Goodbye “Mama”…

(Photo courtesy of Channel News Asia)

I dunno how to start off this entry in the first place, even though I had this planned for quite some time. No, I was not expecting Uncle Dollah (or “Mama” as we, his nephews and nieces affectionately called him) to leave us all so soon back then, but I had an inkling on what to say as a posthumous tribute to him if the dreaded time for us to part forever were to come. But came it did in the early morning of 14 October 2010, at a time when we, his family, did not expect. Certainly not, when he did not show any signs that his last days were near, as most people who have preceded us would normally project. So it was with complete shock that I woke up yesterday morning to incessant calls by my cousin Ezaad, informing me of the passing of his beloved father.

Mama Dollah was a fighter on the football pitch and a fighter off it. The 375 days of survival from his heart attack which rendered him almost invalid (he was brain dead, but his vital organs were functioning well), was testament to his strong willpower to remain alive, especially so with the hopes and prayers of the whole nation behind him, since that fateful 4th October 2009. Everywhere I went, people never failed to stop asking me about his condition and how he was getting on. I wished I had been able to share better news other than “he’s still in a coma…“, but Almighty Allah knew better than most of us. He left us all to return to the Almighty at around 6am yesterday in the most peaceful way possible in his deep slumber, something that we as a family are at peace at in the knowledge of.

My memories of Mama have always been of happier occasions. He was very generous with his nephews and nieces, always treating us to outings and food. He was always there to lend a listening ear to when we had problems in life / growing up. He was instrumental in letting me into the now-defunct National Stadium to watch our national team play during the good old days of the Malaysia Cup. He was there to comfort me when I ran away from home twice during my teenage years. He was there when I had BGR problems and soaked in the flak I received from my own parents for not concentrating on my studies instead. He was even there to coach me before I went for football trials to represent my secondary school team.

Bearing in mind all his good deeds and playing in honour of his memory, it took me no second invitation to play in the recent Piala Dollah Kassim tournament back in June & July 2010. I know I still owe the readers of my blog an entry about it, but I guess this paragraph and the next would more than make up for it as I doubt I would do it at all, upon hindsight. For those who cared to listen when I was whining about it back then like a broken record on Twitter and Facebook, yes I had grievances towards the organisers and winners of the tournament (PERKAMUS) for apparently using local league standard players in their team, as well as introducing disciplinary rules that perhaps contravened with FIFA standards, which personally I felt undermined the spirit of the competition, that was, to have fun. To be fair to the organisers, I believe they were not the only ones who bent the rules. I’ll leave it to that without going into specific details as the tournament is already long over.

The Mediacorp Suria team which had local entertainment personalities such as Rafaat Hamzah, Fauzie Laily, Shahril Wahid, Syed Azmir, Sahfudin Mahfudz and Faliq (former member of Verbalise Flo) in its ranks…

Other than those personal grievances that I had mentioned earlier, I only have kind words for PERKAMUS and cannot thank them enough in organising a tournament in honour of Mama ever since 2002. Representing the Mediacorp Suria team and playing in the Final with 2000-odd fans cheering us on at the Yishun Stadium, was a memory to savour for amateur players like us who could only dream of playing at stadiums with a sell-out crowd. Personally I felt Mama Dollah was in the stands cheering this nephew of his on and would be proud that even in defeat, we battled on from being two goals down and equalising before succumbing with five minutes left on the clock. The next tournament will definitely be an emotional affair, not only for me, but my family members who would be attending and supporting the event. PERKAMUS has always been actively involved in raising funds for Mama Dollah since the heart attack incident last year, and I hope they would continue to organise the tournament yearly, and not bi-annually, in memory of the great man.

Anyone and everyone who has rubbed shoulders with Mama Dollah before, would never say a bad word about him. His humility, jovial and down-to-earth character endeared him to everyone, even strangers. Even when he was humiliated by some ushers during the official closing ceremony of the National Stadium back in 2007, he chose not to argue, shrugged and told his family to go home. Till today, whoever those ushers are, I hope they would have every ounce of guilt in them for displaying a lack of grace, class and professionalism in disrespecting a national icon. Now that he is gone, I hope they finally know who he is and the joy he used to give to thousands of people in the past, just by watching him play on the hallowed grounds of the National Stadium, which is currently being demolished. What a coincidence then, that the timing of the Grand Old Dame‘s demolition coincided with the passing of one of its greatest entertainers on it.

