Changing Landscapes: The end of the roadway

29 01 2014

One of the remnants of Singapore’s first civil airport at Kallang, a dual carriageway roadway lined with reminders of a time that has been forgotten, is no more. The roadway, left behind perhaps as a reminder of lead-in and exit to and from the airport for over half a century after the airport ceased operations in 1955, seems now itself one Singapore wishes to forget. It is now cut-off from vehicular traffic that in times more recent, would have used it as an access to or from the National Stadium or Nicoll Highway, with a larger capacity and more direct road having been built to take traffic to the new National Stadium and the Singapore Sports Hub which is scheduled to be completed in May 2014.

The wonderful cover of trees over the old road.

The wonderful cover of trees over the old road.

The former entrance pillars to Singapore's first civil airport.

The former entrance pillars to Singapore’s first civil airport.

The now closed roadway seen today.

The now closed roadway seen today.

Looking towards the former junction with Geylang Road.

Looking towards the former junction with Geylang Road.

The roadway at the airport's opening in 1937 (source: http://archivesonline.nas.sg/).

The roadway to the airport in 1945 (source: http://archivesonline.nas.sg/).





Rebirth

17 07 2013

The demolition of the former National Stadium in 2010 and the construction of a new National Stadium within the Singapore Sports Hub does bring to mind an art installation I stumbled upon at Sculpture Square back in 2010 – around the time the demolition work started. The work of local artist Ngim Kum Thong, Deconstruction, Destruction and Destination, examines the inevitability of deconstruction and destruction, the eventuality of which is a destination – much as what we have seen in the dismantling and demolition of an icon and the creation of another to replace it.

The sun sets on the National Staidum. The final stand as the old stadium built in 1973 was being demolished at the end of 2010.

The sun sets on the National Staidum. The final stand as the old stadium built in 1973 was being demolished at the end of 2010.

The former National Stadium, was completed in 1973, playing host to Singapore’s very first mass participation international sports event. Through the years, the 55,000 seat capacity stadium (it did take in crowds as large as 70,000 during its early days hosting Malaysia Cup matches) played host to many sports events including the well supported Malaysia Cup football matches and also National Day parades. It’s demolition in the second half of 2010 was a long delayed one – work on the Singapore Sports Hub was originally meant to have started back in 2008. More recently an announcement was made by the Singapore Sports Council (SSC) on the occasion of  the Acting Minister for Culture, Community and Youth’s visit to view the installation of the highest truss of the new stadium – approximately 77.5 metres above pitch level, confirms that the project is on track and the stadium will be opened as scheduled in April 2014.

The sun rises on the new. The new National Stadium and the Sports Hub takes shape - seen in April 2013. The Sports Hub is scheduled to be completed in April 2014.

The sun rises on the new. The new National Stadium and the Sports Hub takes shape – seen in April 2013. The Sports Hub is scheduled to be completed in April 2014.





Monoscapes: Death of a National icon

16 04 2013

6.56 pm on 8 February 2011. Descending storm clouds cast a pall of gloom over the last pieces standing of the National Stadium, the demolition of which was completed in the same month. Built at Kallang Park on a reclaimed plot of land which had once been used for Singapore’s first international civil airport, the stadium which was to become a National icon was completed in 1973. It was the year Singapore hosted its very first major international mass sporting event, the 7th South-East Asian Peninsula (SEAP) Games. The stadium also went on to be used as a home ground for the widely supported Singapore football team in the Malaysia Cup competition, packing as many as 70,000 spectators (its capacity was to later be capped at 55,000) and acquiring a fearsome reputation as the home of the “Kallang Roar”.

IMG_5520

Going the way of several other National icons from a less extravagant era in our history, its place will be taken by a new stadium which is being built as part of the new Singapore Sports Hub. The new stadium is scheduled to be completed in 2014.





The sun rises on a strange horizon

20 03 2013

A sunrise over a strange and unfamiliar horizon, 7.08 am 20 March 2013, taken from the mouth of the Kallang River. It wasn’t so long ago that the view would have been towards the pods of the former Oasis Restaurant; the silhouettes not of the clutter of tower cranes that have become all too common a sight in Singapore, but that of the floodlight towers of the old National Stadium.

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The old stadium, home of the once feared Kallang Roar, with its many memories of days when football was played and supported for the love of the game, has since been torn down, and out of the ashes of the well loved grand old dame,  a new stadium – the Singapore Sports Hub is rising. That is scheduled to be opened in April 2014.

