Bench & Bar Games 2023: The Return of the Games
- Three years after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Bench & Bar Games resumed across the first weekend of September 2023. This coincided with the extended weekend of Singapore’s sixth Presidential Election and Malaysia’s 66th National Day. As the people of Singapore headed to the polls, Team Singapore travelled back and forth across the Causeway. We did so to discharge two responsibilities: the civic one of electing our Head of State, and the sporting one of contesting the Judge’s Cup.
- Having drawn the last edition of the Games (in May 2019), we were eager to go one better in Johor Bahru. Twenty sports were contested, with the results of 17 of them determining the winner of the Cup. Heading our delegation was The Honourable The Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, and subsequently, The Honourable Justice Kwek Mean Luck. Heading the Malaysian delegation was the Chief Justice of Malaysia, the Right Honourable Tun Tengku Maimum Binti Tuan Mat.
Day 1 (Thursday, 31 August 2023)
- Hockey got the Games started on Thursday afternoon with Team Malaysia the traditional powerhouse and defending champions in the sport. Cheered on by Chief Justice Menon, we fought valiantly even as we went two goals down. And we pulled a goal back to set up a nail-biting finish to the match. We barraged the opponents’ goal, but they held firm and ran out deserved 2–1 winners. Even so, we left happy, having done our best and played our part in an enjoyable contest.
- With Hockey completed, we suited up for the Welcome Reception at the Johor Cultural & Sports Club, which would also be the location of the Darts event that same evening. Excitement was in the air as the Games were launched by both the Chief Justices, who also cast darts to kick off the Darts event. Chief Justice Menon stunned by racking up 69 points with just three darts. Still, Team Malaysia pipped us in six of the seven competitive matches to claim the Darts event with a score of 6–1. As Team Malaysia celebrated their victory, we wondered about enlisting Chief Justice Menon for future Darts events.
- The results in Hockey and Darts did not dampen our spirits that evening. We joined in our counterparts’ celebrations of their National Day and renewed our friendships over a sumptuous dinner spread. We remarked at how time had flown by since we had last met in person and marvelled at the strength of the ties that had kept the Games going through the three-year hiatus. With these thoughts in mind, and with our stomachs full, we began our preparations for the next two days of competition.
Day 2 (Friday, 1 September 2023)
- Friday started early with the Cross-Country race at 7am. But even before the race began, we faced a numerical disadvantage. We had only 12 male and 11 female runners even as each team was entitled to field up to 20 male and 20 female runners (with the 10 fastest runners of each gender to score). Further, the route and the terrain of the race was unfamiliar to us. But these constraints did not daunt us. We embraced the challenge and gave the race our all before emerging victorious by a score of 223–215.
- Tennis and Table Tennis followed at Puteri Harbour. Under the watchful eyes of both the Chief Justices, we began battle in the Men’s First Doubles, the Ladies’ Doubles, and the Mixed Doubles. Each match lasted close to two hours and featured exquisite shot-making as well as tireless battling. Team Malaysia claimed all three matches as well as the Veteran’s Doubles and the 2nd Men’s Doubles. We took the 3rd and 4th Men’s Doubles for a final score of 5–2 to Team Malaysia.
- In Table Tennis, as in Cross-Country, we lacked a full complement of male players. Our opponents graciously allowed us field two female players in the mixed doubles. And those two ladies exceeded all expectations as they emerged victorious in their match. Although none of the other four matches went as successfully for us, and the event ended 4–1 to Team Malaysia, the post-game chatter remained very much about the incredible case that our ladies had made for gender equality in sports.
- Pool was scheduled for 7pm, and our Pool players had cast their ballots for the Presidential Election early in the morning, intending to reach Johor Bahru by early evening. But as 7pm approached, they remained stuck in the snaking queues at the Causeway. Team Malaysia graciously waited, and the Pool event eventually got underway at 10pm. Despite the late hour, our cues started energetically and won the first two of the eight competitive ties. Team Malaysia levelled the scores with victories in the next two ties, before we won the remaining ties and claimed the Pool event 6–2.
- Our Cricket players were likewise stuck in the queues at the Causeway. As daylight faded, so too did the hopes of holding the event. The Teams came together and agreed to declare the event a draw. Still, the very facts of travelling across the Causeway and seeing their dear friends from Team Malaysia after four years were in themselves victories for our Cricketeers.
