‘Effigy’ is a 3 part series tracing the storylines of 3 different Victorians across 3 sports. Each Victorian featured has their own story and is a life-like caricature, symbolising and personifying all that is beautiful and ugly in sport. In the conclusion to this trilogy, we explore how E-an’s Tan humble beginnings as a street footballer has shaped the player he is today.
Singapore- If not for his bald head, you would never guess E-an Tan was Victoria’s Monsieur Gegenpress. With his short stature and pink braces, he looked more dork than jock. Deep down in his heart, he was always a cheeky little kid and not a meathead brimming with machismo. However, appearances indeed do deceive.
E-an’s recent performance against ACS International was nothing short of superlative. Lining up as a modern number 8, E-an added creativity to the midfield with his probing passes. Pressing and harrying the opposition and grabbing a goal and a host of assists, he didn’t look out of place beside Victoria’s footballing juggernauts, guys who came from formal footballing backgrounds. He took the streets to the pitch in that game, his diminutive stature dwarfed by his impact. He was like a little Dele Alli caricature, whom he was a big fan of. “I particularly liked his celebration against Palace.” E-an was of course, talking about Alli’s friendly wave to the cameras. It was perhaps a reflection of E-an’s character: a friendly boy amongst the sporting elite.
Was this friendliness a result of his upbringing in the streets, where brotherhood and a certain ‘Kampung Spirit’ were common denominators in one’s interactions. E-an’s story was a fairytale, how a little boy was plucked from the streets and thrown into the deep end of the A Division.
To understand how E-an had made it to the big leagues, we went out to a quaint little housing estate tucked away in the North East, roughly 13 kilometres away from the fabled Jalan Besar Stadium, what looked to be the penultimate point of Victoria’s A Division Football slog.
This was where E-an’s footballing journey began: under the orange HDBs of the North East. It was a footballing town, compared to the rest of Singapore, decked out with a brand new street football court. But by then, E-an had already graduated from the streets. The void deck was where E-an grew up as a player. The once whitewashed walls now littered with black marks in the shape of a football. He points out a leaky water pipe and declares with a laugh “We broke that pipe playing football and 7 years on it still hasn’t been fixed.”
Football and E-an were inseparable. He regales us with grand tales of his recreational games at Nan Chiau Primary School. Kickabouts with a small rubber ball in the school hall were a regular, albeit illicit, recess pastime with the closure of the school field. Once, he got caught and was made to stand on stage, along with the head prefect. “I immediately felt better standing beside him. It was stupid of us to even get caught.” But even that did not deter E-an from playing Football. His passion for Football was like an inextinguishable flame that had ignited within him.
Footy Fridays became the most anticipated part of the week in VS in lieu of their Casual Friday dress code. It taught E-an many life lessons, as he laughs about learning to change into his pants as quickly as possible. After all, you never know when you might be caught with your pants down. This was where E-an really blossomed into the player he was today. Playing against top notch players like Ryan Low, Harresh Ruban and Isaac Tan E taught E-an how to overcome his lack of size. “It was also a challenge playing against bigger, stronger guys.” Footy Fridays were a battle of bragging rights and friendships were thrown out of the window. The classic E-an lane change was put on show at VS’s spanking $500,000 field. E-an’s chance finally came when VS let the IP kids train with the VJ sports teams. This was where E-an’s footballing journey truly began, graduating from the streets as valedictorian and soon to the pitches of Jalan Besar.
At first, E-an struggled. The journey to the top wasn’t easy. The streets left E-an unprepared for the rigours of Tan’s strategies. The demands of training weeded out players including former VS football team members from the CCA. His diminutive frame meant he looked out of place alongside the likes of Anderson Jonas and Shaythuram. But slowly, aided by his chemistry with Jonathan Tan built up through the grind of Footy Fridays, E-an grew into his role as a player. His workmanlike attitude earned him plaudits and this was where he earned the moniker of ‘Monsieur Gegenpress’. Clearly dismissive of praise, E-an refused any comparisons between himself and David Silva. “I’m not that tactical genius,” says he.
Above: The walk to greatness can get rather lonely.
E-an has gone from strength to strength. Darting runs and pinpoint passes were part of his highlight reel. However, E-an’s transition was not without help from role models within the team. “Responsible. Punctual. Loyal. Patriotic.” Those were the words of praise E-an exalted upon his Chinese-Irish Vice Captain Michael Collins. With a limited time to make an impact on the field and an increasingly unforgiving nature to the beautiful game, E-an has been taking notes from his Vice Captain, adding an element of graft to his game.
The E-an Tan story was quintessentially Brazilian. The stories of impoverished youngsters grooving to the Samba beat as they climbed the ladder of social mobility through football is a familiar one. The Brazilian way was all about a genuine artistic expression of oneself, as evidenced by their World Cup winning sides of 1958 and 1962. The streets have left a discernible mark on E-an Tan. Without a care in the world, E-an takes the artistic genius and a grimey beauty of the streets of the North East to Jalan Besar. Playing on the same hallowed ground as the greats of Singapore’s Malaysia Cup Days, this was a reminder of the type of football that we engaged in ourselves at the foot of our HDB blocks. Fandi Ahmad grew up selling Nasi Lemak, E-an Tan grew up grabbing a piece of cheeky Nando’s with the lads. Nando’s old slogan was ‘have fun and then make money’. Their corporate vision was one of giving people opportunities and making a positive impact. Here, we have E-an Tan, who took the swagger and aplomb of street football into competitive football. His eudaemonic approach to Football mirrored Nando’s vision and slogan, always infectious but in the right way and could even be said to be a little sanguine.
Always looking to play that nice little final ball with chirurgical proficiency, to create the very chances to turn the game on his head. This was E-an Tan. He never forgot his roots, playing with all the attitude and expressiveness of the void decks of the North East. In a footballing landscape where football is increasingly complex, paralysed by heat maps, statistics and PowerPoint presentations, it is ironic how the rising star that is E-an Tan is a blast to the past, a refreshing cleansing of palettes.
James Tan, 17S51
Isaac Tan E, 17S52
Ryan Low, 17S62
Denisse Sim, 17S62