(Photo courtesy of Hardwarezone Forums)

It was an extremely pleasant surprise to see so many people turned up in droves to visit him yesterday, be it at his home, the Sultan Mosque where the prayers were held and also at the burial grounds of Pusara Abadi. There were about 400-odd people at the mosque itself and it certainly felt like a Friday prayer session. The number of people who turned up and the lavish amount of donations they gave to Mama‘s family showed how much Mama had touched their lives, how much joy he brought to them as a friend and the kind brother he was to so many people, an absolute true measure of the man, who in the words of his close friends in the tribute videos on the primetime news on television,  “A Man Who Can Never Truly Be Replaced…“.

He was the rock who held his family together, the one who have always held the fort, and even when he was fighting for his life, he bonded the family together, and I must say the whole family’s been an even tighter unit than before, not that we weren’t in the first place. Tears were generally shed free-flowingly by everyone during the final farewell before the cortege left the home. My cousins Ezaad, Yousoff , Julie and Jid, my sisters Farah and Nurul, even myself, who had remained stoic and composed throughout the event, could not contained ourselves, no matter how much we fought back the tears since morning. Mama brought so much love, care, patience, tolerance and understanding into our family and it is this legacy of his that we intend to continue in bringing up our families in time to come.

(Photo courtesy of bro Amrin Ismail. Thank you for your short tribute in your Facebook bro…)

On behalf of Ezaad and my whole family, I would like to take this opportunity to thank family members, friends, colleagues, acquaintances, online mates via Twitter & Facebook, strangers, current and former Members of Parliament, current and former national players, those in the local entertainment and football fraternities, for taking the time to visit Mama since his unfortunate incident and during the funeral itself, for the kind words of encouragement, moral support and generous donations rendered. To the Football Association of Singapore, PERKAMUS, Polar Puffs & Cakes Pte Ltd and Singapore Pools Pte Ltd, thank you for your never-ending support in cash and kind. A huge thanks goes out to the good doctors, nurses, neuro-surgeons & specialists who had looked after him throughout his stay at Tan Tock Seng Hospital as well as for making their weekly visits to check if things were ok.

Thank you also to the local media – Mediacorp Suria, Channel News Asia, The Straits Times, The New Paper, Berita Harian, My Paper, Razor TV, Sungguh.com, RIA 89.7FM for your kind coverage and tribute to Mama Dollah all these while and in time to come. Special mention goes out to Warna 94.2FM whom we heard from well-wishers played the song “Dollah Kassim” on its airwaves no less than four times within the space of an hour yesterday!!! Words of thanks and gratitude are not enough to express ourselves to everyone, but we are heartened to know that Mama Dollah will always have a place in the history and annals of this nation, as well as remain in the hearts of those who once got to know the man known as “Gelek King / Raja Gelek“…

(Video courtesy of Mohamed Ezaad Bin Abdullah)



Happy 61st Mama!!!

It’s been more than five months that you’ve been in a coma and till today, we’ve not lost any hope nor given up on seeing you up and about like before. Today is a very special day in your life. But it would be even more special if you could wake up from your deep slumber and see your second grandson for the first time. We miss your warmth, we miss your jokes, but above all else, we miss you.

On your 61st birthday, I pray that Allah will bestow upon you the extra strength to open your eyes and see us all again. You are and will always be our inspiration, our guide and our shining light when it comes to fighting the odds and overcoming obstacles in life. You have beaten the odds in surviving the worst, your willpower even in your state of unconsciousness is an admirable example. Happy Birthday Mama!!! I’ll see you later today… 🙂

Charity Football Fiesta 2009…

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Photograph courtesy of Amanah Nusa Indah’s (ANI) official website…

Last Friday night, I was at Woodlands Stadium to witness the inaugural Charity Football Fiesta 2009. This event was organised by Amanah Nusa Indah (ANI) in collaboration with Aide’s Soccer Buddies and was the brainchild of Ezreen Taib Zohri, a.k.a. Mrs Aide Iskandar, her husband as well as our Asian Idol, Hady Mirza. It is a noble effort aimed at benefitting our local Muslim charity organisations, through entertainment and football, two industry professions that are quite synonymous to our local Malay community and where we usually excel in. At the same time, it aimed to create a culture of giving and sharing amongst the community, especially the young.

