Go LionsXII!

20 01 2013

Perhaps because it was a day the skies opened, the Jalan Besar Stadium wasn’t as packed as it might have been for the Malaysian Super League match between the LionsXII and Terengganu. Despite the roar-less atmosphere at the stadium – the LionsXII managed to overcome a half-time deficit to beat Terangganu 2-1 with Safuwan Baharudin and Syafiq Zainal scoring for the LionsXII in the 65th and 74th minutes respectively.

LionsXII launch an attack through skipper Shahril Ishak in the first half.

LionsXII launch an attack through skipper Shahril Ishak in the first half.

Terengganu players celebrate after Jean-Emmanuel Effa scores with a header from a free-kick in the 33rd minute.

Terengganu players celebrate after Jean-Emmanuel Effa scores with a header from a free-kick in the 33rd minute.

A section of the crowd.

A section of the crowd.

Safuwan Baharudin scoring the equaliser in the 65th minute.

Safuwan Baharudin scoring the equaliser in the 65th minute.

LionsXII players celebrate Safuwan Baharudin's equaliser.

LionsXII players celebrate Safuwan Baharudin’s equaliser.

A LionsXII wall jumps in response to a Terengganu free-kick.

A LionsXII wall jumps in response to a Terengganu free-kick.

Players celebrate the second goal in the 74th minute scored by Syafiq Zainal.

Players celebrate the second goal in the 74th minute scored by Syafiq Zainal.

The crowd celebrates the winner.

The crowd celebrates the winner.





Jalan Besar roars back to life

11 01 2012

Singapore’s finally back – after a 17 year absence, competing against football teams from Malaysia in what is the latest incarnation of the Malaysia Cup – the Malaysian Super Leauge. It was in anticipation of this that crowds gathered at the Jalan Besar Stadium to buy up tickets for the expanded 8000 capacity stadium which last featured as a Malaysia Cup venue amost four decades ago, back in 1973 when the likes of Quah Kim Song and Dollah Kassim were household names. With the crowd behind them, the Lions XII started well, dominating possession and scoring the opening goal through defender Baihakki Khaizan just after the half hour. Unfortunately, slack defending let Kelantan equalise just before half time. The Lions XII failed to raise their game in the second half and were punished when the referre awarded what seemed like a very soft penalty 10 minutes from time which Kelantan converted.

Last night saw Singapore's re-entry into a Malaysian football competition for the first time in 17 years. Strong support for Singapore in its participation in the past saw the much feared Kallang Roar being born. Did the Roar return last night?

The crowd had filled the stadium well before the match started.

Quah Kim Song heading the ball at Jalan Besar Staidum during a Malaysia Cup match in 1973 against Negri Sembilan. That year was the last in whcih Jalan Besar stadium saw the Malaysia Cup competition (source: National Archives of Singapore).

The appearance of some of the footballing greats from Singapore's past teams including Malek Awab from the 1994 Cup winning team lifted the crowd.

For many in Singapore, the game was looked at not just as Singapore’s re-entry into a competition it last participated in in 1994, but also to bring back some of the magic that the intense competition and rivalry that comes about competing against teams across the Causeway brought with it – something that many felt was lacking with the S-League. There was also the expected return of the Roar – associated with the much feared noise that our supporters made in the days of the National Stadium. While admittedly, the game saw a sell out crowd which made as much noise as it could at the start of the game, and when we scored the opener, there were long periods of silence as the game progressed and boos seem to ring a lot louder than cheers of encouragement during the peirods when some noise was heard. Perhaps the much smaller crowd of 7000 to 8000 that the capacity of the stadium permitted compared to 70000 we did see in the early days of the National Stadium when the Kallang Roar was born did have a part to play in this – that we can’t do anything about until the new stadium is built. What on the basis of the initial roar we certainly can do is to raise the level of encouragement and cheers we give our team. With that, and if the team build on the positives and learn from the negatives of the first match, there is no doubt that the Roar (at least partially), and the real magic of the competition, will return.

A section of the crowd.

The starting 11.

The season kicks-off at Jalan Besar to a huge roar.

Singapore dominated play and came close on two occasions as the first half progressed.

Singapore players celebrating the opening goal which Baihakki Khaizan headed in from a free kick on the right.

Rain drops seen in the glare of the floodlights. Part of the game was played in pouring rain.

Despite lots of goal mouth action in the first half Singapore failed to make further progress.





Drinks, keropok, kuaci: Malek Awab on the last time ever we saw the cup

31 07 2011

There is probably some level of excitement over the news of Singapore’s re-entry into the Malaysia Cup competition amongst the older football fans who have since 1994, been starved of an annual football tournament that brought a nation together. It was in supporting the Singapore team bringing people from all walks of life, as many as 70,000 of them, on the terraces of the National Stadium and many more who in the comfort and safety of their homes, felt one with those in the crowd. It was in lending support to what had effectively been the National team, and in the experience of the numerous lows and the few highs when the pinnacle was reached, participating singing and chanting both on the stands and at home, that fans wholeheartedly stood as one, as Singaporeans and football fans first.

Malek Awab today. Malek was a key member of the 1994 team that won the Malaysia Cup.

The 1994 season which was to turn out to be the final season for Singapore in the Malaysia Cup, was one during which the more highs than lows were experienced. It was a season that had commenced with the uncertainty of the gaping hole left in the coaching department by the departure of Ken Worden as a coach just a week before the tournament had started, had as the days progressed, turned out well, the pre-tournament efforts of Worden proving pivotal as the fitness levels of the members of the squad improved by Worden carried the Lions through winning the league and finding themselves pitted against their archrivals and bogey team Selangor in the semi-finals. The semi-finals played on a home and away format saw Singapore overcoming Selangor and knocking on the door of a cup that had in the previous 13 years proved to be an elusive target.

