Fandi Ahmad has no idea who will light the flame at the SEA Games

Fandi Ahmad has no idea who will light the flame at the SEA Games
Fandi Ahmad.

Memories fade, but sepia-tinted and hazy as they are, special moments always resist the ravages of time.

Like football icon Fandi Ahmad's first experience at the South-east Asia (SEA) Games.

It was 1973 and the Republic hosted what was then called the South-east Asian Peninsular (SEAP) Games for the first time, and a young Fandi sat behind the goalposts at one end of the old National Stadium, watching Quah Kim Lye and Co. battling out on the pitch, dreaming of the day he would wear national colours.

Fandi (right) has done more than just don national colours, becoming the most popular figure in sport in the country.

On June 5, at the opening ceremony of the 28th SEA Games at the new National Stadium, the 52-year-old could well join his eldest son, Irfan, and light the Games' cauldron.

It is a huge honour, it is traditionally kept secret until the moment itself, and the Singapore organising committee are not giving away anything.

But Fandi would relish the opportunity.

"I remember my first SEA Games -SEAP Games, actually - sitting behind the goal and crying when we lost to (South) Vietnam in the semi-finals on penalties (in 1973)," he recalled, yesterday.

"If my SEA Games journey (culminates) with lighting the flame, that would be fantastic," added Fandi, who pointed out he did not know if he had indeed been bestowed with the honour of lighting the cauldron with his son Irfan.

"It will be very memorable - if I'm selected - it'll be a fantastic moment for me and my family."

Family is one big way Fandi is already connected with this year's SEA Games, as his 17-year-old son Irfan is in Aide Iskandar's Under-23 squad that is eyeing a spot in the football final.

Fandi played in nine SEA Games and owns six medals - three silver and three bronze.

Irfan is beginning to make his mark, but Fandi, now coach of Singapore's Malaysian Super League side the LionsXII, hopes his son will not be burdened by the hype.

"I'm not sure if Irfan will play or not (at the SEA Games). I'll be happy for him if he's selected, but I hope we don't put too much pressure on him, he's still a young boy," said Fandi.

Aide's squad are 29-strong at the moment and will be trimmed to 20 before Singapore's opening Group A match against the Philippines on June 1.

Myanmar, Indonesia and Cambodia are the other teams in the group.

"As a father and a coach, I know what he lacks and what he needs to grow... that was why we sent him to Chile. And I hope maybe he can help the country one day," said Fandi, whose father, Ahmad Wartam, also donned Singapore colours as a goalkeeper.

Sprint legend C Kunalan lit the flame at the 1973 Games, late athletics great Tan Eng Yoon was given the honour in 1983 and bowling queen Grace Young got the role the last time the event was held here in 1993.

Supporters say it will be fitting if Fandi and Irfan light the cauldron in 2015, because football is the number one sport in the country

"I think that is a great honour for a footballer, it's not often that you get recognised as an individual when you play in a team sport. And if I do get (to light the cauldron), I will be proud to represent football," said former Singapore captain, Fandi.

"But no matter who (lights the cauldron), it's really important that we support our country at the Games."

Fandi-Irfan is a fit

"Where's Fandi Ahmad?"

That was what disappointed fans asked at the opening ceremony of the last South-east Asia (SEA) Games held in Singapore, in 1993.

Twenty-two years later, their prayers might just be answered.

As The New Paper reported yesterday, football legend Fandi Ahmad and his son Irfan are possibly the final pair who will light the cauldron of the 2015 SEA Games, which will be held here from June 5 to 16.

Bowling great Grace Young, who had the honour in 1993, would be delighted if the duo are the ones who will perform the role.

Speaking to The New Paper yesterday, she said: "It's a really good thing and in line with the theme of the Games, which is about mentorship, leaving a legacy and community.

"Fandi is definitely a great mentor to his son and has left a legacy for him, and the family aspect of it also ties in with the community part."

Swimming's Joscelin Yeo, owner of a record 40 SEA Games golds, and current sensation Joseph Schooling, both have their backers.

However, since organisers are going with an inter-generational theme for the lighting ceremony, backstroke great David Lim believes the father-son duo are ideal.

He said: "They've nailed it. Fandi is not only one of the most decorated football players but also one of the most decorated athletes in Singapore. His son is up and coming so this could be a very significant morale-booster for him."

Fandi's former teammate, V Sundramoorthy, also sang his praises.

"Fandi has done his part, and now his son can take over. Also, Fandi has played in the SEA Games, and now Irfan will make his debut. It's nice to have a generation-changing element. That's quite significant," said the former Singapore star.

This article was first published on May 8, 2015.
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