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Huda Ali and Luqman Nurhakim introducing the two teams…

The following Muslim charity organisations are the proud beneficiaries of the proceeds to the event and this I quote courtesy of ANI‘s official website:

  • Jamiyah Nursing Home – Darul Takrim
  • Jamiyah Children Home/Orphanage – Darul Ma’wa
  • Jamiyah Halfway House – Darul Isla
  • Muhammadiyah Health and Day Care Centre for Senior Citizens,
  • Muhammadiyah Welfare Home,
  • Muslim Kidney Action Association
  • Taman Bacaan Female Halfway House
  • Taman Bacaan – Malay Youth Library Association
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    Fandi’s team lining up before the match started…

    When the promotional posters first came about, I thought that it was quite a decent programme to organise since it has been awhile since we had such an event, the last I think was done when our Channel 8 stars played a similar kind of match against their Hong Kong counterparts at the National Stadium more than a decade ago. Seeing one name on the list of players to grace the occasion made me confirmed my attendance there and then, my uncle, the legendary “Gelek King” – Dollah Kassim. The last I saw him in action was when our ex-internationals played against their Malaysian counterparts back in 2007 during the carnival that was supposed to mark the end of our National Stadium. We all know what happened to those plans, unless you have been living on a different planet.

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    This indirect free-kick in the penalty box came about because Haikel handled a backpass from his own defender…

    I tried to gather a few friends to join me but perhaps the day and the time was a turn-off, since it was still technically on a week day. In the end, I decided to join up with the rest of my family members who were there to support my uncle and the event. The location (Woodlands Stadium) too could have been another factor as to why they might not have been keen on going as it was all the way up north of the island. This was quite evident when we stepped into the stadium to find that those with gallery tickets being shunted to the opposite ends of the grandstand. Obviously the grandstand tickets were not that popular judging by the almost empty tiers in the middle, resulting in them being opened up for those who were sitting at the opposite ends to come in and fill the empty spaces.

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    Tepak Sireh dancers performing during the half-time break…

    Which brings me to the factor of the pricing of tickets. While $12 (gallery) and $20 (grandstand) were set as the prices of the tickets, I honestly believe psychologically it is kinda steep for most of those in attendance, especially the latter. Personally I thought it was a fair price to pay to see good entertainment on and off the pitch with proceeds of course going to charity. I think this mindset of watching free / cheap shows should end and I strongly believe this is the result of having too many quarterly exhibitions at Singapore Expo whereby you go there to watch free entertainment that comes together with it, because you either enter for free or pay an entrance fee of not more than $2. Either way the prices of the tickets could have been slightly lower say $10 and $15 for the gallery and grandstand respectively. In this hard economic times, a little prudence would go a long way in attracting more people to come and support such an event.

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    Team Malek Awab enjoying their breather…

    We reached the stadium slightly close to 7pm and waited for Uncle Dollah to appear from the dressing room to pass our tickets to us. No, we did not get complimentary tickets / passes, we still paid for them. If we had complimentary tickets / passes, we would have sat somewhere in the middle, along with the other invited guests. No one can say we did not do our part to support the event, even if we paid for gallery tickets. I managed to exchange pleasantries with Kak Fatimah Mohsin who was standing nearby. She was responsible for doing the make up for female artistes like Huda Ali that night. Then on, we made our way to the left side of the stadium. However, I think that particular section of the stadium was almost full, so the rest decided to go to the other side instead.