The National Stadium built in 1973, went on to be the home of the famous Kallang Road which spurred players such as Malek Awab and Fandi Ahmad on.

For a whole generation of players, it was an opportunity to end the drought, twice in the 1990s having lost to Kedah at the old Merdeka Stadium. This time around, a new arena beckoned – the 81,000 seat Shah Alam Stadium. It was one that the Lions had done well enough in to see off the threat posed by Selangor whose home was the Shah Alam Stadium. Many in the team had not tasted success, the last coming in 1980 when the skipper of the 1994 team, Fandi Ahmad scored the winning goal. Amongst those who had not won with the Singapore team was a certain Malek Awab, a diminutive midfielder who was once told he was too small to play the game competitively. Malek had since his introduction to the competitive game as a fifteen year old through the youth ranks of Farrer Park United, grown in stature on the pitch and had become one of the more recognisable players both on and off the pitch, plying his trade in Kuala Lumpur, before coming back to play for the Singapore Malaysia Cup team in 1994. I had an opportunity to interview Malek, who I was a big fan of as a Memory Ambassador for the National Library Board as part of the Singapore Memory Project.

Fandi Ahmad who scored the winning goal the last time Singapore had won the cup in 1980, skippered the Singapore side in the 1994 finals.

Malek had come a long way since his early encounters with the game which included seeking permission to leave early from school on match days to vend “drinks, keropok, kuaci” on match days, longing to be that guy on the pitch his customers were yelling their support for. He had, in his first Malaysia Cup season in 1981, the experience of reaching the final only to lose at the final hurdle, in a game he could not influence having spent the 90 minutes on the bench. It was for him, a chance to win the cup in Singapore’s colours, having previously won it with Kuala Lumpur.

The terraces which were often packed with up to 70,000 fanatical spectators during Malaysia Cup matches in the 1970s and where Malek Awab started his 'career' at the stadium selling drinks and snacks.

There was an air of quiet confidence within the team, having played well in the lead-up to the final despite the hiccups of seeing Michael Vana hauled up to answer questions on possible match fixing and promptly jumping bail and strongman in defence Jang Jung being suspended. The team travelled up to Shah Alam the day before staying at a hotel close to the stadium, and arrived at the stadium to a sea of red – three quarters of the stadium had been filled with Singapore supporters, some 50,000 of them in a crowd of 81,000 in the stadium. There was none of the antics of supporters on some of the travels around the Malaysian states – Malek recounted one incident in Kuching, Sarawak when spectators let a gunny sackful of cats (kuching being Malay for cats) during the warm-up. Malek knew that he and the team just had to do it for all those supporters who had made the journey to Shah Alam and had placed faith in the team to deliver.

Meeting a hero of 1994.

The game itself was all a blur for Malek – he can’t remember much of what happened on the field. What he could recall was how tense the game was, despite Singapore scoring the first goal through Abbas Saad early enough in the first half. The second half opened with Pahang pressing for a goal, hitting the underside of the bar before Singapore scored a second 8 minutes into the half through an on fire Abbas in a counter attack. The team welcomed that goal and certainly the many supporters in the stands and those who like me, watched it live on the television welcomed it to. With Pahang very much focused on trying to get a quick goal, spaces were left at the back for Abbas and Fandi to exploit which resulted in Abbas completing his hat-trick just 12 minutes later and with a quick fourth goal, all that was left was to hold out against a visibly deflated Pahang side. When the final whistle did come, the magnitude of the occasion finally got to Malek. He broke down, thinking to himself that he had finally in the twilight of his career, won the cup in the colours of the team of his home country – it was the first time he had done it, and was possibility the last opportunity for him to have won it. Having his hand on the Malaysia Cup and holding it high for all to see, was a feeling for Malek that he can’t describe, but one that meant a lot to him and to the thousands of proud Singapore fans in the stadium that night and watching back in Singapore on the television.





The last stand …

15 02 2011

After dominating the Kallang skyline for some 37 years, and some five months after heavy equipment was moved in and four months after demolition work started, we have seen the last of the Grand Old Lady. As of today, all that is left is a pile of twisted steel and broken concrete which supported as many as 70,000 in the days when the Kallang Roar had been in its infancy. We can now look forward to what promises to a new and exciting Sports Hub which will include new facilities such as a new 55,000 capacity National Stadium with a retractable roof, a 6,000 capacity indoor Aquatic Centre, a 3,000 capacity multi-purpose arena, and a Water Sports Centre, as well as integrate the existing Kallang Indoor Stadium into the complex.

The sun sets on the former National Stadium (8 Feb 2011).

The final trio (10 Feb 2011).

Blocks 1, 2, and 3: the last to go ...

A heap of twisted steel and broken concrete is all that is left (15 Feb 2011).

A crane stands triumphantly over the defeated mess of steel and concrete.

Two new icons of Singapore waiting to be joined by another.

The phoenix that will rise out of the ashes - the Sports Hub is scheduled to be completed in April 2014.





