Serbegeth Singh: From village life to stardom, football diehard till the end

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Serbegeth in action against England – Photo: Stadium Astro

By Asia Samachar Team | Malaysia |

As a kid, Serbegeth Singh lived with with his extended family in Mengkibol Estate in Kluang, Johor. Among others, his father and grandfather had reared cows and they did jaga, the Malay word for watchmen.

“His family lived in the estate for most part of their lives. They didn’t have electricity till probably the 1980s,” said a fellow Sikh from the neighbourhood.

Such was the humble beginning of the former Malaysian national footballer and later football pundit Serbegeth, popularly known as Shebby Singh, who died while cycling at Iskandar Puteri, Johor, on Wednesday (12 Jan). He was 61. His remains were cremated in Kuala Lumpur today.

Serbegeth battled all odds to become a brand name across the nation, and beyond.

“In those days, his father, grandfather and uncle would cycle around town delivering milk. They were known to almost everyone in that area. His father also did jaga job at the Kluang bus station. He was well liked by everyone,” Gurvinder Singh, who runs a business in Kluang, tells Asia Samachar.

He said Serbegeth went to Secondary English School, now known as Sekolah Tinggi Kluang. “He used to play football for the school and the state. It was his passion from those days,” he said.

FOOTBALL CAREER

Born in Kluang on Aug 20, 1960, his sporting talents were discovered by the late Abdul Shatar Khan, a former Malaysian youth coach.

Serbegeth started his football career as a defender for Johor in the late 1970s and made his impact in the M-League after moving to Kuala Lumour. Described as a rock in the KL central defence, Shebby played a key role in the legendary KL team that won the Malaysia Cup three years in a row from 1987-89.

On the national front, he first represented Harimau Malaya – Malaysia’s national football team – in the President’s Cup in South Korea in 1982. It was a beginning to a long career that saw him picking up 61 caps.

“Shebby was one of the last in the era when Malaysia had better football players,” senior sports journalists Jugjet Singh tells Asia Samachar. “It was not easy to break into the national team then, as we had some great players.”

Serbegeth appeared in three Asian Games and won a South East Asian Games gold medal. He bowed out as a national player when he donned the nation’s jersey against England at the Merdeka Stadium in 1991.

After retiring, he worked as a coach and a football pundit who made appearances on various TV networks. He was Blackburn Rovers’ Global Adviser during the 2012–13 season.

In 2006, Serbegeth joined Khairy Jamaluddin to form ‘MyTeam’, a band of amateur Malaysian footballers that was part of a Malaysian reality television show. They went around the nation to spot football talent. The maiden team played to a scoreless draw against a selection of Manchester united players. In the following year, ‘MyTeam2’ lost 2–0 to Indonesia.

Khairy, now the health minister, made mention of the MyTeam when sharing his condolences. He had also gone to the Jalan Loke Yew Crematorium today to pay his last respects.

Khairy Jamaluddin paying last respects to football legend Serbegeth Singh at Jalan Loke Yew Crematorium on 14 Jan 2022 – Photo: KJ Twitter

REINVENTION

After he retired, Serbegeth became famous as a sports pundit and commentator for leading networks like ESPN and Fox sports. It brought him fame, from Dubai to Hong Kong and UK. 

“He created generational following. Boomers knew him as a player, the young generation as leading sports pundit,” said former sports writer Randhir Singh. “He reinvented himself and remained relevant.”

TRIBUTES

Serbegeth’s death saw an avalanche of tributes, including from the Malaysian king. In a post on the Istana Negara Facebook page, their Majesties said they ‘greatly appreciate’ his services and sacrifices to the country and that his passing was ‘a big loss to Malaysian football’.

Former Singapore international Fandi Ahmad, who fought alongside Serbegeth to help Kuala Lumpur win every major domestic honour in the 1980s, said: “Our captain was a great teammate and a good talker, who was honest. A sad day for Malaysian football.”

Serbegeth is survived by his wife Harbans Kaur and two children, Natassha Kaur dan Sonuljit Singh.

RELATED STORY:

Malaysian footballer Serbegeth Singh passes away at 61 (Asia Samachar, 12 Jan 2022)

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