Bill Shankly & Lee Kuan Yew

There may be scant justifications to do a comparison between Bill Shankly and Lee Kuan Yew. After all, one is a legendary sports figure and the other, a legendary statesman, vastly different in their respective expertise and legacies. 

There are similarities though. Bill Shankly is widely accepted as one of the best managers in football and is regarded by Liverpool FC fans as the man who put the football club on the world map. Liverpool FC was in the second division when Shankly took charge. He rebuilt the team into a major force in English football, led the club to promotion in 1962 and went on winning First Division Championships and other major honours, leaving the club with a solid foundation which allowed his successors to dominate the football scene not just in England but Europe for the next two decades. Lee Kuan Yew as we know it, has been referred to as the Father of Singapore often, having being one of the prominent member in the team which led Singapore from a modest port island to a wealthy trading hub to the world. Though Bill Shankly seems to be a man from the distant past, he was only 10 years older than Lee Kuan Yew. Shankly would turn 100 if he is still alive today. In two weeks' time, the Father of Singapore will turn 90. Both of them share the same birth month.

During the game between Liverpool FC and Manchester United last night, the eve of Shankly's 100 birthday, Liverpool Fans got together to put up a stirring scene with a show of passion and pageantry by putting up a grand mosaic of Shankly's silhouette depicting his most famous pose. I personally followed how their fans got together weeks ago to call for volunteers to make that happen. There wasn't any agencies movement or private funding involved, just pure passion from normal working class folks of the red side of Liverpool city.

"He made the people happy," was the tagline permanently associated with their legendary manager. One of Shankly most famous quotes was, "Football isn't a matter of life or death, it's much more important than that." It wasn't about football, results or trophies but the way Shankly transformed the lives of the people he touched. The man understood the difference between living and existing. That was the reason, in my humble opinion, why he was remembered even by generations after his passing.

It will be unfair to expect any adulation from Singaporeans because Lee Kuan Yew is well and kicking the last time he was seen in public. Yes he was on wheels but what do you expect from a 89 years old man? Most of us will be dead before reaching the big right really. May the Father lives forever on. Because I know I will cringe to see the aftermath of his death. The Straits Times-SAF-PAP Grassroot combo will put on the most dramatic funeral ever completed with tears, fake and real, that will put North Koreans to shame. That will take place well and proper, no doubt. This isn't what I have been wondering about.

Compare to Shankly, a great man like Lee Kuan Yew probably changed the lives of people in a broader sense under a wider spectrum. His decisions impact the lives of every Singaporean in many aspects such as housing, livelihood, recreation and security arguably for the better in general, as the votes from Singaporeans can attest to that. I wonder if Singaporeans will do continue to remember Lee Kuan Yew three decades after his death like Liverpool Fans did by Bill Shankly and do a tribute out of their own pocket, time and heart without the interference of any government-related agencies. Just wondering.

When I was back in Singapore walking around my buddy Tucky, who insisted on showing me the new shopping complexes in Jurong, we came across a bookshop spamming copies of Lee Kuan Yew's new book in their glass display cabinets. I asked Tucky why would anyone aged 89 think about publishing book after book (even though it was probably written by a ghost writer) instead of living his final golden years? For the money? No, I'm sure he doesn't need a single cent of the royalties made from the sales of his books. For fame? He has already made his way to the history books by now, the only thing he can do to make himself more famous is to dance nude in the middle of Raffles Place during lunch time. Leaving behind his ideas? With a personal media monopoly behind his family, is there a need for books?

My pal told me the man is afraid of being forgotten. That's an opinion of course. Only the man himself knows the truth. If there is any truth in it at all, what a sad life Lee Kuan Yew must be living now, despite having an illustrious career which only a few dare dream of, having to worry about being remembered for his legacies.

Perhaps he should have just stuck to - Making the people happy. Just like Bill Shankly did. That was all.

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