The sun will soon rise over the Singapore Sports Hub (currently under construction).

The sun will soon rise over the Singapore Sports Hub (currently under construction).





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.





Reflections on Old Kallang Airport (Singapore Biennale 2011)

18 03 2011

[Do note that if you are planning a visit to the Biennale at Old Kallang Airport, the entrance is at Stadium Link, off Geylang Road, a short walk away from Kallang MRT Station. A link to a Google Map with the specific location of the entrance can be found at the end of this post].


Glancing at the headline of yesterday’s article on page 2 of the Life section of the Straits Times, which read “Biennale’s Kallang site not ideal. Visitors say that Old Kallang Airport, one of four venues for the art event, is difficult to get to and very stuffy”, and the lack of interest that is apparent at the venue so far with the exception of Saturday’s Open House Opening Party, one certainly can’t help but have a feeling that the choice of the site of the Singapore’s first civil airport, Old Kallang Airport, wasn’t a good one. I for one, did not mind the absence of a crowd, as that provided me with an opportunity to explore the marked historic site at leisure taking in as much as I could, grateful for the opportunity to explore buildings that I had previously only glanced at from behind a fence. In walking around, I couldn’t help but feel that it was a brilliant idea to do so, not just from the perspective of providing the public access to what had for long otherwise been a closed-off site, but also that the site was ideal for such an event, providing the spatial requirements required that does not exist in the confines of the museum buildings and sites in the city centre. Yes, maybe the site does seem a world away from the convenience of the city, but it isn’t really too far away and readily accessible via public transport, with the Kallang MRT station being a short enough walk away from the entrance to the site. Perhaps what is lacking isn’t the convenience that some have voiced their opinions about, but the information that the public needs to know.

The sign at the entrance of Old Kallang Airport.

The entrance of Old Kallang Airport.

I guess I am one for old places, especially the few that reamin that I can identify in some way from the childhood I had in a Singapore time has erased. The distinctive terminal building of the old airport with its control tower, which by the time I arrived in the world, was used by the People’s Association (PA) as its headquarters, had always been one that I had associated with Kallang and the Nicoll Highway, rising on the left of the east bound carriageway of Singapore’s first highway built after the airport had ceased operations. That would be the approach to the old Guillemard Circus and the wonderful neon signs that I somehow associate with the roundabout. There were many times that I had passed the building on foot as well, cutting on the side of it through from Kallang Road on the way to the National Stadium to catch a match or in the two months that I would have walked by on an almost daily basis on the way to Jalan Bennan Kapal. The tower adorned with the rings of the PA’s logo, had always caught my eye, rising somewhat defiantly and proudly to remind us of its past as Singapore’s first civil airport all those years back.

The distinctive terminal building which is a landmark in the area.

Another view of the terminal building.

The entrance gate to the terminal building.

Perhaps the inspiration for this set of photographs ... a work on display in the terminal building.

The reminders of its previous role had been everywhere, with names such as “Old Airport Road” and Dakota Crescent around. So even with me not having seen it used as an airport, I had been aware of it since I could remember … The airport had I was to discover, was built as an airfield on the site of land reclaimed from the swampy Kallang Basin in 1937 at the cost of S$9 million. It was opened very grandly by the then Govenor of Singapore, Sir Shenton Thomas, who flew in from Seletar for the occasion with some 70 aircraft there to mark the occasion. The location next to the Kallang Basin proved useful as it also allowed seaplanes to land. It was used by the Japanese who built a paved runway during the occupation, and refurbished by the British on their return. And although there were plans to expand and upgrade the airport the the end of the 1940s and early 1950s, it was thought that effort involved would prove too costly and Kallang was abandoned for a new inetrnational airport at Paya Lebar. Paya Lebar started operations in 1955 and that saw the last of Kallang as a civil airport, with the PA moving into the site in 1960. On the evidence of old photographs, the hangars were used by the Public Works Department (PWD) after the airport closed. The bulk of the location of the main runway was then transformed into Kallang Park one which the Oasis Restaurant, Wonderland Amusement Park and later the National Stadium, Indoor Stadium and Kallang Leisuredrome was built.

The main hangar next to the West Block.

The West Block and the main hangar off the window of the terminal building.

A smaller hangar, once used as a second hand car showroom.

An auxiliary building.

Another view of the smaller hangar.

