A call to arms

A call to arms

His arena was the pool, and, as a national swimmer, Oon Jin Teik even flew the Singapore flag at the 1984 Olympics. He eventually swopped his trunks for the shirt and tie and became the chief executive of the Singapore Sports Council (now Sport Singapore).

He is now the chief operating officer of Singapore Sports Hub Pte Ltd, once again working intimately to try and improve the climate in the country.

As a young boy Oon was an avid football fan, helping to raise the Kallang Roar from the stands of the old National Stadium, stomping his feet for the Lions, led at the time by his hero Samad Allapitchay.

The new stadium, a state of the art facility that is the crown jewel of the $1.33 billion hub, will host its first football game on Aug 16 when a Singapore Selection face Italian giants Juventus.

Speaking to The New Paper yesterday, the 51-year-old Oon wants to help revive the Kallang Roar.

"It was bare concrete and uncomfortable wooden benches, but the old stadium really rocked and roared - you could literally feel the concrete floor rock," he said, recalling the long walks to the stadium with his father and brother, the traffic jams around the facility and the drinks and curry puff sellers who patrolled the stands with their boxes and baskets.

"I have a few words to describe that stadium - it was intimidating, loud and big. It's not possible to duplicate the past... but if we could only take that ambience from then."

Oon wasn't just a fair-weather fan.

He can still smell the sweat and hear the groans and moans as fans from all walks of life discussed tactics and criticised players. He even remembers squirming on the wooden benches in the stands to find a comfortable position for his bottom.

As a teenage swimmer at a South-east Asia (SEA) Games hosted on foreign soil, he took his football love affair - inspired by the heroes who prowled their home at the National Stadium - to the next level.

"It was one of the SEA Games in the '70s, I saw Samad and I went up to him to ask for his autograph and boots and he gave them to me!

DOME, A GEM

"Those Puma boots were the only pair of football boots I ever owned in my life, I even wore them to play - as a defender of course - in an inter-class tournament," he said, reproducing the smile of a young-again fan.

He met Samad recently when the ex-internationals were invited to the new stadium.

The former Singapore captain couldn't remember their exchange, but they both agreed that the dome-shaped mammoth that now sits in Kallang is a gem.

There will be no squeezing shoulder to shoulder on a wooden bench, or long walks to crowded bus stops.

There are more food and drink options than just curry puffs and watered-down cola. Indeed, the new stadium comes with all the bells and whistles that technology brings, even stands that can extend out onto pitch level.

But Oon longs for the one factor that made the "Grand Old Dame" special then, and will take her modern replacement to the next level.

Singaporeans.

"None of us left the matches early to escape the crowd. We came together to watch our team, people who smoked, shouted obscenities, I even remember a man sweating in his shirt and tie, as we all shouted and screamed," said Oon.

"It's a different world now and the football team may not be your only pride and joy... but there is a world-class facility at your doorstep, run by experts from around the world.

"And I hope that Singaporeans believe that the Kallang Roar can be recreated and come, regardless of what they think of the state of Singapore football and sports.

"The facility has been delivered, but it takes two to tango," he said.

"And I hope Singaporeans come to dance - like I did when I was a boy."


This article was first published on August 5, 2014.
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