Fandi says lighting cauldron with son was 'greatest honour' for him

Fandi says lighting cauldron with son was 'greatest honour' for him
LET’S GET IT STARTED: Fandi (left, in red) and his son Irfan kick off the SEA Games by lighting the cauldron.

He emerged from the bowels of the National Stadium, cloaked by shades of blue and purple, his face still masked by shadows.

But that gait was wildly familiar.

Time may have taken its toll on joints, but that jog into position - now laboured - that little skip and final hop as he stood on the sidelines, sent the mind back in time.

It could have been 1979, when he, with more spring in his step, made his debut for Singapore in the Malaysia Cup, in sepia-tinted days when the old National Stadium was topless and grey.

But this is 2015, and Fandi Ahmad was embarking on a different journey, it appeared in high definition on the screens around the state-of-the-art jewel of the Singapore Sports Hub - but somehow he seemed 17 again.

He was the final torch-bearer who would set alight the cauldron to launch the 28th South-east Asia (SEA) Games, along with son Irfan, who is actually 17 and is part of the Republic's football team at this Games.

But, in the eyes of father, there was a spark of wide-eyed youth.

ONCE IN A LIFETIME

"I've won a lot of titles, even scored goals in cup finals, but this is the greatest honour for me," he said, speaking before he dipped the torch to send a domino of flames up and into the cauldron facing the Kallang Basin.

"This is much more than scoring a goal in a cup final. I could play and score in many cup finals, but this, this is a once in a lifetime."

He may be a wizened 53-year-old, but Fandi gushed like his teenage son would have been expected to.

"I've been to 11 SEA Games, but it's always been just a march-past (that I was involved in), and we've always had to wait for the last bit of the ceremony, this (lighting of the cauldron) is out of this world - I never dreamt of this," he said.

"All I wanted to do was to play football."

Fandi still remembers crying, as he watched Quah Kim Lye and company lose to South Vietnam in the 1973 SEA Peninsular (SEAP) Games, a scene that would inspire a man who would go on to ignite a nation.

His goals rocked the stadium, with audible cheers reverberating across the heartlands from countless others watching on television.

The kampung-boy became the Republic's first millionaire sportsman, and Singapore followed his journey, from Malaysia to Indonesia and Holland.

They rocked when he helped win the 1994 Malaysia Cup as a player, then again last month when he guided a young LionsXII team to a first-ever Malaysian FA Cup triumph.

The smile he wore as he hugged Irfan, before handing the torch to his son last night, was exactly the same - and all too familiar to Singapore.

The flame he passed on to Irfan wasn't the one flickering atop the torch he held in his hand - it was the one still burning brightly in his heart.

Irfan revealed that he had never seen a cauldron lit at a multi-sport games, not even on television.

His first dalliance with the iconic fire at the SEA Games, or at any Games for that matter, was to hold the torch that would light it.

"He's 17 and, to get this opportunity at that age, he should be thankful - it's definitely a special honour," said Fandi of his first born.

"Hopefully he'll be an inspiration for youths to follow."

Fandi would of course wish for his son the same wonder that he enjoyed as a footballer - and continues to, now as a coach.

"My friends tease me (about being Fandi's son), but it's normal. That's my life, I just have to live it," said Irfan.

"There's going to be one day that I have to step out of his shadow, but right now I don't mind being there. He's got a lot of experience and I can learn from him."

Irfan will not have a better teacher. Indeed, Singapore could not have hoped for a better icon of sports - a gentleman footballer.

One who remembers his roots and the country's greats who came before him.

Irfan revealed that Fandi winning the Malaysia Cup as a player was perhaps the most-talked-about memory of his father, and his favourite.

Fandi's own best memories were not equally basked in glory.

They were about climbing into the old National Stadium to watch Singapore play, about following his father to watch matches, even in heavy rain.

"And I remember that Kallang Roar," he said, shivering.

The Singapore SEA Games could not have had a better icon to light its sporting fire.


This article was first published on June 06, 2015.
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