It was certainly nice to walk around the old site and reflect on this, and hence the theme of this post … much of the old airport grounds that are left have been left in not so much its original state, but in a state that perhaps the PA had left them in – which I thought wonderfully complemented the exhibits. That also meant a lot of the wear and tear was evident from not just the use of the buildings by the PA, but the hangars by used car dealers at some point in time – I remember seeing them still at the end of the 1990s passing by after a concert at the Indoor Stadium. That provided me with an alternative view of the buildings – reflected off puddles of water and off windows and mirrors. I certainly did not get enough of it on the two occasions that I visited and I will certainly return for more.

A Toast Box cafe set up in one of the smaller hangars.

The side of a hangar.

The roof of the smaller hangar.

The main hangar.

Ventilation openings on the side of the main hangar.

The inside of the main hangar.

Roof of the main hangar.

Windows on the side of the main hangar.

Windows on the side of the main hangar.

Some of the auxiliary buildings on the premises - I understand that these were used by the Singapore Chinese Orchestra in the 1990s.

A newer auxiliary building ... perhaps added in the 1950s as an expanded air traffic control centre.

A peek under a marquee.

Another view of the terminal building and an auxiliary building.

A reflection of the East Block on a mirror mounted on an auxiliary building.

A last look ....

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What’s to become of Old Kallang Airport? Thankfully, we should see that it is conserved for our future generations – it would be nice to see it turned into some kind of aviation museum though:

URA Letter to the Strait Times, 5 Mar 2010

URA has plans for old Kallang Airport site

I THANK Mr Edwin Pang for his Forum Online letter last Friday, 'Turn site into civil aviation heritage centre'.

The former Kallang Airport is located within Kallang Riverside, which is envisioned to be a new lifestyle hub at the fringe of the city area under the Urban Redevelopment Authority's (URA) 2008 Master Plan.

The former Kallang Airport passenger terminal building with its distinctive art deco structure, as well as the office buildings, former hangar, Old Airport Square and other historical structures, was designated a heritage area and conserved in 2008 to preserve memories while allowing for a new lease of life.

In future, they will be adapted to new uses as part of a future development centred on the conserved Old Airport Square, offering a wide range of lifestyle, entertainment and retail facilities.

In January, the Singapore Biennale committee announced that it was considering the former Kallang Airport as a venue for the festival next year. URA and the Singapore Land Authority are glad that the artistic community has found heritage buildings to be suitable venues for contemporary art events. Past editions of the Biennale were also held in heritage environments.

The synergy between heritage buildings and contemporary arts is useful in bringing the awareness of our conservation buildings to the wider public and helps to endear our heritage buildings to Singaporeans.

Hwang Yu-Ning (Ms)
Group Director (Physical Planning)
Urban Redevelopment Authority


Getting to Old Kallang Airport:

The entrance to Old Kallang Airport is located at Stadium Link, off Geylang Road and is a ten minute walk from Kallang MRT Station. Please click on this link for the specific location.






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.





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:
















Adios Amigo! The beginning of the end of the National Stadium

8 09 2010

Preparation work for the long anticipated demolition for one of places in Singapore for which I have many fond memories of, the National Stadium, has finally begun. Last Friday, heavy equipment started moving in, occupying the open space in front of the East Entrance, and this week, we see a fence being erected around some parts of the much loved stadium as she is being readied for demolition work proper which should commence in October, based on a news release by the Singapore Sports Council on 25 Aug 2010. Besides the heavy equipment and the erection of the fence, there is also quite a lot of activity happening inside the stadium, where salvageable and reusable items including the wooden planking that served as benches on the terraces are being painstakingly removed and moved out of the stadium before the wrecker’s ball descends on the grey concrete terraces in October …

Heavy equipment has been moved to the site of the former National Stadium as preparation work is being carried out for its eventual demolition.

Mobile cranes and parts of the fixed tower cranes that the mobile cranes will erect moved into the area in front of the East entrance last Friday.

A fence is being erected around the former stadium ... and we would soon lose sight of it.

The wooden seating in the gallery has been ripped out of the terraces.





The next poster boy of football?