Getting a piece of the Pye (television and the history of television in Singapore)

27 12 2010

Television is one of those things we seem to take for granted these days, along with the many conveniences of life that we see and use. Television runs for 24 hours a day now, and now offers a vast array of entertaining programmes from the popular Korean dramas, documentaries, children’s programmes, reality shows and live sports broadcasts all in crystal clarity through means such as cable and satelite – a far cry from what it was like in its early years when it offered a few hours of evening entertainment in warm and fuzzy black and white. By the time I came along, television had taken root in Singapore, preceding my own arrival by about a year and a half, and by the time I began to appreciate television, the likes of one of the first ever soaps, Peyton Place had taken Singapore by storm, as well as popular series such as Combat! which I never failed to catch an episode of, were names that we associated television with. The evening’s news and the newsreels that followed were also popular with viewers as was Sesame Street, which was first screened in the year I started school, 1971, as well as the many movies, including the Pontianak and P. Ramlee ones that helped entertain my maternal grandmother. There were also some of the other programmes that somehow caught my imagination, among was one that featured the energetic Jack LaLanne, and another which had the amusing Soupy Sales making an appearance in “What’s My Line”.

Peyton Place - one of the original Soaps, took Singapore by storm.

Combat! Introduction ... Combat! was one that I never missed an episode of!

I suppose television back in those days can be said to have had a similar impact on society and on children of my generation as much as the internet and other forms of the modern media are having on the children of today. It certainly played a part in shaping my life and interests that I had in life. Besides the programmes that we got each day, one of my deepest impressions of black and white television as it was in my formative years, was seeing the newsreel of Mankind’s first landing on the moon. By the time I had gotten to watch that, my parents had already moved on to their second television set, a 21 inch locally produced Setron set, which I remember gave excellent service right up to the days just before the Christmas of 1973. That was the year just before colour television was introduced in Singapore and why I remember that was how we had the television tube replaced on Christmas eve and it being Christmas eve, my parents invited the repairman to stay for some refreshments, during which time the newly replaced tube imploded, leaving us with a television-less Christmas.

The Jack LaLanne Show!

Soupy Sales in 'What's My Line'

During a recent chat about the early days of television with my parents, the subject of their experience with their very first television set came up. It was in the early days of television in Singapore that they had bought that set, one selected based on the best picture quality out of a row of sets displayed at a shop, which my mother remembered as a 14 inch table top Pye (up to that point – I had not even heard of the brand) – one which my mother said gave no end of problems. It cost them what might have been considered to be a large sum of money in days when there often wasn’t much spare cash to go around to enable one to indulge in the simple luxuries in life. That was when they were still renting a house in the former Kampong Chia Heng, off Moulmein Rise and being the first ones with a television in the kampung, by the time they sat down to watch their first programme on television, news had spread across the kampung and they had the company of people that they did not even know in the living room of the rented house!

What my parents' first television might have looked like - a Pye 17" Television from the 1960s.

Reading up a little on the introduction of television in Singapore, I was able to find out that television, Television Singapura, was launched to the masses at 6 pm on the 15th of February 1963 by the then Minister of Culture, the late S. Rajaratnam. The first evening’s programme schedule was to have lasted an hour and forty minutes, and included a short film on Singapore, a cartoon, the news, a half an hour feature, and a variety show, ending transmission. For the pilot service, transmission was scheduled for an hour or so each day for six weeks, before a four hour regular service was launched by the then President, Yusof Ishak on the 2nd of April that year before being extended to six hours a day later in the year which also saw a second channel being launched. At the introduction of television, some 2400 television sets had been sold. To reach out to the masses, television units were also installed in public areas such as Community Centres. The television brands that were on sale at that time included household names which I was familiar with from the 1970s including Grundig, Normende, Telefunken and Sierra, which we don’t really hear of these days and the sets had cost between S$350 to $1200, with screen sizes ranging from 14 inches to 23 inches. Colour television was introduced to Singapore in 1974, with a pilot service being run from 1st August of that year, with two hours of colour programmes shown each weekday and four hours each weekend. 1974 was also the first year in which the final of football’s World Cup Finals, held in West Germany that year was telecast live, and football fans actually got the additional treat of watching in full and vivid colour the marauding orange shirts of Holland take on the white shirts of hosts West Germany in a pulsating match on 7th July 1974 (prior to the actual launch of the pilot service). It was reported that within the three days prior to the finals, 1000 colour television sets had been sold – and my father was among those who bought one just to be able to catch the finals in colour.

The finals of the 1974 Football World Cup was the first live World Cup .





Thanks for the geleks, Dollah …

14 10 2010

R.I.P. Dollah Kassim (13 March 1949 to 14 Oct 2010)

Dollah in his prime and lifting the Malaysia Cup in 1977 (source: ourstory.asia1.com.sg).

It is sad indeed, coming just as we are witnessing a national sporting icon, in the form of the National Stadium, being torn down, to hear on the radio, that another icon, Dollah Kassim, who lighted the Singapore football scene for 11 years as a striker in the national team with his feints and excellent dribbling skills, has passed on this morning. Dollah or “Gelek-King” as he was popularly referred to, had burst to the national scene back in the late 1960s and had his best years during the best years of the National Stadium and the Kallang Roar – in the late 1970s, helping Singapore lift the Malaysia Cup in 1977, retiring from the Malaysia Cup and International scene in 1979. He collapsed following a match between ex-internationals from Singapore and across the Causeway due to a heart attack last October. Thanks for the memories Dollah … and for the wonderful geleks … you were an inspiration to many like me in Singapore growing up on the diet of the Malaysia Cup in the 1970s.





