Die-hard Singapore football fans will proclaim the late 1970s and early 1980s as the best times for the national team. With the likes of “Gelek King” Dollah Kassim, the tough-tackling Samad Allapitchay, the Quah brothers and a then rising star in Fandi Ahmad, the team made it to seven consecutive Malaysia Cup finals and won twice. Their exhilarating performance on the pitch was captured in countless write-ups in the local newspapers, including a editorial cartoon in The Straits Times known as Sham’s Saturday Smile.
This creation of graphic artist Shamsuddin Haji Akib offered avid football fans fans like himself a punchline on Singapore football, bringing smiles to fans looking forward to Malaysia Cup matches every weekend. After a commentary on how the national team’s performance was being disrupted by coach Trevor Hartley’s ever-changing line-ups, Shamsuddin depicted him as a mad scientist who would not stop experimenting. Responding to various reported incidents of unruly behaviour amongst fans and players, he turned in cartoons with referees wearing helmets and Hartley learning the Malay art of self-defence, bersilat, to control his players.
It was a breakthrough project for both designer and client.
The 1973 Southeast Asian Peninsular (SEAP) Games was the first time the young nation of Singapore held a major international sporting event. It also led to this ground-breaking poster by local design consultancy Hagley & Hoyle.
Splashed across a silver background were a boxing glove, a Sepak takraw ball, a weightlifter, and other elements from the 18 sports played at the games. This universe of beautiful illustrations and photo-imagery gravitated around an athlete in mid-stride to make a stunning introduction to this competition that featured over 1,600 athletes from Thailand, Malaysia, South Vietnam, Laos, Burma (now Myanmar), the Khmer Republic, and Singapore.
“It was quite a departure from what was acceptable at that point,” says then creative director Brian Hoyle. He had worked with his late art director Wong Mun Kin to conceptualise this 77-by-122 centimetres poster that listed out the week-long programme for the seventh edition of the games.
As the British expatriate recalls, design in Singapore was then thought of as just having images and text orderly lined up and “squared up in boxes”. Only a few years before, his studio had worked on a poster commemorating 150 years since the British founded modern Singapore which neatly listed out everything in two columns.
This 1973 SEAP Games poster, however, broke out of the box with its bold use of colour and imagery. It was a design that even Mr Hoyle thought was too “far out” for his clients, Mr Roy Daniels and Mr Alex Josey then working for the Ministry of Culture and National Sports Promotion Board respectively.
“The clients recognised what they thought was a good idea and a good style of presentation. I was quite pleased about it,” says the 80-year-old who is now retired in the UK.
Convincing the client was only half the battle won. In the days before computers were used in design, creating this complex design meant the use of many manual processes. Designer Peggy Tan, who had just joined the studio that year, explains how the illustrated photographs would have be converted into line prints before being stuck down piece by piece and the copy had to be pieced together separately by a typesetter before the poster was ready to be printed.
“As a montage it was quite bold. It generated buzz simple because the images were created through different methods,” said Miss Tan who took over the business from Mr Hoyle and continues to run it today.
This unconventional poster was eventually put up in schools, offices and even housing estates all across Singapore. Despite the significance of the event, Mr Hoyle says it was simply another job for his then four-year old studio to prove the effectiveness of good design to clients in Singapore. In 1969, Mr Hoyle and fellow British expatriate John Hagley had set up their pioneering graphic design consultancy in an industry dominated by advertising agencies. While agencies profited from booking advertising space in media outlets, the duo wanted to make a living from offering design solutions instead. Hagley & Hoyle was part of a handful of early studios who helped the graphic design industry take root in Singapore.
The successful hosting of the 1973 SEAP Games also led Singapore to host subsequent editions of the competition now know as the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games—most recently, the 2015 edition. Along with the games also came the National Stadium and the formation of the Singapore Sports Council, both of which laid the foundation for today’s Sports Hub, Sport Singapore and the country’s aspirations to become a sporting nation.
No medals for guessing what Singapore’s mascot is when it hosts the upcoming 2015 Southeast Asian Games (SEA Games): the lion.
When it comes to showing our sporting prowess, the Lion city has always enlisted this animal from its founding myth as its representative. While Singapore had no mascot when it hosted this biennial multi-sporting event in 1973 and 1983, it introduced Singa when it organized the 17th edition of the games in 1993. A creation of The New Paper’s illustrator Lee Hup Kheng, Singa (who shares the same name and fashion statement of wearing no pants as Singapore’s iconic courtesy lion mascot created in 1982), welcomed athletes to the city with lots of love, as it had a heart as its mane, snout and tail.
It would take till 2009 before Singapore hosted another major multi-sport event, this time the inaugural Asian Youth Games. Perhaps because it was an event for the young, this mascot designed by illustrator Quek Liwen looked cartoonish and even wore sneakers. Its name “Frasia” meant friends of Asia and came about from a competition.
When the city hosted the Youth Olympic Games the next year, it had not one, but two lions. Actually, it was one-and-a-half. While Lyo was a male lion, Merly was actually a female Merlion, a half-lion and half-fish creation that is also Singapore’s official tourism symbol. Again, the youth-oriented games probably explains those cartoonish doll eyes drawn up by the team at Cubix International—the same company that produced Singapore’s first 3D animation feature film, “Zodiac: The Race Begins” in 2006.
Some two decades since our first sporting mascot, it seems two-dimension (and the heart-shape) is back in fashion again, judging by the latest lion mascot for the upcoming SEA Games. Nila (named after Sang Nila Utama, the prince who named this city) was the winning entry by first-year design student Beatrice Cho for the Singapore National Games’ mascot design competition in 2012. For reasons unknown, it is being re-used for next year’s SEA Games when it is hosted in Singapore.
Why does Singapore always turn to the lion as its sporting hero? Besides its obvious connotations as the king of the jungle, one can also link it back to the fact that the national football team—the most popular sport in the city—has been called the Lions traditionally. Curiously, it seems the Lions never had a official mascot though.