Not quite the roar, but the new Kallang’s rocking

19 08 2014

Try as he might the stadium announcer at Saturday’s Singapore Selection versus Juventus football match couldn’t quite coax the crowd into reaching the decibel levels of the long unheard Kallang Roar. The roar, named after the thunderous noise of cheering supporters literally rocking the stsaium’s structure in days when the original National or Kallang Stadium was packed to capacity in playing host to Malaysia Cup matches (it would be packed with as many as 70,000 fans during its early years, before that was reduced to 55,000). Much feared by Singapore’s footballing opponents, much was made of it as the twelfth man in the many games Singapore played against the Malaysian State teams in the competition.

The impressive roof, a section of the crowd, and a view of the colours of the sunset.

The impressive roof, a section of the crowd, and a view of the colours of the sunset.

The new stadium with the silhouette of a dragon boat team in the Kallang Basin seen at sunrise.

The new stadium, seen at sunrise, just at the time of its completion.

The purr was, I guess, to have been expected. It is early days yet with the first football match being played a non-competitive one with terraces half-filled. And while the brand new stadium may have lacked the atmosphere of the old and the pitch showing obvious signs of not being completely play-worthy, it does impress, not just from a perspective of its architecture, but also in many areas that matters to the spectator – especially so the ventilation system and the seating.

There were obvious signs of bare sandy patches on the pitch.

There were obvious signs of bare sandy patches on the pitch.

Whether the roar will return is left to be seen. This we may have a sense of in a few months when Singapore co-hosts the Asean Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup in November. What then is heard during matches involving the Singapore team, will perhaps serve a more accurate barometer of whether with the new stadium, the Kallang Roar will make its return.

Despite the goalkeeper's acrobatics, the Singapore Selection let in five goals without reply.

Despite the goalkeeper’s acrobatics, the Singapore Selection let in five goals without reply.

First match, first casualty ...

First match, first casualty …

Adoring Juve fans ...

Adoring Juve fans …

And the man they came to see, Andrea Pirlo.

And the man they came to see, Andrea Pirlo.

Numero cinque going in.

Numero cinque going in.


Opening up a backdoor

6 01 2014

An partly wooded area on the edges of Toa Payoh that for long has been insulated from the concrete invasion next to it is the plot of land south of Toa Payoh Rise and the site on which the former Toa Payoh Hospital (ex Thomson Road General Hospital) once stood (see also a previous post: Toa Payoh on the Rise). That, is a world currently in the midst of a transformation, one that will probably see the face of it changed completely and one that will destroy much of the tranquil charm the area would once be remembered for.

A formerly quiet area on the fringes of Toa Payoh that is in the midst of a huge transformation.

A formerly quiet area on the fringes of Toa Payoh that is in the midst of a huge transformation.

The elevated area, is bounded in the north by Toa Payoh Rise, in the south by the expansive grounds of the former Thomson Primary and Secondary Schools, and to the west by Thomson Road, where the SLF Complex – a mid-1980s addition to the area and a wooded area that has been referred to a Grave Hill is found. Grave Hill was where the grave of the illustrious Teochew immigrant, successful merchant and community leader, Seah Eu Chin, was discovered in November 2012 (see Straits Times report dated 28 Nov 2012: Teochew pioneer’s grave found in Toa Payoh and also Seah Eu Chin – Found! on All Things Bukit Brown).

Grave Hill is located on the left of the photograph.

Grave Hill is located on the left of the photograph.

Much work has already been carried out in the vicinity of Toa Payoh Rise – the construction of the Circle Line’s Caldecott MRT Station has seen the area left vacant when the buildings of the former Toa Payoh Hospital were torn down, take on a new face. This, along with the expanded Toa Payoh Rise – previously a quiet road where the calls of tree lizards were heard over the noise of the traffic, is perhaps a harbinger of things to come.

What the future does hold for the area - from the URA Draft Master Plan 2013.

What the future does hold for the area – from the URA Draft Master Plan 2013.

Looking into the crystal ball that is the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s (URA) plans, the latest being the Draft Master Plan 2013 released in November 2013, we can see that a vast part of the area will be given to future residential development with transport infrastructure to support the developments probably kicking-off the complete transformation of the area. Besides surface roads that will be built and the already built Circle Line station, there will also be a Thomson MRT Line station that will expand Caldecott Station into an interchange station, and also the construction underground of the planned North-South Expressway.

The former Thomson Secondary School, now occupied by SJI International.

The grounds for the former Thomson Primary and Secondary Schools, now occupied by SJI International, is a area I was acquainted with in my Toa Payoh childhood.