31 08 2010

Having been caught up in the wave of hysteria and euphoria that accompanied the appearance of some good looking Korean pop stars, in particular, a certain Alexander of the band U-KISS on my recent trip to Hong Kong, I was caught up with a mini-version of that for who is potentially a hero in the making in not so much the local music scene, but in the local sports scene. It was in sitting on the stands of the Jalan Besar Stadium during last Wednesday’s bronze medal playoff for the boys football competition for the 2010 Youth Olympic Games (YOG), that I may have observed the making of this new cult hero, a certain Brandon Koh, who plays as a midfielder for the Singapore youth football team that participated in the YOG. Brandon certainly has a small fan base amongst the members of the fairer sex on the evidence of the air of disappointment that seemed to overcome the many school girls that had gathered on the stands, when it became apparent that Brandon was missing from the starting eleven. The girls did not have to contain their disappointment for long though, when Singapore’s captain Jeffrey Lightfoot had to go off very early on with a bad gash which needed stitches. Amidst the concern and disappointment at the loss of the skipper, excited screams rose above the din to greet the entrance of the substitute in place of the unfortunate Jeffrey, none other than Brandon Koh.

Excited screams from the stands greeted Brandon Koh

Throughout the rest of the match the focus of many of the girls was on Brandon, with screams ringing out each time he touched the ball, but it was the hysteria that came at the end has to be the one which confirmed that we have a potential cult hero in the making in Brandon. Both at the end of the match, when the jubilant Singapore team, which had beaten Montenegro for the bronze, did a lap of honour (Brandon included), and later after the medal presentation ceremony, when they ran towards the celebrating fans in the stands, the school girls had gathered along the edge of the gallery, screaming their lungs out.

The jubilant Singapore players did a lap of honour at the end of the game, greeted by the screams of school girls who only had eyes for Brandon (left).

Team Singapore running towards the screaming girls in the stands after the medal presentation ceremony.

The excitement of the school girls was clearly visible, as they gathered at the edge of the gallery screaming their lungs out.

It certainly was very apparent who the screams were for, with shouts of “I love you, Brandon” rising above the uncontrolled screaming, as the girls jostled for the best position to catch a glimpse of Brandon, throwing whatever they could get their hands on for him to autograph, with even school text books and exercise books being flung onto the pitch by the screaming girls!

Brandon Koh was a big hit with the screaming girls in the stands.

School girls gathered along the edge of the gallery to catch a glimpse of Brandon Koh at the end of the medal presentation ceremony. School exercise books were among the things that were thrown down on the pitch to Brendon Koh to get him to put his autograph on them.

It somehow is nice to see scenes such as this. Perhaps, this is just what we need to generate interest in our local sporting scene which is sorely lacking. We have not in fact had many (at least in football) whom we can identify as poster boys for some time … not since Singapore’s participation in the Malaysia Cup perhaps, when the likes of Fandi Ahmad, Quah Kim Song, Dollah Kassim and many others before them gave local fans someone to identify the sport with. That had certainly stoked interest and inspired many taking the sport up, as well motivated the tens of thousands of fans who packed the National Stadium, and before that, the Jalan Besar Stadium, to cheer their exploits on the field.

Brendon seemed to be comfortable with all the attention and affection ... as screams of "I love you Brendon Koh" rose above the uncontrolled screams, as he posed for the girls.





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 ...





This time it is for real …

16 07 2010

There were a few with doubts after the few false starts we have had on the construction of the Sports Hub, but it does looked as if the time has really come for us to say goodbye to the Grand Old Lady. That is on the evidence of the report and photograph in the sports section of today’s Today newspaper. Having already said a fond farewell to her, and to the area around her for which I have many fond memories of from the days passing by on my way to the shipyard which I was attached to in nearby Jalan Benaan Kapal, and from the many sports events I have attended, of which the Malaysia Cup and more recently the Tiger Cup football matches would be at the top of the list, I somehow feel that I must say goodbye again. So goodbye my old friend … and thanks so much for the memories you have given to me and to Singapore.

The pitch has been stripped and ready for the bulldozers (source: http://www.todayonline.com)

The stadium at the beginning of June this year.





A last look at Kallang as it was

1 07 2010

It does look as if this time it is for real. The signs have come up to confirm that preparations are indeed being made for the long awaited and long delayed construction of the Sports Hub. The car parks around the old National Stadium would be closed from 16 July this year and from the sound of things, the National Stadium would be handed over to the Sports Hub Consortium and the demolition of the Grand Old Lady would be start after the close of the Youth Olympic Games in August. So after a few false starts, it does finally seem that we will be saying goodbye to our beloved National Stadium.

The signs are up and this time it does look like the Grand Old Lady will take a bow.

