‘1973 SEAP GamEs made me cry’

‘1973 SEAP GamEs made me cry’
Former Singapore international footballer Quah Kim Lye (second from left) with Mr Samsudin Rahmat during a dinner event organised by the Malay Old Boys at the SIA Sports Club on 28 January 2012.

There was still over an hour to go before kick-off.

The National Stadium, packed with a record 60,000 crowd, was already a cauldron of detonating noise.

Quah Kim Lye and his teammates were walking towards the imposing Kallang venue, ready for the 1973 South-east Asian Peninsular (SEAP) Games football semi-finals against South Vietnam.

Suddenly an excited pregnant lady approached him, pleading, "Lye, I want to get in."

A flummoxed Kim Lye was lost, momentarily.

Taking pity, he called out to M. Kumar and two other teammates and helped the pregnant lady up a wall and into the stadium at a time when security was lax - the policemen were absorbed in the goings-on inside the stadium.

"We played football with passion and pride. We played the game for ourselves, the country or club, and, as importantly, for fans like that lady," said Kim Lye.

Now, 73, and having chalked up about 20 years with the Singapore team, Kim Lye reflected on football in an interview over lunch at Beach Road on Tuesday.

He beamed: "I've been busy with the Lunar New Year house spring-cleaning over the last two days, but since you want to talk about football, and the SEA (South-east Asia) Games, I've made time for that.

"Football has been my pastime, then serious indulgence, a passport to my only job, a national sporting career, and, in fact, life,"

Then he joked: "It's probably the only thing I do right, right?"

Nobody can argue with that.


Born into that famous family of footballers, Kim Lye was the fifth of Quah Heck Hock's sons to don national colours, after a historic trend started by No. 2 brother Kim Beng in 1952, followed by Kim Swee, Kim Choon (briefly) and Kim Siak.

After him came the speed demon Kim Song, who also brought the Quah football chapter to a close in 1983.

Ironically, eldest brother Kim Thuan dreaded football but enjoyed golf, and youngest brother Kim Tiong shunned football and was a national track athlete with a SEA Games gold and silver medal to boast.

Sisters Theresa, Doreen and Rosa also played football for the Singapore women's national team.

It has been 40 years since Kim Lye hung up his boots, but just like he was to the pregnant lady fan, he remains a recognisable face - during the one-hour interview five passers-by walked up to him to greet him, one Indian man even ad-libbing: "You play football, good; nowadays bad."

"It's fans like these who provide the bread and butter for footballers," Kim Lye said.

"Without these cheering fans who pay to watch us play, we find it hard to raise our game and perform. We owe them a big gratitude."

Perhaps then, he and the rest of the 1973 SEAP Games team owe a big apology to the 60,000 paying fans and more at home for that heartbreaking semi-final loss to South Vietnam.

Singapore were leading through Kim Lye's goal in the 61st minute but Vietnam swiftly equalised two minutes later due to a defensive error in the hosts' rear ranks.

And in the ensuing penalty shoot-out, Singapore lost 5-3 on penalties and missed out on the final, which Burma won by beating South Vietnam 3-2.

Kim Lye could only watch the last 10 minutes from the bench after he suffered a left knee injury and was replaced by Lee Teik Ngee.

"I was in tears at the final whistle. I couldn't believe what I saw. I was already thinking of headlines about me after the goal.

"Mind you, I had retired from football and was out for almost two years. I came back mainly because of my wife Shirley's plea, for a national cause."

He elaborated: "I was resting at home, in my Toa Payoh apartment, not far from what was going to be the 'heartlands' Games Village comprising four point-block flats.

"Suddenly there was a knock on my door. In walked then national coach, Englishman Michael Walker, and my brother Song.

"Mike asked that I return to the team for the SEAP Games because of my playing experience. I was already 31 and was almost two years away from the game. I was reluctant to get back.

"Not after the bitter disagreements with the FAS (Football Association of Singapore) two years prior that made me quit the game.

"But Mike and Song were persuasive. Finally, Shirley convinced me that I should return, especially because the Games was in Singapore.

"And I agreed, but turned down the offer to be captain, which was then given to Seak Poh Leong.

"Subsequently I found myself working hard at training to get myself back to my former great form."

It was Kim Lye's scoring form - he was Singapore's topscorer for the 1973 SEAP Games with three goals - that carried the Republic into the semi-finals.

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