‘Twinkletoes’ Chia Boon Leong, only Singaporean footballer to play at Olympics, dies aged 97

'Twinkletoes' Chia Boon Leong, only Singaporean footballer to play at Olympics, dies aged 97

SINGAPORE: Mr Chia Boon Leong, the only Singaporean footballer to play at an Olympic Games, died on Tuesday (Dec 20) aged 97, the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) said on Wednesday.

Dubbed “Twinkletoes” due to his deft footwork and ball control, Mr Chia represented China at the 1948 London Games in a 4-0 loss to Turkey, said FAS in a Facebook post.

“Closer to home, Mr Chia was part of the Singapore team that won three consecutive Malaysia Cups, from 1950 to 1952,” it added.

Following his retirement, Mr Chia continued to devote his time to local football.

“He became a council member at the FAS and was also team manager of its national team on a part-time basis between 1977 and 1980,” FAS said.

As a mark of respect for Mr Chia, a minute’s silence will be observed before Singapore’s opening AFF Mitsubishi Electric Cup match against Myanmar on Saturday.

“Our sincerest thoughts and deepest condolences go out to Mr Chia’s family and loved ones during this difficult time,” FAS said.

Mr Chia first caught the eye of China’s selectors when he represented the Lien Hwa, or United Chinese, team of Malaya during a tour in 1947, according to a 2018 story on the Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC) website.

In one match in Shanghai on Nov 19, 1947, he starred as Lien Hwa ran out 5-3 winners against the local champions Tung Hwa.

“Maybe it was the way the crowd reacted to my performance which made the Chinese officials decide to choose me for the London Olympics,” he told SNOC at the time.

SNOC president Tan Chuan-Jin wrote about this tour as he paid tribute to Mr Chia on Wednesday.

“Boon Leong was a prolific footballer in his heyday. He toured with the Lien Hwa (United Chinese) team in 1947 as a 22-year-old and was the only one to appear in all 23 games,” Mr Tan wrote in a Facebook post.

“A few months later, he was chosen to represent China in the 1948 Olympic Games in London. Back then, the rules allowed ethnic Chinese to represent China even if they were not born in the country.”