One part of the area that is familiar to me from my Toa Payoh childhood, is the grounds of the former Thomson schools, now occupied by SJI International School – an area the construction of the North-South Highway will also be change to. The huge sports field down the slopes from where the school buildings are, was often where football teams formed by groups of boys from the Toa Payoh neighbourhood would meet to play a match in the early 1970s – taking a short cut to the grounds from Lorong 1 from the area close to where the Philips factory is.

A inter-schools match being played on the football pitch in 1972 (source:

A inter-schools match being played on the football pitch in 1972 (source:

A pavement where there once wasn't, along a well-trodden path that served as a shortcut to Thomson Primary and Secondary Schools from Toa Payoh.

A pavement where there once wasn’t, along a well-trodden path that served as a shortcut to Thomson Primary and Secondary Schools from Toa Payoh.

Besides providing the huge playing fields, I always thought that the grounds of the schools placed them in a such a beautiful setting, one that rose high above the main road, close to the forest of trees now being replaced by a forest of towering trunks of concrete. For students of the schools getting in from Thomson Road however, it must have been quite a chore to have to walk up the incline of the road everyday just to get to school – a sight that greeted me passing on the bus in the mornings was the stream of students making what appeared to be a very slow climb up the rising road.

The playing field seen today.

The playing field seen today.

Another view of the field and the expansive grounds.

Another view of the field and the expansive grounds.

The schools were relocated at the end of 2000, after occupying the grounds for over four decades. Thomson Secondary does trace its history by to 1956 as a Government Chinese Middle School when, based on information at the website of North Vista Secondary School (which it was renamed as after its relocation to Sengkang), it was formed. Through a merger of Thomson Government Chinese Middle School and co-located Thomson Vocational School, Thomson Secondary was formed in the second half of the 1960s. Thomson Primary on the other hand started its life as Toa Payoh Integrated Primary School.

Towering trunks of concrete seen rising behind the former Thomson Secondary School.

Towering trunks of concrete seen rising behind the former Thomson Secondary School.

Next to the grounds of the schools, the twin octagonal towers of the SLF Complex, has dominated the landscape since the mid-1980s. Built by the Singapore Labour Foundation, one tower, built originally with the intention that all unions affiliated to the National Trades Union Congres (NTUC) could be housed under one-roof, was sold to the Ministry of Community Development (currently the Ministry of Social and Family Development or MSF) in 1986. The People’s Action Party, which has ruled Singapore since independence, also had its headquarters in the SLF Complex. It moved the headquarters there in 1986 from Napier Road, before moving out to its current premises in New Upper Changi Road in 1996.

The Singapore Polo Club has occupied its current grounds since 1941.

The twin octagonal towers of the SLF Complex as is seen from the Singapore Polo Club across Thomson Road.

At the SLF Complex’s backdoor, which leads out to Toa Payoh West, the impending transformation that will come to the area is very much in evidence. Clearance work is already underway on both sides of the road that will permit construction works for the future MRT line as well as tunneling work for the future expressway to be carried out.

Clearance work is already being carried out at Toa Payoh West.

Clearance work is already being carried out at Toa Payoh West.

On the south side of the road, a complex of low-rise buildings from a more recent past is currently in its final days – demolition work on the complex, the former Elders’ Village is already underway. The village, completed in 1995, was put up by the Singapore Action Group of Elders’ (SAGE) on land it obtained on a 30-year lease which expired in 2012. SAGE originally had ambitious plans for the Elders’ Village, which would have included resort-type facilities and chalets, but was forced to scale back on plans due to a lack of funds.

The former SAGE Elders' Village as is seen from the SLF Complex, now being demolished.

The former SAGE Elders’ Village as is seen from the SLF Complex, now being demolished.

A view of the clearance works around Toa Payoh West.

A view of the clearance works around Toa Payoh West.

On the relentless march Singapore has embarked on towards achieving its vision for the future, there certainly will not be any lack of funds. Much activity seems now to focused on developing roads, transportation links and housing to support the huge growth in population that is anticipated (see also: Population White Paper and the supporting Land Use Plan). With this effort, many places such as the quiet and somewhat forgotten buffer between Toa Payoh and Thomson Road, will all too soon have to go. While the efforts will bring us new worlds some may wish to celebrate, with it will also come the inevitable crowd of concrete. And while it is nice to see that the Draft Master Plan 2013 does provide for many pockets of green spaces, there will however be but a few places left on the island that will be left to find an escape that for me will increasingly be needed.

Another view of the former Elders' Village.

Another view of the former Elders’ Village.

Changing Landscapes in the vicinity:

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.

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 ...

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).

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.