Day 3 (Saturday, 2 September 2023)
- The final day of competition was an intense day of battle with most of the sports in action.
- Ladies’ Soccer was the first event up. We went with a mix of senior and younger players. Our opponents sent a comparatively younger squad. We took an early lead then defended stoutly. Led by our experienced defensive stalwarts, we saw out the match 1–0 to extend our 24-year undefeated record in the event.
- Premier Soccer followed in the late morning. Each team fielded a strong side and had chances to score in the first half. But when the half-time whistle blew, the game remained goal-less. Early in the second half, and while we were settling in after that restart, Team Malaysia pounced to score. Disappointed but not disheartened, we recovered to equalise with minutes to go in the match. Final score: 1–1.
- Separately, our Chess players were locked in a battle of wits. We took an early lead by winning the first two of the six competitive matches. But our opponents recovered to win three of the remaining four matches, while the final match ended in a draw. The Chess event thus went 7–5 to Team Malaysia.
- Similarly, our Volleyball players got off to a flying start. We showed no sign of our comparative inexperience as we delivered a series of strong attacks and blocks to take the opening set of the best-of-five-sets match. But our opponents came back to level the match in the second set. As the match wore on, our opponents showed their experience to win two more sets and the match 3–1.
- Our Squash players were determined to provide us with some cheer. But we were soon a set down in most of the five Squash matches that were contested. Facing a younger team of energetic and hard-hitting opponents, we had our work cut out for us. Still, we drew on our experience and found a way to eke out four of the matches to produce a final score of 4–1 to us.
- While our Squash players mounted their comebacks, we learnt that the Bowling event was shaping up to be the closest that it had been in years. Even after six hours, nothing could separate the Teams. Victory came down to the final throw, in which Team Malaysia prevailed by just four pins. But the efforts of our bowlers did not go unrecognised as we claimed six out of the 10 individual trophies that were up for grabs.
- Our Badminton players were attempting to win the event for the first time since 1997. And we found ourselves neck-and-neck with our opponents as the opening match, the 1st Men’s Doubles, went to a rubber set. Despite our valiant efforts, our opponents proved too strong as they won that match before adding quick victories in the 1st Ladies’ Doubles and the 2nd Men’s Doubles. We hit back to take the Mixed Doubles before the final match, the 3rd Men’s Doubles, went to Team Malaysia as well. The final score was thus 4–1 to Team Malaysia.
- Our Netball players were on a three-Games winning streak against their opponents. And the Teams served up an enthralling match. We led at the end of the first quarter, but Team Malaysia reversed the deficit and took the lead at the end of the second quarter. We regained the lead at the end of the third quarter, but Team Malaysia stormed back in the last quarter to win 38–34.
- Attention turned to Basketball, where, with less than a week to the Games, four of our 11 players were called away by reasons including injury, illness, and the welcoming of newborn children. As we scoured the ranks of our other sports teams to fill the void of players, Justice Kwek stepped up. With his tireless energy, he shored up our rearguard even as the match ended 81–66 in favour of Team Malaysia. And we left heartened by our credible showing amidst the adversity that we had faced.
- Justice Kwek was not done, however. He swapped his basketball trainers for soccer cleats and lined up for the Veterans’ Soccer1Each player had to be at least 38 years old on the date of the match and Masters’ Soccer2Each player had to be at least 50 years old on the date of the match events, where he left many a younger opponent in his wake. Veterans’ Soccer ended in a 2–1 victory for us – we scored early, gave up that lead, then regrouped and poured forward to secure victory with a late goal. Masters’ Soccer ended in a goalless 0–0 draw – both defences held resolute even in the face of intense onslaught.
- These Soccer events were the final sports events that were played at the Games,3The Golf event could not be played due to unforeseen circumstances and was declared a draw and our Veterans’ victory gave us reason to cheer as we made our way to the Closing Dinner at the Holiday Villa Hotel. There, we celebrated the efforts of Team Malaysia, who were warm hosts and worthy victors, as they collected the Judge’s Cup with an overall score of 10.5–6.5. We toasted the skill, courage, teamwork, and resilience of both Teams, as well as the friendship between the Teams that have kept the Games going for the past 54 years.4The inaugural Bench & Bar Games were contested in 1969 And we ended the evening on a high with a resounding victory in the Boat Race.
