship. The qualifying competition was to be held in Singapore in 1984 in place of that year’s Lion City Cup. However, FIFA switched the hosting rights to Thailand, giving the reason that Singapore was already hosting the football qualifiers for the Olympics and the Asian Cup that year.9
The FAS made a number of attempts to revive the tournament over the next few years but faced many challenges. In 1986, teams such as Indonesia, Malaysia and Mauritius were invited but the tournament was eventually called off as the FAS was unable to raise the organising costs of S$40,000.10 This was despite a public appeal by The Straits Times newspaper that led companies and members of the public to pledge over S$20,000 towards the tournament.11
Return of the Cup
The Lion City Cup was finally staged again as a U-15 event in 1990. Singapore won the tournament, which also featured seven Malaysian states. The competition alternated between U-15 and U-16 events from 1991, and international youth teams such as Hong Kong, Brunei and Myanmar also returned. In 1995, Swedish team AIK Stockholm became the first European team to participate in the Lion City Cup, while Africa was represented for the first time in 2000 with the entry of Olympia Athletic from Ghana.12
In 2001, the tournament was split into U-16 and U-18 formats.13 However, the Lion City Cup was not held for the next two years because the FAS was once again unable to meet the organising costs, which had amounted to around S$332,000 for the 2001 tournament.14 The Cup returned in 2004 as a U-17 event and then reverted to the U-16 and U-18 formats for 2005 and 2006.15 A tournament was to be held in 2007, but the withdrawal of several foreign teams led to a last-minute cancellation of the event.16 Thailand won the Cup in the following year.17
The Lion City Cup was held in three consecutive years from 2011 to 2013, with the FAS licensing the tournament’s commercial rights to a sports marketing firm, Red Card Group, and the Cup gaining a title sponsor. The 2011 edition included well-known clubs such as Juventus from Italy and the eventual winner, Flamengo from Brazil, and was also broadcast live on television in Europe for the first time.18 The 2014 cup was called off as it failed to secure a title sponsor.19 The 26th Lion City Cup was held over two match days, on 14 and 16 August 2015.20
1. Dorai, J. (1978, November 30). FAS have big plans for Lion City Cup. The Straits Times, p. 31. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
2. Dorai, J. (1978, December 25). European, Asian teams for the Lion City Cup. The Straits Times, p. 25. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
3. Dorai, J. (1979, October 27). Lion City Cup meet at stake. The Straits Times, p. 35; Dorai, J. (1978, December 25). European, Asian teams for the Lion City Cup. The Straits Times, p. 25; Fifa gained from Ganesan’s brainchild. (1990, September 16). The Straits Times, p. 26. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
4. Yeo, W. (1997, December 22). FAS ‘fresh faces’ more sound. The Straits Times, p. 31; Ho, S. (2004, June 19). Cubs can roar as lions. Today, p. 52; Murali, S. (2000, May 18). Display of young talent in tourney. The Straits Times, p. 87. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. Dorai, J. (1977, December 19). Magnificent young lions. The Straits Times, p. 31; Singapore’s team in under-16 tournament. (1977, November 10). The Straits Times, p. 27; FAS not worried over first deficit. (1978, September 13). The Straits Times, p. 27. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. Dorai, J. (1979, October 27). Lion City Cup meet at stake. The Straits Times, p. 35; Lion City Cup a four-page pullout special. (1979, December 8). New Nation, p. 25. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7. Why we won. (1979, December 24). New Nation, p. 16; Lion City Cup a four-page pullout special. (1979, December 8). New Nation, p. 25. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. Dorai, J. (1981, September 23). World under-16 meet on cards. The Straits Times, p. 31. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. Dorai, J. (1984, January 4). Shock for Singapore. The Straits Times, p. 38. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. Dorai, J. (1986, October 21). Cup called off. The Straits Times, p. 29. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. Dorai, J. (1986, October 25). Making a promise. The Straits Times, p. 43. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. FAS revive Lion City Cup. (1990, August 16). The Straits Times, p. 30. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13. Ho, S. (2001, June 19). Cream of young talent but where is Poulsen? Today, p. 30. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
14. Ho, S. (2001, December 14). No money, no Lion City Cup. Today, p. 61. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15. Ho, S. (2004, June 19). Cubs can roar as lions. Today, p. 52; Luis, E. (2005, June 10). Our cubs can catch up. The New Paper, p. 88. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16. Seow, J. (2007, June 14). Lion city cup cancelled. The Straits Times, p. 41. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
17. Thailand won Lion City Cup on penalties. (2008, March 16). The Straits Times, p. 36. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
18. Lee, M. K. (2011, June 9). Lion City Cup to be beamed live abroad. The Straits Times, p. 14. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
19. Ali Kasim. (2014, May 27). Lion City Cup off [Microfilm no.: NL 33121]. The New Paper, p. 17.
20. Lion City Cup returns after one-year hiatus. (2015, July 10). ChannelNews Asia. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
The information in this article is valid as at 2015 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.