An Oasis lost

3 10 2010

With the news carried by the local print media on Thursday that the demolition of the National Stadium has started, there has been much focus on the stadium itself and how it would remain in the hearts of the many Singaporeans who have sat on its terraces since it was built for the 7th South East Asian Peninsula (SEAP) Games in 1973. Having been a landmark in the Kallang area for close to four decades, the area would probably look a little bare once the grey icon and its four floodlight towers makes an exit from the landscape off Nicoll Highway and Mountbatten Road.

The Today report on the start of demolition at the National Stadium on 30 Sep 2010.

Demolition work has began in earnest and access to roads in the vicinity of the stadium are now restricted (seen on 1 Oct 2010).

For me, the stadium always seemed an invariable part of the landscape in the Kallang area, one that stood firm despite the many changes that have overtaken the area around it since the days when it first dominated the area. Some of the sights familiar to me that had kept the stadium company in the earlier days of the stadium had since abandoned the Grand Old Lady. One of these was the bright and lively Guillemard Circus that I had always been fond of passing … with its colourful neon signs that transformed it into a wonderland of light at night – one that somehow I recall being dominated by the huge Knife Brand Cooking Oil advertisement. There was of course the old Wonderland Amusement Park that had my favourite ride – a roller coaster that I would persuade my parents to return to the park for time and time again – the Wonderland was in fact how I had first become acquainted with the area. Years later, I was to spend a short period of time at a shipyard on the banks of the Geylang River just by the area where the Wonderland was located, walking past the stadium from a bus stop in Kallang everyday to get to the area around Jalan Benaan Kapal which has since been transformed in a way that makes it had to imagine slipways lining what were dirty and muddy river banks.

The newly constructed stadium was the most modern in South East Asia and provided an ideal setting for the birth of the Kallang Roar. The stadium had stood as a landmark in the area since it opened in 1973.

The stadium being prepared for demolition on 28 Sep 2010.

I have had over the 37 years had a love affair with the Grand Old Lady, one that started in 1974 with the first leg of the Malaysia Cup semi-final match played between Singapore and Penang. It was where I had first watched a football match live … and became part of the frenzied atmosphere that accompanied the matches played in the stadium featuring Singapore which became known as the much Kallang Roar. In its heyday, as many as 70,000 pairs of feet would stamp on the terraces combined with 70,000 voices that gave the stadium that thunderous blare that put fear in many visiting teams at the stadium.

A reflection on an icon that will soon be a mirage ...

The stadium had often in its life been referred to as the “Lions’ Den”, not after the pair of stone Merdeka Lions that had once stood guard at the ends of the span of the Merdeka Bridge, being moved to stand guard at the area on which Stadium Boulevard had been constructed, but after the national football team which besides being referred to as the “Boys in Blue” – a reference to the sky blue jerseys they wore in the 1970s and 1980s, were also referred to as the “Lions”. The pair of lions also abandoned the stadium – sometime perhaps at the end of the 1980s.

One of the floodlight towers that dominated the Kallang landscape.

A lion watches sadly from across Nicoll Highway as the former Lions Den is being torn down.

Whilst there were many that abandoned the Grand Old Lady, there had been a few that managed to stay with it throughout its life. Among those that have kept the stadium company were the nearby Police Coast Guard (Marine Police) headquarters which moved to Pulau Brani with the construction of the Marina Barrage, and a somewhat forgotten icon of the area: the Oasis Restaurant complex. The Oasis would be going the way of the stadium as well, having stood where it was for some forty years. Indeed the Oasis had been as much of an icon in the Kallang Park area since it was opened in 1969 as the Oasis Theatre Restaurant, Cabaret and Nightclub. Comprising a three storey main building and three auxiliary buildings built on stilts extending out some 100 metres over the Kallang Basin, the complex was a popular night spot for many years. The octagonal shaped auxiliary buildings which housed restaurants provided the complex with its distinctive character which Singaporeans immediately identified with the complex and provided a unique dining experience for many were completed in 1970 and operated until the closure of the complex a few years back. The octagonal shaped buildings and the three storey main building are also in the process of being torn down, and a feature that will also be missing from the area very soon.

The former Police Coast Guard HQ near the stadium.

The distinctive octagonal structures on stilts that used to be part of the Oasis Restaurant complex over the Kallang Basin.

The 3-storey main building of the former Oasis being demolished (as seen on 28 Sep 2010).

The octagonal buildings being reflected off the Kallang Basin. Once giving a distinctive character to the basin, the reflections of the basin will soon reflect only the sky (as seen on 28 Sep 2010).

One of the octagonal buildings being demolished (as seen on 28 Sep 2010).

With the icons of its past being dismantled, Kallang will no doubt never look the same again. That change is inevitable in land scarce Singapore is something that we as Singaporeans have come to accept. In the case of Kallang, the change is certainly necessary – one that will give Singapore a sorely needed modern sports hub that is sorely lacking at the moment. Still, there is that part of me that doesn’t want to let go … the part that will always remember Kallang fondly for the roller coaster rides not just that Wonderland brought with it, but the ones that the Lions took us on in the thrills and spills that accompanied their exploits in the Malaysia Cup.

Vanishing scenes around Nicoll Highway.

The north east floodlight tower looks like it would be the first of the four to come down.

More views around the stadium and its environs taken on 28 Sep 2010:
















All stripped and ready for action in a wonderful celebration for Singapore!

