Retracing footsteps

12 09 2018

I enjoy visiting Kuala Lumpur for a variety of reasons. The Malaysian capital, known by its acronym KL to most, provides me with a sense of having returned home home in a way that home – some 200 miles away in Singapore – is no longer able to do.

An old market in KL.

It would seem strange, if not for the history Malaysia and Singapore shares and perhaps, for the frequent visits I have made to KL since I was a child. In the bits of the past, found in the modern of the bustling metropolis, I especially find joy in. The disorder of their shophouses, the clutter along the five-foot-ways, the colours and smells of old street markets and old coffee shops, are that reminder of the Singapore that I grew to love as a child that I would never otherwise be able to ever see again.

Lunch time at Lai Foong.

An old coffee shop that I remember from my childhood visits to the city, the Kedai Kopi Lai Foong, is one such reminder. An institution in a city in which there is no shortage of such old gems, the 1950s coffee shop seems little changed from the 1970s and is quite reminiscent of the busy urban centre coffee shops of Singapore’s lost past.

Mirror, mirror on the mosaic wall.  Mirrors were commonly given as opening gifts at coffee shops in Malaysia. Mosiac or kitchen tiles were commonly used on the walls of coffee shops both in Singapore and Malaysia as they could be easily cleaned and did not require frequent repainting.

Positioned at the corner of Jalan Tun H. S. Lee and Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock, it sits just across Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock from Petaling Street (or Chinatown). That and its proximity to Central Market – now the touristy Pasar Seni, has meant that the coffee shop has long attracted more than its fair share of the local crowd as well as a steady stream of out-of-town visitors. With Tripadvisor now inflating the number of would be visitors, any attempt to seat oneself in the confusion of tables and chairs in the shop’s confines, presents quite a challenge. Any intent to savour some of the coffee shop’s famous fare must now be accompanied by the patience of a saint, some guile, and most of all, a fair bit of luck; all of which I must have had when visited the coffee shop for a bowl of its much-talked about beef noodles back in June.

A scene reminiscent of the coffee shops of old Singapore, with its stalls lining the outer edge of the shop.

A posting I made on Facebook of the bowl of beef noodles invited a comment from a locally based acquaintance, in which a recommendation was made to have the wanton mee at Kedai Makanan Toong Kwoon Chye, another old kopitiam. With its location along Jalan Bukit Bintang also presenting me with an opportunity to reacquaint myself with an area of KL that I had lost touch with, there was enough of a motivation for me to hop on the MRT to Bukit Bintang, just a few days later.

Kedai Makanan Toong Kwoon Chye.

Despite the familiarity I had with the area, I had no impression at all of Toong Kwoon Chye prior to my June visit. I found it quite easily, tucked away in a quiet corner of the street. It might have been the time of the day but even if it was of a similar vintage to Lai Foong, Toong Kwoon Chye couldn’t have been more different. There was absolutely none of Lai Foong’s rush and time, seemed to slow to a standstill, the moment that I stepped into the coffee shop.

Furnished in what may be described as the classical kopitiam style, with marble topped tables and wooden chairs – sans the spittoons of course – Toong Kwoon Chye’s old coffee shop feel was made complete by its counter, even if it was somewhat more modern in looks than one might have expected. Just like any old coffee shop of the good old days, a row of clear-glass jars with red covers stood at one end, half filled with biscuits and other snacks for sale. With so much of a sleepy old out-of-town kopitiam vibe about it, it seemed fitting for me to while the morning away sipping on a cup of coffee and take the time to savour the plate of shredded chicken noodles that I had ordered.

The ebb and flow at Toong Kwoon Chye.

The lazy breakfast put me in the mood for an unhurried stroll, which first took me inside Sungai Wang Plaza. It was one of two interconnected malls from the 1970s I never failed to visit whenever I find myself in the area. The other, which I liked better, was Bukit Bintang Plaza. That has since made way for redevelopment. With little to distract me in Sungai Wang, I decided to continue my stroll outdoors instead and soon found myself retracing footsteps I must have last made some four decades past.

The changing face of Jalan Bukit Bintang – now missing BB Plaza.

The familiarity I had with Bukit Bintang had come out of numerous family holiday stopovers in KL. Holidays abroad in my childhood, with the exception of a visit to Thailand in 1978, invariably meant road trips across the Causeway. KL, a six-hour drive before the North-South Highway made drives a breeze, served as a break-journey point on the road up to more northerly destinations such as Cameron Highlands and Fraser’s Hill (at which the Singapore Government maintained holiday facilities for civil servants). The combination of affordable accommodation, shopping and food in Bukit Bintang, made it a good location to put up in.