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    Fuad Rahman performing his hit song “Bayu“…

    As there was a tent set up for people to do their evening responsibilities at that section of the stadium, I told the rest to move on whilst I join them after I had observed mine. I managed to say “Hi” to people I know sitting there, albeit fleetingly and some with just a mere wave. Many apologies for not going over to you to have small talk as I did not want to have to clamour for a space in that small tent. The availability and erection of this tent is very much applaudable to the organisers. Even better was the decision to extend the kick-off time from 7:30pm to 7:45pm bearing in mind that Maghrib that day was 7:21pm. Even though a tent had been set up, there were still those that turned a blind eye to it. It’s ok if you were PMS-ing, but the guys out there, what excuse do you have???

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    A distinguished guest who came all the way from Kuala Lumpur, Mr Afdlin Shauki

    I made my way to the other side of the stadium to join up with the rest of the family members, in time for the middle tier sections to open up and allowing us to fill in the empty spaces. We sat close to the middle but our view was quite hampered by the lighting system and props that were supposed to illuminate the stage in the middle of the track. Not long after, the emcees of the night, Luqman Nurhakim and Huda Ali, introduced the two teams, Team Malek Awab in yellow and Team Fandi Ahmad in red. Once the customary introductions were made, the game kicked off in earnest.

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    Hyrul Anuar performing “Tanda Kasih“, his latest single…

    I don’t really have to relate the whole game minute-by-minute, but it is sufficed to say that those of you who did not turn up missed a a great game, full of controversial moments if it was a FIFA-sanctioned match and comedy, orchaestrated by none other than Sheikh Haikel who was playing for Fandi‘s team. Initially we thought that the celebrities would be playing against the ex-internationals but somehow they mixed around so that we would get a level playing field on the pitch. Such a move was laudable given the fact that if the earlier expectations had been materialised, there was a possibility of a cricket scoreline in favour of the ex-internationals, with all due respect to the celebrities on the pitch.

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    Silat performance by Persatuan Silat Singapura (Persisi) exponents…

    Fandi‘s team started well and it was a surprise that Sheikh Haikel got himself on the scoresheet, even if it has to be said that the opposing goalkeeper David Lee dived half-heartedly to save the former’s shot. As someone who plays in goal and has been playing in that position since secondary 1, I know when a save is made instinctively or when you try to make your opponent look good. But it was all in the name of fun of course and I’m sure it was never an issue but David could have acted a bit better given the experience he has. Not long after, Uncle Dollah equalised for his team, a goal reminiscent of his playing days. Twisting and turning as only he knows best against two defenders and opposing goalkeeper Rezal Hassan, all he needed to do was tap into the empty net once the deed was done. Naturally my family members and me erupted with joy.

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    I did not pay much attention to the remainder of the first half henceforth even though Shahrin Azhar (did I get the scorer right???) and Hady Mirza scored for Fandi‘s team to make it 3-1 in their favour, before Uncle Dollah was brought down in the penalty box which Syed Azmir gleefully took the penalty to score and made it 3-2. Syed Azmir impressed me with his direct running and his tendency to shoot on sight. He treated the game very seriously as was evident when he gave the assistant referee a dressing down for catching him offside, which from where I sat, I could see that he was definitely so as he was at least a metre away from the last defender. The half also saw Sheikh Haikel taking over goalkeeping duties from Rezal Hassan as their team did not have a replacement goalkeeper and again even in goal, he showed that the comedian in him would not let up. It was apparent that due to the tight programme, they only played half an hour each half.

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    One of the comedic moments in the match, Sheikh Haikel going down “injured”. Just look at the grins on the faces of the paramedics…

    After the excitement of the first half, the half time was a bit of an anti-climax with performances by Tepak Sireh Dancers, Fuad Rahman (Bayu), Hyrul Anuar (Tanda Kasih) and silat exponents from Persatuan Silat Singapura (Persisi). Why I said it was an anti-climax was because the performances were a bit draggy especially the dance and silat items. I was quite ok with the singing performances though. Once your adrenaline had been pumped up, it kinda crashed down just waiting for the second half to start. I remembered telling my cousin Ezaad during half-time, that at the rate the game was going, I would not be surprised that the full time would end up 6-6. Since my view was blocked from where we sat to appreciate the game, I decided to make my way to the other side of the stadium where the open gallery seats were.