26 08 2010

Yesterday’s superb performance by the Singapore boys football team in the 2010 Youth Olympic Games (YOG) third and fourth place playoff against Montenegro was accompanied by a wonderful announcement that work on the long delayed and much needed Sports Hub would finally be starting. Hopefully, the wonderful and spirited performance by the young cubs will along with the announcement about the sports hub, herald a new chapter in Singapore’s sporting scene. There is no doubt that the great YOG show put on, despite the lack of proper sports facilities and a few hiccups along the way, has done a great job in revitalising sports and interest in sports in Singapore and stellar performances by the young cubs and the other Singapore athletes promises a new age in sports.

The pitch of the National Stadium has been stripped and the signs are there that we may see the last of the stadium soon.

While I have expressed a tinge of sadness that the beloved National Stadium will soon be gone, her demolition is scheduled to start in October – the evidence of her final days have been there for a few months: the once pristine pitch has been stripped (see report in the 16 July edition of Today), and signs have been erected to notify the public of what is planned in her place, what is good to know is the promise of things to come. The successor to the grand old lady would certainly be grander … and bring about a stadium and facilities that are much needed to give the sports scene in Singapore a big boost.

The signs have been there for a month or so ...

Artist impression of the new sports hub as seen on the signs around the old National Stadium.

One thing that I was certainly glad to have last evening was the opportunity to witness the magnificent performance by the Singapore boys in the 4-1 triumph over a much bigger and a very robust Montenegran side. Where in the semi-final match against Haiti, in which the Singapore team was expected to win, the cubs, perhaps overawed by the occasion, displayed a lack of composure, in securing the victory and the bronze medal, they demonstrated a maturity and a team spirit that is an example for many to follow. I wasn’t there at the semi-finals, being too late to get tickets, but I was certainly glad for my son’s insistence on getting tickets for the final early enough. While reports would possibly have you think that the stadium wasn’t packed to the rafters, perhaps due to the early start … the atmosphere is certainly more than any 6000 seater stadium could deliver. Overcoming the loss of skipper Jeffrey Lightfoot early on after a strong challenge by a Montenegran player, and despite being pegged by by a Montenegran equaliser soon after Brandon Koh came on in place of Lightfoot, the splendid controlled game saw Singapore emerge with a well deserved victory. So well done boys and well done Singapore! Now all that is left is to see a good job done on the Sports Hub, to which I will look forward to going to after it is completed in April 2014, just in time to catch what should be an exciting football team of the future, based on the promise that our boys have shown in their superb team performance and third place finish in the YOG.

Tickets for the final matches had been sold out and crowds had gathered early to get their hands on spare tickets being released on the day.

Empty seats before the match.

The fans were soon out in force to show their support despite the early start.

A sign of things to come? A Montenegran player looking lost during the warm-up.

Majulah Singapura!

Singapore team captain Jeffrey Lightfoot going off after receiving a gash on the head early in the match.

Lightfoot was replaced by a favourite of the girls ... Brandon Koh.

The referee didn't win any fans with some of his decisions ...

The second half started as the floodlights came on and the sun set ...

The kick-off for the second half ...

The cubs started the second half with a quick goal which was soon followed by the award of a penalty ....

... which was duly converted to make it 3-1 to Singapore!

Much to the disappointment of the Montenegran team ...

The spirited display saw the cubs chasing for every ball ...

... leaving the goalkeeper with very little to do ... but he did respond with a few good saves when tested ...

The final kicks of the match ...

The match ended with the cubs scoring four for an emphatic triumph over a much bigger Montenegran side.

The final whistle brought with it scenes of jubilation reminiscent of Singapore's rare Malaysia cup triumphs!

The cubs celebrated their much deserved victory as their fans paid tribute to them ...





The story of Spain in and beyond the headlines

13 07 2010

Spain it is, and on the balance of how football’s World Cup was played, despite losing their opening encounter with the Swiss, Spain were certainly worthy winners. Although the final match against the Netherlands proved to be less entertaining than one would have expected between a polished Spanish team and the once masters of total football, the Oranje, the match did provide the excitement at the end, and some controversy too, the magnificent finish of Barça’s Andres Iniesta coming with an attack launched right after English referee Howard Webb missed a Spanish deflection on a Dutch free kick denying the Oranje a corner. This controversy and that the match was marred by what was seen to be roughhouse tactics employed by the Oranje to try to break Spanish control over the ball resulting in 13 yellow cards being brandished by Webb, 8 to the Netherlands and 5 to Spain, with Oranje Johnny Heitinga being shown a second yellow and hence a red, would probably dominate the news in many newspapers. But that really shouldn’t, and for most part, glancing at the front pages of the newspapers around the world, it is good to know that it hasn’t. I always enjoy glancing at the front pages after an event to grasp a sense of the mood of a nation in response to the event and in Spain of course, the newspapers would be splashed with the joy of a nation tasting World Cup success for the very first time, after years of misery and under-achievement. There is a story of Spain that perhaps the newspapers should really tell, not one of the narrow but sweet victory over a determined Dutch side, or the kung-fu kick Nigel de Jong landed on Xabi Alonso that Eric Cantona would have certainly been proud of, but one of unity in diversity.

The front pages of newspapers often provide an insight into the mood of a nation. "Reyes del mundo" or "Kings of the world" reads the La Vanguardia the morning after Spain's victory over the Netherlands.

