I know I have been away too long for your liking. After two recent lengthy entries, I had to have a much needed reprieve, considering the fact that some people come in and read my long postings in batches. At least, they would have some time to digest them in before I come out with another one. Anyway since I had spent quite a considerable time on my previous entries, I had to have some quality time in return with my little darlings while I’ve been away. With regards to the last entry, well, let’s just say the cat’s in the bag.
This past Sunday 21 December 2008, I went to the National Stadium to witness the capitulation of our national team and how we ended four years of regional domination on a whimper. Last time I told myself not to step foot on the hallowed grounds again simply because it was eighteen months ago that we bade the grand old dame goodbye with a friendly against Australia and then we had a mini fireworks display to top it off, so final goodbyes should have really meant final goodbyes. Since then, there had been quite a number of matches involving the national team and even when the team played Ronaldinho and company this past July, I took the time off from my reservist and headed straight to the stadium to see the Samba Boys live in the flesh.
We are about to bid 2008 a fond farewell in a few days’ time. The new Sports Hub is very much due in 2011 if I’m not mistaken. If the grand old dame isn’t torn down soon, how are they to meet the expected dateline of completion??? Word has it that the group behind the construction are having difficulties in financing the building of the new arena. If that’s the case then somehow I felt so dumb at attending the closing ceremony of the National Stadium back in June 2007, even though it was for awhile and I had crossed over to the Indoor Stadium to watch Christina Aguilera in action that same night. I wonder who else who attended that day would have felt dumb as well.
Anyway, back to Sunday‘s game. Somehow I had told myself that if there was an opportunity to watch the Lions in action in the semi-finals and probably the final if we were to make it that far, of the Asian Football Federation‘s Suzuki Cup as it is now known as, I would jump at the chance. Honestly I thought the change in name was quite heaven sent cos I simply abhor the name “Tiger Cup” for obvious reasons. Seeing how disciplined the team was when they beat Indonesia 2-0 a fortnight ago, I was heartened to see that we probably had a decent chance of making it to the finals again this time around. So the decision to watch the semi-final game, at the expense of missing out watching Manchester United‘s own final game at the World Club Cup Championship in Japan against Liga De Quito on television, was made there and then.
Initially I had plans to attend the match with my football buddies, but they were more keen on resting and watching it from the comfort of their homes. Then my colleague Azhar and wife Farhana asked if Aida and I would be interested to go together. Since no other guy friends wanted to go with me, and to keep Farhana company, I asked Aida along as well. It’s not that I don’t want to bring my wife along in the first place. She’s not really a football fan and she somehow hates the atmosphere whereby the fans are very much full of verbal insults, not to mention the excessive smoking, even if there are signs to remind the people at the stadium not to smoke. Some kind of educated people we are huh???
Sunday came and I got a call around noon by Azhar to say he was not going as Farhana was feeling unwell. And so I told Aida she need not have to go and instead I would go with my cousin Yousoff. As usual, I played football in the evening with my football buddies but I twisted my ankle in the process and suddenly didn’t have the mood to go, thinking I have to walk up a considerable number of steps at the stadium. But I had told our very own Baihakki Khaizan and wife Norfasarie that I would be going when I bumped into them at Compass Point whilst shopping for my new phone the Friday before last, plus I missed watching games at the stadium. So after a quick massage I was all ready to go. But Yousoff stood me up in the end, so I ended up going alone.
I reached the stadium about 7:55pm no thanks to a traffic jam that held me up along the way just after the Sims Avenue exit of the KPE. Then there was the challenge of finding a parking space. Luckily there was one at the newly refurbished Kallang Leisure Drome. Since I had an extra ticket with me, I looked out for people who had not bought theirs. I managed to sell it off to a guy at a reduced price of $5. Normally when I watch games at the stadium, I would have complimentary tickets thanks to my uncle, the legendary great Dollah Kassim. He wasn’t in town last weekend so I had to buy tickets on my own. I found a seat over at the north-east section of the stadium just next to the tier where the Vietnamese fans were seated. Oh and I met my friend Haikal from the Manchester United SG supporters group along with two of his friends, so I sat directly behind them.
The Lions were dominating proceedings from the time I started watching the game at about 8:25pm, yes I wasted about 25 minutes or so just walking towards the stadium and finding someone to buy my extra ticket. It was frustrating to watch all the chances being put to waste, denied by the opposing goalkeeper or blocked by the Vietnamese defenders. In the end, we were sucker punched by a counter attack. Up till then, I thought our defence had held their own remarkably well and throughout the tournament, especially when we have such a confident shot stopper in Lionel Lewis manning the fort.
So far, I had been impressed by the performances of Noh Rahman, Baihakki and Daniel Bennett in defence. I’m not impressed with Precious for being leadfooted and not preventing the Vietnamese substitute with a tackle that could have perhaps saved our asses. Ismail Yunos was another one I was not impressed with. Being the freshest player in our team having come on for Noh Rahman, he was supposed to match pace with pace, but he was outrunned by the Vietnamese left-winger who squared the ball for their substitute to score.
Another I was not impressed with was our Golden Monkey (thanks to the colour of his hair). An article in The Sunday Times last Sunday stated that in his Facebook status prior to the game, he said that he could not wait to thrash Vietnam. If there was something that he had not learnt from his 9 month ban for hitting his own national teammate, that is having humility and respect for his opponent. In the process, he put himself in unnecessary pressure to score and ended up with egg on his face. It’s one thing to be brimming with confidence but there is also a question mark on having no respect for your opponent.
The fans too were disappointing and should have learnt a thing or two from the Vietnamese fans. Throughout the match they were in full force, cheering, singing and chanting their support for their own team. What did our own fans have to offer??? Nothing except the 9-beat sound from the airhorn followed by the “B” word that rhymes with what the Indonesians refer to when they are in need of something. To think we have so many national community songs being composed for the past twenty odd years, I wonder why we can’t even sing simple tunes like “We Are Singapore” or “Count On Me Singapore” and just sing them during annual National Day parades. Even singing the national anthem would fire up national pride.
To top it off, we had a lot of ungracious and unsporting attitudes being displayed. I saw quite a few Caucasians sitting around me grinning sheepishly whenever the fans broke into the standard verbal tirade. And from where I sat, I could see throughout the match, especially in the second half, how rowdy our fans were when they got themselves into petty spats and scuffles with the opposing fans. News reports today indicated that fights broke out after the game and even the Vietnamese flag was burnt. I had left the stadium the minute the fourth official had lifted the electronic board to indicate four minutes of injury time, knowing from what I had watched so far, it was a lost cause and that I had to leave fast before I get myself involved in another traffic pile up.
That arrow shows exactly where I was that night. Photo courtesy of Hairi @ Bob from my Multiply network.
We might be known as the most clinical, most efficient, most clean, most educated people in the region, but graciousness, courtesy and sportsmanship are definitely not traits that are endearing to us. No wonder we had to have campaigns and constant reminders by our leaders. But all these seem to have fell on deaf ears. We are indeed still a long way from being a cultured society.