Based on information on the Singapore Sports Council website, the construction and management, which is based on a public-private partnership (PPP) model, of the Sports Hub would be on a 35ha site in Kallang, and will include the following facilities:

  • A new 55,000-capacity National Stadium with a retractable roof;
  • A 6,000-capacity indoor Aquatic Centre that meets world tournament standards;
  • A 3,000-capacity multi-purpose arena which will be scalable and flexible in layout;
  • 41,000 sq m of commercial space
  • A Water Sports Centre
  • The existing 11,000-capacity Singapore Indoor Stadium; and Supporting leisure and commercial developments

The area where the Sports Hub will be developed (source: Singapore Sports Council).

Having already said farewell to the Grand Old Lady, it is appropriate to also bid goodbye to some of the views of which we have for so long identified with the area around the stadium…

The bus stop inherited from the City Shuttle Service (CSS) bus terminal.

Bench at the bus stop.

Close up of the end of the Bus Stop.

The sun sets on the stadium floodlights.

The old and the new. The stadium waits silently for its end next to the Kallang MRT station which has just had its beginning.

Also soon to go ... the buildings that were the once well known Oasis Restaurant.

The new icons of Singapore peeking out from behind the old.

What used to be the Oasis over the Kallang Basin.

The former Oasis.

The writing for the Oasis is on the wall?

The Oasis from the promenade.

Reflecting on the glorious old stadium.

A last view.

and another, of the Grand Old Lady ...

Floor tiles.

Clearing up would be a tremendous task.

What's to become of this resident, a collared kingfisher, once the work starts?


Some further views of the Grand Old Lady:

Saying goodbye ...

Terraces.

Terraces.

The policeman was a common sight.

A young fan.

The floodlights.

The floodlights.

Daniel Mark Bennett.

The sun sets.

The Vuvuzela came to town long before the South African World Cup.

The sun sets as the stadium waits in anticipation for the start of a match.

Here we go!

A last look at the floodlights as they dim and go off forever.





The Grand Old Lady takes a bow

4 06 2010

I guess the time has come to finally say goodbye to the Grand Old Lady, who for the many fanatical fans of the Singapore team during the days of Singapore’s participation in the Malaysia Cup, was the holy ground of football, to which they could be mesmerised by the magic of their football idols who carried the hopes of a nation, hungry for the taste of success that seemed for a while to elude the national team.

The grandstand of the Grand Old Lady.

The newly constructed stadium, opened in 1973 and was the most modern in South East Asia.

The “Boys in Blue” or the “Lions” as the national team was called had narrowly lost to South Vietnam in the semi-finals of the first major football competition to be played at the stadium after it was opened in 1973, and had not won the Malaysia Cup since 1965. Crowds of Singapore fans, packed the terraces for the first season of the competition in which Singapore’s home matches were played at the stadium, with as much as 70,000 people who literally shook the stadium with the sound of voices cheering in unison as tens of thousands of pairs of feet stamped on the terraces generating a thunderous reverberation of noise that came to be known as the “Kallang Roar”. The Kallang Roar was certainly instrumental in Singapore’s home form, and success soon came in the 1977 campaign. By then, the capacity of the stadium had been scaled down to 55,000, but that didn’t have much impact on the roar.

The gates that Singaporeans from all walks of life passed though as one Singapore.

The stadium was the place where Singaporeans from all walks of life came together as one, the terraces hosting a microcosm of Singapore. There, we were all Singaporeans, where we could forget the ethnic labels that serve only to keep us apart. There, we all spoke the same language, expressed the same emotions, and cheered as one united Singapore. I suppose it was fitting that the stadium in her old age, became a venue for the National Day Parades, where again, we could act as one Singapore.

The terraces were often packed with up to 70,000 fanatical spectators during Malaysia Cup matches in the 1970s.

We have been anticipating the day she will say goodbye to us, it was meant to have been a day some three years ago, but the old lady resisted, and came back to life for a while. This time, it does look that it is for real, and from the sound of it, demolition would begin after the Youth Olympic Games in August, as the old stadium makes way for the long delayed Sports Hub. So farewell my lady, and thanks for the wonderful memories you have provided over the years.

Masses of Singaporeans young and old were provided the opportunity with the construction of the stadium to follow the successes and disappointments of the Singapore football team.

Views in and around the stadium that would soon not be seen again:

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The National Stadium was opened in 1973 by Mr. Lee Kuan Yew.





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.








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