Spain is indeed as diverse as nations go. The make-up of the national team itself is a reflection of that. With players made up of proud and independent thinking Catalunya, those from the Castillian heart of Spain, the far flung and rough Basque country, and even the Canary Islands, each with an outlook and identity as distinct as the landscapes are as you move from one region of Spain to another. What was on show during the World Cup was the unity the diverse members displayed as a team, combining into an unstoppable force that was able to overcome a German team that looked to be on its way to win the cup having demolished the fancied English and Argentinian teams putting four goals past each of them. It is from Spain that we see that the power of the team can defeat the teams where the focus held dwelt on individuals. So, where the Ronaldos, Rooneys and Messis flopped, what can be seen beyond the headlines is the triumph of teamwork and team spirit in the superb Spanish show during the World Cup.

"Lost"... The mood of the Netherlands summed up in the front page of Het Parool.

Elsewhere, in Netherlands, as one would have expected, the headlines on the front pages reflected a different mood, one of despair at their fall final hurdle for the third time in the quest for football’s ultimate reward. In Germany, with the exit of the national team at the hands of the Spanish in the semi-finals, the news was conspicuously absent from the front pages of the main broadsheets, and in the UK, the Times leads with the graphic image of Nigel de Jong executing the kung-fu style kick on Xabi Alonso, giving the game an appearance of a kick-boxing match, and a game which was difficult to officiate, drawing attention to the only thing England could contribute to the final, referee Howard Webb’s performance. Regional newspapers also tell a story,

Conspicuously missing from the headlines of the German broadsheets, news of the Spanish triumph over the Netherlands.

The Times leads with a very graphic image of Nigel de Jong's king-fu style kick, providing a negative impression of the game and bring attention to Howard Webb's performance in handling what would be seen to be a difficult game.

The pride of Catalunya, Carles Puyol on the front page of a regional newspaper from Catalunya.





A new day begins

11 07 2010

A new day begins today, marked by a stunning sunrise which I was able to catch on a morning drive. A new day certainly for the World Cup where two teams, Netherlands and Spain, would be meeting in the final to decide who would be the champions of the world for the next four years, both of which have never won what must be the sporting event of all sporting events. For the Spanish, it is a new experience having faltered at the quarter finals on many occasions, with which prompted many to lable them as the sport’s greatest underachievers. This time around, the team features what must be a golden generation of Spanish football, with some of the best talents in the game. Having overcome the mental stumbling block that they have long carried, having tasted success at the European Championships tow years ago, they will approach the game with confidence, having also disposed what must be the team that surprised and impressed many, Germany, who displayed a flair and brand of football not seen in a German team for a long time.

A new day begins with a glorious sunrise.

For the Netherlands, this would be their third final, having lost two back-to-back finals in the 1970s, when led by the prolific Johan Cruyff and Johan Neeskens, they played a flowing and exciting brand of football which lit the 1974 and 1978 World Cups up. I remember the 1974 World Cup particularly well as it was the first World Cup that I was aware enough to appreciate, and the spectacle that the final, shown live and in colour in Singapore (it was the first match to be telecast in colour in Singapore in the year that colour television was introduced to Singapore). The pulsating final in 1974 pitted hosts West Germany, featuring “Der Bomber” Gerd Müller, against the total football of the Netherlands, in which the Germans triumphed 2-1 despite going down to a first minute penalty. Many would probably have been hoping for a possible repeat for that final this time around, with perhaps the Germans displaying the flowing brand of football that was the hallmark of the Dutch team of the 1970s. But alas, the octopus did seem to have other ideas.

Decked with colours similar to that of the House of Orange. Should we be looking to the skies rather than at a mollusc?

Whatever it is, the final should be an interesting one, in which the general feeling is that the efficient passing and controlled game that Spain plays would win it for them, a result that Paul the octopus does not dispute. The Dutch themselves are no pushovers, and displaying the kind of efficiency and industry that perhaps is less of what one might expect from a team decked in the brilliant oranje of the House of Orange, an industry the perhaps is epitomised by the work rate of Dirk Kuyt when he plays for both his club side as well as in the National team. My heart is with Spain on this one, although I also enjoy watching the Dutch. However, I have got a strange feeling on this one … maybe the golden orange hues of the sunrise that greeted me this morning is a sign and that logic tells me that the law of averages should really be starting to make a dent on the record of the octopus. Whether that feeling is correct however, I wouldn’t my money on it. Whatever it is, we would very soon know when the match ends in the wee hours of the morning (in Singapore).





My Days in the Sun. Part 2: Epok-Epok, sports days and the marvels of MILO

4 05 2010

My second year at primary school provided me with a very different experience from the one I had in my first year. This was possibly because of two things, the first being having to attend school in the afternoon session (I had hitherto only attended school and kindergarten in the mornings); and the other was that I was able to relate much better to my fellow classmates and surroundings, having spent a year with them. While going to school in the morning session had provided me with the rest of the afternoon to finish up my homework and still have the time to have a game of football and watch Vic Morrow in Combat! after dinner, the afternoon session seemed to rob me of the day, having to spend a greater part of the morning finishing up homework and getting ready for school, with barely enough time to have an early lunch. I could on many days also squeeze a visit to my neighbour, Mr. Singh’s flat on the seventeenth storey, where for tea time promptly at four each afternoon, I would be greeted by wonderfully rich smell of strong tea being brewed and of heated ghee on chapati, as Mrs. Singh rolled the balls of dough out into flat circular shapes that was to become chapati as it heated on the flat iron pan manned by one of her daughters.

St. Michael's School has an especially large field for us to play football on.

