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.