I was convicted of match-fixing: Abbas Saad

He was playing the best football of his career, having led the Singapore Lions to a stunning 4-0 victory against Pahang in the Malaysia League in 1994.

But soon after, he was accused, tried and convicted of match-fixing and the Singapore Football Association slapped him with a lifetime ban from football in the city-state, followed by a global ban.

Lebanese-born Australian Abbas Saad tells Tan Choe Choe that he has forgiven those who had wronged him I was very, very angry. It felt like somebody had stabbed me in the back. I was being humiliated for no reason.

But with the help of family and friends, I stayed positive. I told myself that they (the accusers) could throw whatever they wanted at me and I would fight it head on.

And I did.

I fought the charge as hard as I could, although I knew that I was probably fighting a losing battle.

But even knowing that, I couldn't take the accusation lying down; I still had to say what I wanted to say. I did just that at the trial - and left it to the judge.

When the judgment was read out, I took it on the nose; I respected the court's decision. However, I didn't stop fighting it.

It was the darkest time of my life but family and friends helped me to stay positive.

Instead, I took the case straight to the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (Fifa).

Never for a second did I tire of fighting to clear my name.

I know the people who did wrong by me. They know I know who they are. I have forgiven them but I don't think I would ever forget what they did to me.

It is sad that my time in Singapore went down like that after all the hard work and passion I had put in for football there.

Yes, I felt that they should have appreciated me a lot more.

Instead, I was used as a scapegoat for someone else who was making money.

It couldn't have happened at a worse time - I was 27 and my career was on a high. I was playing great football and there was a contract waiting for me in Europe.

But when it hit me, it was like they had taken my feet from me. But God is great - He gave me a second chance at the game when Fifa lifted the global ban in 1996, and I returned to Australia and went back to the football fields.

I played some great football, representing my old club, my country and then I went on to coaching.

It was only 14 years later, in 2009, that the Singapore Football Association finally lifted my lifetime ban, paving the way for my return to the football scene on the island.

My wife had questioned why I wanted to go back to Singapore after all that had happened. But I told her we shouldn't blame the whole country for what happened.

(Saad's ban in Singapore was lifted in March 2009 after almost 14 years. By August, he began appearing as a football pundit in the studios of ESPN STAR Sports and for SingTel's coverage of the UEFA Champions League).

There was no room for anger or bitterness. I was just thankful to the people who helped me overturn the ban. I think they felt sorry for me for what I had to go through.

"I think they, too, believe that I haven't done anything wrong.

I am grateful that nobody has ever said anything unkind to me about what happened.

"I hope it's because my fans and the people around me know what kind of person I am, that I would never ever do something like that.

I believe the court's judgment had nothing to do with match-fixing or money, not really.

They wanted to fine me for knowing somebody else who was involved. But mostly, I think they wanted to set an example by frying the biggest fish in the sea - and I was it.

I've never shied away from this topic because I am not embarrassed about what happened, although it upset me that it tarnished my name and that of my family's. But I don't mind people asking me about it.

I understand that people are curious and they probably have read so much already that they just want to hear it from the horse's mouth.

One major lesson I took home after this episode was not to trust too easily.

I had thought that if I were honest and sincere with others, they too would be honest and sincere in return. But "I learnt otherwise when some people I trusted suddenly turned around and used my words against me.

In many ways I am still the happy-go-lucky Saad of old, and still tend to speak my mind quite freely because I don't want to let the incident scar me for life and make me suspicious of everything and everybody.

But I have also grown a little more cautious now - for it was a big lesson and not one I would soon forget.

Abbas Saad, now 43, is a commentator on Astro SuperSport channel's FourFourTwo, a twice-weekly football TV programme. He currently resides in Mont Kiara, Kuala Lumpur, with his wife and two sons.

-New Straits Times