The afternoon session, despite robbing me of much of my play time, did provide other opportunities for fun. Arriving earlier before school started than would have been possible with the morning session, did allow us to have that game of football that many of us itched to have. Playing under the gaze of the midday sun didn’t seem to cause us any discomfort as it would probably have today, and many of us would arrive for class drenched in perspiration brought about by the midday exertions, and a little too disheveled for the liking of our disapproving form teacher. This was possibly a contributing factor to it being more difficult to keep one’s concentration in the afternoons. The afternoon heat also played its part – I would sometimes feel inclined to indulge in a siesta, even though I did not have the habit of taking an afternoon nap. The afternoons seemed to drag on forever, broken only by too short a recess time during which the field rather than the tuckshop appealed to most of us. In any case, by the logic of a seven year old, the 30 cents that I got for my daily allowance would better spent on the Jolly Lolly from the ice cream vendor at the end of the day.

The end of the school day was always looked to in anticipation for most of us, not just for the release it provided from the shackles of the classroom, but for the chance to grab that tied up plastic bag of sweet coloured and flavoured cold drinks, or what is till this day, the best epok-epok (fried puffs of pastry with potato or sardine curry fillings) that I had ever sunk my teeth into. This could be when requested, filled with a generous amount of chilli sauce that made the epok-epok taste just so good! I always watched with keen interest as the epok-epok man dispensed the chilli sauce from a bottle topped with a spout, which he violently poked into the potato curry filled cavity of the epok-epok. The vendors lined the fence which ran along the edge of the car park where the school buses waited for their passengers, along the big drain, and the place always seemed to be bustling with activity, almost like a market place. There we would have had to tread carefully to avoid stepping on the foul smelling noni fruit that seemed to litter the ground. Besides ice cream, cold drinks and epok-epok, there was this man who sometimes came on a bicycle with a glass fronted tin mounted at the back of his bicycle. The tin had three compartments, each filled with keropok (crackers) of a different flavour: fish, prawn and tapioca. That I would rather spend my allowance on epok-epok rather than the keropok that everyone seemed to associate me with, is probably a testament to how good the epok-epok really was!

I was, somewhere through the year in Primary 2, conferred with the nick name of Keropok by the driver of the mini bus I took to school. He explained later that it was because I was always seen clasping a packet of keropok – my favourite being the rounded fish flavoured keropok that I still enjoy these days. My bus mates caught on to it, and would later take to chanting “Keropok, Keropok, Keropok” as the bus passed on the other side of the road before making a U-turn to pick me up.

The Sack Race was a favourite event during lower primary school sports days.

The year spent in Primary 2 was also memorable for the introduction it provided me to sports. Our Physical Education (P.E.) lessons had, in Primary 1, been something less than enjoyable. In Primary 2,  Mr. George Kheng our P.E. teacher, a keen football fan, organised the four houses into teams named after popular English clubs. There was Everton, Tottenham Hotspurs, another team which I can’t quite remember (could have been Coventry City) and Liverpool (Thomas or Blue house which I belonged to). I suppose that this contributed greatly to me supporting Liverpool Football Club. P. E. lessons besides becoming a lot more football centered, also became a lot more fun.

Relay race with a ball.

Primary 2 was a year for which Sports Day was something to look forward to. Where in Primary 1, I was caught up in the awe and excitement of the occasion, I was probably able to take it all in a little better in Primary 2. We had all kinds of events that allowed mass participation, such as the sack race and another which had us balancing an egg on a teaspoon as we raced across the field. Sports day was for many of us, best remembered for the MILO van, which seemed to be a feature of every sports day then. Somehow, sports days just wouldn’t be sports days without it being around. I can’t quite remember if it actually a van or a small truck which was opened up at the sides, but what was certain was that it always meant the little green paper cups of chilled chocolate flavoured fluid that we would gratefully quench our thirsty throats with. It certainly felt marvellous what MILO could do for us!

Ice Cold Milo served in little green paper cups was a great thirst quencher during our school sports days.





Singapore’s golden boy signs for Man U?

1 04 2010

For most of us, the introduction to April Fools’ Day would probably have been back in school when silly pranks are played, accompanied by the taunt of “April Fool!” to the unsuspecting person the prank is played on. It could range from an “Oh, there is a bug on you shirt” to some more elaborate pranks involving careful planning. One rather elaborate but rather distasteful prank I can recall was one in college when a mock terrorist attack was staged, bringing panic and pandemonium to the lecture hall.

The origins of April Fools’ Day had not been quite well established, although a common belief is that it originated in France, where it is called “Poisson d’Avril” or “April Fish”, where in the 16th century, when the beginning of the year was changed from the end of March (or 1st April) to 1st January, traditionalists who continued to insist on celebrating the New Year on 1st April were made the subject of ridicule.

Singapore's golden boy of football, Fandi Ahmad, was the subject in an April Fools' hoax carried by the Sunday Times in 1984.

Over the years, even the media has been involved in putting hoaxes forward to a gullible public. This brings to mind one hoax in Singapore that perhaps caught many off guard: the Sunday Times had carried a report on the front page that had the golden boy of Singapore football, Fandi Ahmad, who was at that time at the peak of his career and playing for the Dutch outfit FC Groningen, signing for Manchester United. The giveaway was that he was to play his first game for Manchester United in an exhibition match against FC Groningen on 31st June, but somehow this eluded many including the Malaysian news agency Bernama, with the agency issuing a note to retract the story which came hours too late! I was myself fooled – and being a supporter of a rival football club, I certainly wasn’t too pleased to hear the news, only realising that it was all a hoax when the newspaper announced the following day that it was all a joke!





