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).





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.