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    The one minute silence in memory of Allahyarham Borhan Abu Samah

    As I was making my way there, they held a one minute silence to remember one of their stalwarts and comrades, a loyal servant to the nation in his prime with his uncompromising tackles, the late Borhan Abu Samah, who passed away on 29 Oct 1999. Goodness, it’s been almost a decade since he left us. Out of respect, I stood on the track and said my prayers for his departed soul. The only thing I was not too happy about was the crowd was not made to stand and observed the silence as well like those you normally watch on television and for the fact that this should have been done before the match started instead of before the start of the second half. Another thing that the organisers would do well to improve on for future events is to get a FIFA-sanctioned referee for the game cos according to my uncle, this guy knew nuts about how such a thing like observing a one minute’s silence should be done. How can you call yourself a referee when you don’t even know a basic thing like blowing the whistle to signal the start of the silence and when the one minute is up on your watch, you just need to blow again to signal its end??? It was no wonder Roslan Kemat gave him a red card for allowing Fandi‘s team a goal even though they were playing with 12 men on the pitch in the second half. Diabolical to say the least…

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    This photograph I took became a source of controversy when two officials came over to me to say I was not allowed to take photographs by the pitchside or behind the goalpost. But kudos to Aaron for gamely posing for the cameras…

    Anyway I didn’t know that this event was very exclusive. A case in point was when I was making my way to the other side of the stadium. Aaron Aziz who had replaced David Lee ambled up to the goalpost where I was walking behind. I did not want to let the opportunity pass me by so I asked him to pose for me and he gamely did. Not long after I was trailed by two officials, one of them in a spiffy suit and they asked me whether I was an ANI photographer. I said no, I was just making my way to the other side of the stadium and they told me off about taking photographs just behind the pitch. I could have debated and kicked up a fuss but I thought it would only worsened matters knowing the acid tongue that I have. It’s a charity event for Heaven’s sake, why was there a need to have sanctions imposed on taking photographs??? It’s not that I’m gonna sell the photos I took for a fortune. Sheesh. I did not expect those officials to be so anal about it.

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    The players waiting for the second half to begin…

    The second half began from where it left off, with the humour elements intensifying as the minutes ticked by. Sheikh Haikel scored again and made it 4-2 to his team before Aaron himself stepped up to score from the spot when his team got themselves another penalty. Fandi was doing his best to entertain the crowd with his trademark acrobatics and diving headers but he could not find the target with them. I was too mesmerised by them till I did not get the chance to capture those shots of him doing those flamboyant moves. He got himself on the scoresheet and made it 5-3 before Taufik Salleh and Roslan Kemat (did I get the scorer right???) made it all square again. R. Sasikumar put Fandi‘s team ahead again with a header but the match ended 6-6 as I had predicted during half-time, when Saswadimata Dasuki scored from long range. In between, Fandi even took the time to play rugby by hiding the ball under his jersey and running towards goal before “scoring”. Naturally the “goal” was invalid.

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    Fandi Ahmad celebrating scoring his team’s fifth goal with a cartwheel…

    We then went to a mandatory penalty shootout to get the outright winners. If I’m not wrong, Malek‘s team won the shootout or did it end all-square??? I was unsure as I was not paying attention to it since I was trying to figure out how to take photographs of what was happening on the pitch. Anyway, who won did not matter much. What was most important was everyone came away a winner that night, either by contributing in cash to the charitable causes or by contributing to the success of the event, on the pitch or on stage. And best of all it was heartening to see players of yesteryears coming together like the good old Malaysia Cup days. Seeing them all on the pitch brought me back in time and I felt as though I was back in secondary school again.

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    Aaron relaxing while the action was at the opposite end of the pitch…

    The night did not end there. Imran Ajmain came on to sing his current hit across the CausewaySelamat Ulang Tahun Sayang” and this was followed by Syed Azmir singing Letto‘s “Permintaan Hati” and then paying a tribute to Fandi Ahmad by singing the latter’s old hit “Anugerah” from the album of the same title that he recorded years ago. They were joined on stage by the other players who danced and sang along. Something “possessed” our legendary number 17 and he broke into a silat routine on stage during the song’s bridge. He even dragged my uncle who was standing behind to come forward and danced with him. The night ended with a punchy performance, as usual, by Ahli Fiqir, who welcomed back Mawar Berduri into the fold fresh from her maternity leave. They sang “Dol & Minah” and “2 X 5“.

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    Sheikh Haikel stepping up to take one of the penalty kicks during the shootout…

    We left the stadium close to 10:30pm and waited for Uncle Dollah to appear from the dressing room. There was a sizeable crowd waiting to take photographs with the celebrities and ex-internationals. I managed to grab hold of Afdlin and take a photograph with him and wished him all the best with his future projects. Once Uncle Dollah appeared, we left the stadium for Jalan Kayu to have dinner. He did not join the rest for their satay session at Lau Pa Sat. As I was about to move off, Malek Awab came over and waved us goodbye. He had parked his car next to mine. He’s always been affable and friendly and always had that toothy grin on him. One of the nicest guys to have played for the national team.

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    Imran Ajmain serenaded the crowd while the players had a group photo in the background…

    It was a laudable effort to organise such an event. I take my hats off to the organisers for doing up this event which I feel should be done on an annual basis. Granted this was their first time doing this and not all things were expected to have gone smooth sailing. Perhaps they could use this experience to improve on future events. Where certain things could be cut down and lessened or added for that matter, we could then perhaps enjoy it a little more and expect more bums on the seats. Oh and a central location like Bishan or Toa Payoh would be very nice as well.

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    Uncle Dollah receiving his memento from R. Vengadasalam, former manager of Woodlands Wellington Football Club

    For the record the players who played for Malek Awab‘s team were (according to jersey numbers):

    0 – Aaron Aziz, 1- David Lee, 2 – Syarif (Sleeq), 3 – Taufik Salleh, 5 – Aide Iskandar, 6 – Razali Saad, 7 – Tokijan Darimosuvito, 8 – Roslan Kemat, 9 – Nahar Daud, 10 – Dollah Kassim, 11 – Othman Abdullah (D’ Episodes). 12 – Malek Awab, 14 – Azhar Nor Lesta, 15 – Nazri Nasir, 17 – Mohd Rafi Ali, 18 – Khairudin Samsudin, 19 – Saswadimata Dasuki, 21 – Fuzzley (B8), 23 – Syed Azmir.

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    Syed Azmir and Fandi singing “Anugerah“, Fandi‘s hit song in the 90s…

    As for Fandi‘s team, this was their squad:

    1 – Rezal Hassan, 2 – Hasli Ibrahim, 3 – Daly (Ahli Fiqir), 4 – Elfee R. Ismail, 5 – Samad Allapitchay, 6 – Shahrin Azhar Mohd, 7 – Samawira Basri, 8 – Yahya Madon, 9 – Ishamuddin Baroocha, 10 – Sheikh Haikel, 11 – Azhar Baksin, 12 – J. A. Halim, 13 – R. Sasikumar, 15 – Rudy Khairon Daiman, 16 – Hady Mirza, 17 – Fandi Ahmad, 18 – Hasnim Haron.

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    Fandi breaking into a silat routine, much to the amusement of the players on stage…

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    He followed that up by dragging Uncle Dollah to dance with him…

    Apologies if I had missed out on anyone or if I had their jersey numbers labelled wrongly or even spelt their names wrongly. And also for the record, this Charity Football Fiesta 2009 was organised by Amanah Nusa Indah and Aide’s Soccer Buddies. They were ably supported by the following organisations: Response Ambulance & Services, The Cage, O’ lando Jamming Studio, Bukit Batok MAEC, Le Standard, NILAM – Strategic Land Investments, Chateau – Sip of Fortune and Red Carpet Productions Pte Ltd.

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    Mawar Berduri & Daly singing “Dol & Minah“, the soundtrack of the series from the same title…

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    Samsol a.k.a. Tukang Kata then joined them on stage for “2 X 5“…

    MORE OF THE SAME PLEASE NEXT YEAR!!!

    End of a Dominance…

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.