1974, a year of football madness

12 02 2010

1974 was a year which I remember most for the feast of football that it provided. That was of course the year in which the World Cup was to be staged. That year it was to be hosted by West Germany, the half of western leaning half of a Germany split by the Cold War into East and West. The World Cup was something that I had looked forward to in anticipation being a little too young to appreciate the spectacle that the World Cup had provided four years earlier in Mexico City. It was also the year in which football fever reached a fever pitch in Singapore riding on the good run of the Singapore team in the Malaysia Cup competition, and with the year closing with the visit to Singapore of the world’s greatest footballer: Edson Arantes Do Nascimento, known to us all as Pelé.

Pelé in action: Pelé was considered by many to be the greatest footballer of all time. He held a coaching session at the humble Toa Payoh Stadium in December 1974 (Photo source: BBC).

For me, what started with kicking a ball around the wide corridor that was the circular lift landing of the block of flats I lived in with a few neighbours (and having to scramble down 19 floors every time the ball flew over the parapet), developed into a passion for the game by the time 1974 had arrived. The neighbourhood boys had formed a team in which I somehow ended up playing as a goalkeeper for. In school, my classmates and I were kicking a ball every little scrap of time we found: before school, during recess and during P.E. lessons. I had also become an avid follower of the English game – of which we would get a glimpse of through highlights shown every Sunday of the previous weekend’s action. I became a big fan of the mopped haired Kevin Keegan and the team he played for, Liverpool, and remember 1974 well for their triumph in the F.A. Cup – beating Newcastle United 3-0 in the finals in May of that year. Unfortunately, the team didn’t win the Division 1 championship that year, losing out to Leeds United.

My football mad classmates and me in the Class football team.

The visit of Pelé would perhaps have been the highlight of the year of football to many Singaporeans. For my friends and me, the football crazed schoolboys that we were, the opportunity to see the world’s greatest player up close on the pitch of the Toa Payoh Stadium on 2 December of that year was certainly one not to be missed, even if that meant watching him demonstrating his sublime skills from a distance. He had been scheduled to conduct a coaching clinic for a select few, and my older neighbours had got wind of it and brought me along as a most willing accomplice.

The National Stadium provided the setting for a football match in 1974 that left a lasting impression on me.

What would, however, leave a greater impression on me that year was not seeing Pelé in person, or the World Cup, but, watching the first leg of the semi-final of the Malaysia Cup between Singapore and Penang at the National Stadium. That match played on 26 May, was the first that I ever watched live in a stadium and would be one that got me hooked on the Malaysia Cup. As a match, the semi-final was filled with much drama as the tide ebbed and flowed. Penang took the lead early on before Singapore equalised. At the interval Singapore was trailing 1-2 and the game looked beyond Singapore. However, a second half revival which saw wave after wave of Singapore attacks, and Singapore’s Jaafar Yacob hitting the bar from the penalty spot, saw Singapore first equalising through Quah Kim Lye, and scoring a winning goal through its captain Seak Poh Leong.

The National Stadium under construction in 1973.

What I remember most about the match was the raucous atmosphere in the stadium and how the stadium literally shook as the match went on. The stadium had been packed to the rafters, probably seeing the largest crowd ever seen in the stadium. 70,000 fans had crammed in spilling into the aisles. My parents and me had been seated right at the top of the East Stand of the stadium, as the stadium had already been packed when we arrived some two hours before the match. While not being the best place to observe the action on the field, it provided an ideal vantage point from which to observe and soak up the atmosphere  on the terraces. The thunderous noise that accompanied each wave of Singapore’s attacks was deafening! This was amplified by the stamping of feet by the boisterous crowd causing the whole stadium to tremble. This was definitely the Kallang Roar, which was in its infancy, at its loudest! The atmosphere was electric, as fans rose in excitement at each attack, corner, free-kick and unpopular refereeing decisions, which had me shaking in excitement even after the game had ended.  The team then featured the likes of Dollah Kassim, Mohammad Noh, Quah Kim Lye and Quah Kim Song, all household names in Singapore football in the 1970s. Unfortunately, the efforts of the team on the night came to nought as Singapore lost 1-4 to Penang in the return leg.

The newly constructed stadium was the most modern in South East Asia and provided an ideal setting for the birth of the Kallang Roar (Photo source: Singapore Sports Council).

I had watched the 1st leg of the semi-final seated near the cauldron as the stadium was packed with 70,000 spectators.

After following the exploits of the Singapore team and rejoicing at Liverpool’s triumph in the F.A. Cup, next on the menu was that summer’s World Cup, one in which we were very much mesmerised by the magic woven by the feet of the new Dutch masters led by the two Johans: Neeskens and Cruyff. We were treated to a show of “total football” by the Dutch, who met West Germany in the final. There was some controversy surrounding the German route to the finals in which it was suggested that they deliberately lost 0-1 to their eastern counterparts during the group stages to avoid meeting the defending champions Brazil in the next stage. Whatever it was, Germany eventually triumphed 2-1 in a pulsating final which saw two penalties awarded, the first to the Dutch in the very first minute before any German player had touched the ball, through a Gerd Muller goal.

Johan Cruyff in action during the final of the 1974 World Cup (Photo source: Wikipedia).

1974 saw the introduction of a new trophy after Brazil's third triumph in 1970 allowed Brazil to keep the original Jules Rimet trophy (Photo source: Wikipedia).

1974 was certainly for me, a year to be remembered for the football feast that it served up to me.








Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,310 other followers

%d bloggers like this: