30 June 2007

a tribute to fandi and abbas

i started watching soccer at the age of 4. my dad had been a soccer fan since forever, and he'd bring my sister and i along to watch soccer at the national stadium. (for some reason, my brother hardly ever went?) back then, singapore was playing in the malaysian league and malaysian cup, our country against the different malaysian states. well, basically because we're already such a small country, we joined in malaysia's league.

we used to buy season tickets to watch soccer. we'd go to the national stadium and scream ourselves hoarse, then drive up to malaysia for the away games if we could. especially if it was the malaysia cup.

somewhere along the line, my sister had somehow made friends with singapore's favorite football son, fandi ahmad. fandi was the nicest, most generous person ever and it was hard to imagine it even possible, because of who he was. in those days, singapore soccer was really something that people talked about all the time. fandi was the prodigy child who had returned to singapore to play for his country, and he was a super huge star. through fandi, we also got to know many other soccer players. he and abbas saad, soon became family friends and we would often meet for meals together. they were the nicest people ever.

in 1993, singapore made it to the finals of the malaysia cup, and we drove up to malaysia. it was so exciting and a totally intensive atmosphere. unfortunately we lost 0-2 to kedah and at the age of 10, i remember being terribly disappointed!!

however in 1994, fandi captained the team. i guess it was the mixture of the right players and the right timing and luck. we won the league AND the cup. i'll never forget watching the cup finals against pahang where we trashed them 4-0. it was amazing. the singapore boys were so fired up that night, they were unstoppable. halfway through the match, even the malaysia/pahang fans started leaving the stadium.

right after we won both the league and cup, for i think the first time in history, singapore's football association had a tiff with the malaysia side. according to the news as i remember it, they wanted us to reduce the number of foreign players, or to have no foreign players at all; something like that. so singapore withdrew from the league, and i remember seeing fandi and abbas and the rest of the team's pictures splashed across the papers and it was really sad.

a whole lot of saga happened after that, and for a while, my dad and i did continue watching soccer, after singapore started her own s-league.

but somehow it was just different, and slowly, we stopped going.

today was the national stadium's closing ceremony. there were two matches played. the first featured ex-singapore and ex-malaysian internationals, and included players from back then, when my family used to be soccer mad. except that most of them are at least in their 40s now, some in their 50s and 60s, with big tummies and not-very-fast legs!!! it was good to see them again. old as they are, some of them still showed glimpses of their old selves. fandi and abbas were not there, being in indonesia and sydney respectively. i did wish they were though.

the match after that was another friendly between the current singapore team and the australian team. i took one look at the sizes of those aussie boys and decided it was impossible. plus, a few of them actually play in the english premier league!! like hello, so impossible??

then i found out that the singapore team now comprises of some, err, foreign imports. foreign players who have been playing in singapore for a long time now, and were given citizenship.

i was quite impressed. the first half ended in a 0-0 draw, but the aussies were really physical. and huge?!?! it was a hard, contact game, and our small strikers were starting to limp around.

i thought the singapore boys played well, and had just as many scoring chances, but they failed to connect and the goals never came. even open goals!!! it was exasperating. in the end, we lost 0-3.

it was so freaking hot today, especially throughout the first match, i started getting rashes and heat bumps. yes, i am allergic to everything. but it started getting cooler as the sun went down, and i had such an enjoyable night. it was a really good match to watch, but more than anything else, it brought back memories of my childhood. memories of the hundreds of hours i must have spent here, more than a decade ago. the cheering, the stamping, the waves... the tingly feeling i used to get down my spine from all the excitement.

i just wish i had the chance to see fandi and abbas play one last time, before the national stadium gets torn down and rebuilt.

i know they might probably never read this, but i hope one day i can tell them so:
thank you for all the lovely memories. thank you for making me realise, at my young age back then, that when you believe in something with all your heart, when you give your everything, you can make it happen. i saw it with my own eyes in 1994, and i have never forgotten.

as gross and mushy as this may sound, you two have always been my two favorite soccer heros.

me, in all my double-chin glory. i sulked all the way till sunset because it was so hot and humid! notice my portable electric fan? it's a gift from heaven. i carry it everywhere.

gawd, i was so unglamorous. it was too hot for comfort, and i did the unthinkable....... push up my cargo pants to around my knees. eeps.