A 50-year flashback: The making of Fandi

A 50-year flashback: The making of Fandi
HERO: Fandi Ahmad, scorer of Singapore’s winning goal, received a hero’s welcome from jubilant fans at Paya Lebar Airport.
PHOTO: The Straits Times

It was the match that shot a fresh-faced Fandi Ahmad to superstardom.

On June 28, 1980, Fandi, less than a month after his 18th birthday, set up one goal and scored the winner as Singapore beat arch-rivals Selangor 2-1 at the Merdeka Stadium in Kuala Lumpur, to clinch their second Malaysia Cup in three years, following the triumph in 1977.

Fandi was already a known quantity to local football fans then, having captained the national Under-16 team to the Lion City Cup victory in December 1977.

He would go on to grab more headlines, most notably by going for trials with Dutch giants Ajax Amsterdam only to turn down a deal when it was offered to him, and scoring against world-class goalkeeper Walter Zenga, of Inter Milan, for another Dutch club, FC Groningen.

He also returned to lift the Malaysia Cup the next time Singapore won it, in 1994.

But, even though he ended the night as the star of the 1980 Malaysia Cup final, no one knew if he would even make the matchday squad.

Jita Singh, the Singapore coach then, threw red herrings to the press in the build-up to the final.

Fandi did not play for three weeks before the big day, with reports then putting his absence down to the flu.

And, just a few days before the final, he was reportedly among three Singapore players struck down with hepatitis.

Only three decades later, in the book "50 Greatest Moments in Singapore Football" launched in 2012, did Jita reveal that he did not field Fandi in games leading up to the final simply to "keep him hungry".

MASTERSTROKE

The move turned out to be a masterstroke.

In just the seventh minute of the final, Fandi's attempted cross took a deflection and cannoned off the crossbar.

The ball dropped just in front of diminutive midfielder Leong Kok Fann, who, despite his 1.65m frame, rose highest to nod the ball into goal.

The lead lasted just 13 minutes, however, as Selangor and Malaysian legend Mokhtar Dahari made it 1-1 with a glancing header off a free-kick.

That set the stage for a match-winner.

Nine minutes into the second half, Fandi received a throw-in from Terry Pathmanathan, left Selangor defender Kwa Swi Liang for dead, and scored past goalkeeper Ong Yu Tiang.

Singapore captain Samad Allapitchay told TNP: "Fandi, with his back to goal, spun and took a hard, low shot that went right into the corner.

"It was a fantastic goal.

"Needless to say, those 36 minutes before the final whistle seemed like 36 hours to us.

"Selangor came at us again and again.

"It was crazy, but we held on."

Said Jita: "In those days, winning the Malaysia Cup was like winning the World Cup.

"The fans were just amazing. They would follow us back to the hotel, singing and dancing.

"Even as we made our way back to Singapore, they would form a motorcade ahead of us.

"That was the passion back then."

About seven months after leading the Republic to the Malaysia Cup, Jita was named Singapore's Coach of the Year on Feb 25, 1981.

Jita, who took over the reins of the Lions in 1979, had also led the team in the pre-Olympic tournament in 1980, where the Lions finished level on points with group winners Iran, and ahead of mighty China, North Korea, India and Sri Lanka.

But they were thumped by Iran 4-0 in the playoff match, which gave the Iranians the passage to the 1980 (then) USSR Olympics.

msazali@sph.com.sg

 


This article was first published on August 9, 2015.
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