SINGAPORE- Student Benjamin Lew has collected more than 2,000 football trading cards over five years, but he has never been lucky enough to chance upon one that is autographed.
No matter. The Liverpool fan got something much better yesterday - a surprise meeting with former Reds legend John Barnes, who was happy to scribble his signature in person for the 15-year-old.
Benjamin had won a contest The Straits Times and Standard Chartered Bank held last weekend during the Merseyside derby.
He was promised a Liverpool jersey signed by a former player after correctly answering a question about who is the all-time top scorer in the Liverpool-Everton clash (Ian Rush). There were about 300 entries for the contest.
The Secondary 3 St Joseph's Institution student said he was caught by surprise when Barnes walked through the door at the Swissotel the Stamford.
"I had a feeling there would be a player here, but I didn't think it would be Barnes because there was no news about him being in Singapore," said Benjamin, who has followed his father in supporting the Reds since he was seven.
"Meeting any player would have been great but John Barnes is such a legend so it was extra special for me."
He has been running a YouTube channel about football trading cards with his younger brother Justin for two years. They have more than 2,500 subscribers.
Barnes is in town to support today's Standard Chartered Marathon Singapore, and also to help launch the SC Trophy, a five-a-side futsal tournament the bank is organising.
Although his footballing feats alone would have been enough to capture the attention of the 50 Reds fans present, Barnes did more than just make a token appearance.
The Jamaican-born 50-year-old charmed the room with his charisma, and peppered his answers during a Q&A session with anecdotes and jokes. He even sportingly acceded to a fan's request to perform the Anfield Rap on the spot.
Luqman Guee, 48, said he had waited years to hear Barnes perform the rap live. Said the financial adviser, who has supported Liverpool for more than 30 years: "You can see him do it on YouTube, but it's rare for him to do it right in front of you."
But the person who went home yesterday with the widest grin was Benjamin.
He said: "I'll remember this for the rest of my life. I'll frame the jersey, and hang it on the wall. It'll become my treasured item."
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.