Tong Shin Terrace.

One of the things we must have done with sufficient regularity, for me to have remembered them in such vivid detail, were the walks to Chinatown. That took us down Jalan Alor or Tong Shin Terrace, and then west along Jalan Pudu. Both Jalan Alor and Tong Shin Terrace seemed to have retained much of their character, although I am told that Jalan Alor’s well patronised nighttime eateries now cater to quite a different crowd.

I found myself taking a little detour into the area’s back lanes, perhaps in the hope of finding a nasi lemak stall that we had stumbled upon during a June 1979 sojourn in KL. That visit to KL was one to remember for several reasons. It provided me with my first experience as a football spectator outside of Singapore. The match that I caught was also one of huge importance to the Singaporean football fan of the 1970s, the Malaysia Cup final.

The back lanes around Tengkat Tong Shin.

The final, played at KL’s Stadium Merdeka, saw Singapore take on a Selangor team that featured Malaysian footballing legends such as Mokhtar Dahari, R. Arumugam and Santokh Singh. The final that year was significant for the debut of the talented Fandi Ahmad, who was also playing in the competition for the first time. Fandi, then 17, would go on to illuminate the competition in which Malaysian state teams and Singapore featured.

STadium Merdeka today, surrounded by a development that is seeing the rise of Malaysia’s tallest building, a 118-storey tower that will also be the third tallest in the world.

As the match coincided with a trip we were making, we were able to obtain tickets at the stadium when they went on sale. That made it all the more memorable, as it meant that we were seated in a section occupied by the crowd of boisterous home supporters in a match in which controversial 66th minute Selangor goal proved to be a turning point. Mokhtar would add a second to complete a two goal victory for Selangor but all that is another story. What would also make that trip one to be remembered was the joy of discovering nasi lemak at its simplest, served at a makeshift stall.

A courtyard hotel.

There no nasi lemak to be found this time, not at least the manner in which that was served. However, the back lanes yielded several new discoveries. Spruced up and a lot less familiar, they now feature brightly painted wall murals, modern eateries and a very nice looking courtyard hotel.

A back lane eatery.

Back out from the back lanes, it all became familiar once more down Tong Shin Terrace. An old block of flats, which I had always assumed to have been a low-cost housing development, came into view. I therefore was quite surprised to learn with Google’s help that the development, the Blue Boy Mansion, was thought of as a landmark development when it was erected back in 1962.

The Blue Boy Mansion.

Inside the Blue Boy Mansion.

West from from Blue Boy Mansion along Jalan Pudu, just past Tung Shin Hospital was another familiar sight. Now in disguise as the modern looking Pudu Sentral, it was unmistakably Puduraya, for a long while KL’s main bus station. The station now sees just a fraction of the bus services that used to operate out of it. I realised how time has flown by in attempting to recall when I last took a bus out of the station. That was a trip to made in the mid-1990s to Kuala Kubu Bharu to catch another bus up to Fraser’s Hill.

Hitting Pudu Sentral meant that I was closing in on Chinatown. As there was still time to spare, I decided to make my way to Lai Foong  in the hope of satisfying an urge I was having for its char kway teow, only to find the stall closed. The disappointment of that, coupled with the rising heat and humid of the mid-June Klang Valley afternoon, made the lure of modern KL – in the form of an air-conditioned mall – hard to resist. I soon found myself in one to cool off and then have a late lunch, before I headed back to Petaling Jaya where I was putting up.

Char Kway Teow at Lai Foong.






Dawn of the new Kallang

10 06 2014

A view of the soon to be opened new National Stadium from across the Kallang River at dawn – the dawn perhaps of a new “Kallang Roar”. The stadium, part of the newly redeveloped Singapore Sports Hub, is a long overdue replacement for the much-loved old National Stadium, which came down in 2010. The old stadium, was where the much feared “Kallang Roar” was born in, the collective noise that was heard from the cheers, chants and stamping of feet when as much as 70,000 packed the stadium during the days of the Malaysia Cup.  The stadium, which features a retractable roof, will open its doors on the weekend of 21/22 June when it hosts its first event, the World Cup 10s Rugby.

JeromeLim-3502s

 





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.





Jalan Besar roars back to life

11 01 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

A section of the crowd.

The starting 11.

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

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

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

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

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





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

31 07 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meeting a hero of 1994.

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





The last stand …

15 02 2011

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

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

The final trio (10 Feb 2011).

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

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

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

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

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





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:
















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.





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.