The LSS badminton team was cautiously optimistic heading into the 51st Games that “this would be the year” (as we religiously tell ourselves every year). The last time LSS won B&B badminton was in 1997. To put that into context, some of the younger players on our team were not even born yet.
With that background established, preparations for the Games began as soon as confirmation of the Games proceeding was received earlier in the year. Our weekly practice sessions were interspersed with friendly matches organised against various local teams. With a good four-year hiatus since the last Games, the team was healthily rejuvenated with new blood. It was to be the first Bench & Bar experience for half of our current first team players.
Unfortunately, our optimism was short-lived at Tiara Sports World on Saturday morning. In the first match, our 1st men’s doubles (Zhengxi and Jen Whee) narrowly lost their rubber set in a nail-biting match, with VIPs of both sides in attendance. Defeat in our 1st ladies’ doubles (Boon Xin and Shu Zhen) and 2nd men’s doubles (Boon Tiong and Alvin) in quick succession meant that we had effectively lost the overall tie 0-3. Our mixed doubles (Dominic and Tricia) and 3rd men’s doubles (Daniel and Xi Jing) matches were equally close – both matches went to rubber sets – with the former pair clinching the consolation point for our LSS team. Final results aside and taking into account that this was for many of our players, their first taste of B&B, our players put up a commendable fight and the overall scoreline belies how close many of the matches were.
Final score – Singapore 1 : 4 Malaysia.
We had our customary mixed-team friendly matches after the official games, where one Singapore player partnered up with a Malaysian counterpart in a knockout-style competition. All players (first team, reserves and even some supporters) took part, which were played in an equally competitive spirit with medals up for grabs. The friendly tournament was won by Dominic (SG) and Pei Pei (MY).
Despite the loss, there were several positives to take away from JB. First, the resumption of the Games after four years was wonderful in itself and hugely celebrated amongst the team. Second, the pipeline of new players bodes well for the future of our team for the foreseeable future. Lastly, we are ever so grateful for the excellent camaraderie between the Singapore and Malaysian badminton teams over the years, which only seems to get stronger with each Games. We will try again next year!
Captain, Badminton Team
After enduring an arduous journey to Johor Bahru on Polling Day, the Law Society Netball Team was determined to make their trip worth it by beating our Malaysian counterparts this year.
The game was an extremely close and rough one. We led in the 1st quarter by 3 goals but were down in the 2nd quarter by 4 goals. We led by 2 goals for the 3rd quarter. This put the overall score at 29-28 (to us) going into the last quarter.
Unfortunately, due to our own unforced errors, we were not able to hold on to the lead and conceded the game to Malaysia by four goals. While this ends our three-year winning streak against Malaysia, we will not let them steal our victory next year!
Jaime Lye and Nurul Nordin
It was an exciting night for Pool even before the games had started as half the team had to brave the nine-hour cue (sorry, queue) at the customs resulting in the status of the games being up in the air. Thankfully, our hosts graciously waited for us and we were able to start the games late at night at 10pm.
LSS started the night strong with our star player KC and Terry Xu winning the 9-ball doubles match handily. Gopal Shivanand and new recruit Bryan Tay carried the momentum well, with Gopal letting out a roar that shook the pool room after shooting arguably the shot of the night (a long-rail bank on the game-winning 8 ball) to win their 8-ball doubles match.
In line with the rollercoaster evening, MBC came back strongly and won the 8-ball mixed doubles match over LSS’ Junie Loh and Elton Goh as well as the 10-ball singles match. However, Eugene Leong and Ho Wei Yang showed their mettle by coming back from a 1-3 down deficit to win their 8-ball doubles match 4-3, giving LSS the lead again. Gopal continued his strong performance (and another roar) with a dominating 4-0 win in his 8-ball singles game, and KC secured the win for LSS with his 5-1 win in the 9-ball singles game. Eugene thereafter rounded off LSS’ strong performance with a victory with a win in his 8-ball singles game. Pool thus ended late in the night with the final result of a 6-2 victory for LSS. This rounded off one of the more resounding victories for LSS pool in our rich tradition of the sport, and we look forward to welcoming the MBC Team to Singapore next year.
|↑1||Each player had to be at least 38 years old on the date of the match|
|↑2||Each player had to be at least 50 years old on the date of the match|
|↑3||The Golf event could not be played due to unforeseen circumstances and was declared a draw|
|↑4||The inaugural Bench & Bar Games were contested in 1969|