A 50-year flashback: Istana welcome for 1977 Malaysia Cup heroes

A 50-year flashback: Istana welcome for 1977 Malaysia Cup heroes
Crowds queueing for tickets for the Malaysia Cup semi-final match between Singapore and Selangor at the National Stadium in 1977. It was orderly at first but all hell broke loose when the sale of tickets began.
PHOTO: The Straits Times

Nation building meant laying the tiles of foundation one by one from scratch after being a colonial outpost for more than a century.

So business, the port, airport, housing, military, education and the economy were priority for a fledgling nation with no natural resources.

Sports was not to be neglected, though.

Mr Lee Kuan Yew knew sports was important. After all, he was a respected and admired golfer who also played cricket and tennis as a schoolboy at Raffles Institution.

Mr Lee recognised that sport, especially football, was a great platform to bring people of different races, backgrounds and positions together.

That was also why then-Prime Minister Lee endorsed the Inter-constituency Games and offered his name for the football cup.

At the inaugural Prime Minister's Cup in July 1972, at the Jalan Besar Stadium which could accommodate 15,000 but saw the crowd swell to 25,000, Farrer Park beat Pasir Panjang 2-1 in a pulsating final.

Mr Lee presented the majestic trophy to Farrer Park captain Alphonso Dorai, a victory that marked the constituency as the cradle of football.

And when Singapore won the Malaysia Cup in 1977 - a historic triumph, coming 12 years after Singapore beat Selangor for the title in 1965 - Mr Lee invited the team and officials, including coach Choo Seng Quee and manager N. Ganesan, to a reception at the Istana.

And it was a memorable match, described by one football commentator as "a final that had a shattering suspense of a Hitchcock script". In the 1965 victory, Singapore had to pull off a heroic display - three goals in the last 15 minutes after trailing 1-0 - to beat a star-studded Selangor side 3-1.

In 1977, also at the Merdeka Stadium but this time against Penang, Singapore emerged champions after three failed attempts in finals in the interim.

It was a game to remember as Singapore took an early lead (fourth minute through the omnipresent Quah Kim Song), then trailed to goals by the famed Bakar brothers - Isa (29th minute) and Ali (54th).

But the gutsy Singaporeans, showing the 'semangat' (spirit in Malay) pledged to coach "Uncle" Choo earlier, pulled level in the 71st minute through "supersub" Nasir Jalil.

As in most Singapore-Penang matches, the stakes were high, the tension at boiling point and the tackles sometimes questionable. Hard men Syed Mutalib and N. Baskaran received yellow cards from Malaysian Fifa referee Koh Guan Kiat.

With both teams resigned not to concede a late goal to break the deadlock, the game meandered as the players pushed themselves to the edge of exhaustion to take the game into extra time.

There was hurry and scurry in the tense 30 minutes during which, one golden chance fell to Singapore.

The indefatigable Dollah Kassim wafted in a perfect free-kick and Kim Song, in typical fashion, dived and nodded the ball past goalkeeper Rahim Mohammed in the 105th minute.

Penang persevered in the remaining minutes with lynchpin Shukor Salleh prodding the Bakar brothers forward in search of the elusive equaliser.

And as the minutes ticked away, the Singapore fans among the 40,000 turnout, set off the vocal chords with the singing of "Que Sera Sera...".

It was about the excruciating moment in the 29th minute when Singapore skipper Samad Alapitchay lazily stroked the ball back to goalkeeper Edmund Wee.

Wee, found in no-man's land, rushed out, but the sleek, sure-footed and nippy Isa tore into the spreadeagled defence and put the ball past Wee.

No-nonsense coach Choo replaced Alapitchay in the second half, Uncle's firm hand proving decisive as substitute Nasir Jalil poached a vital goal to take the game into extra time.

It was a masterstroke by Choo and a masterclass by Singapore to regain the Malaysia Cup, two significant results that surely impressed then-PM Lee.


This article was first published on August 9, 2015.
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