Rich melody in hero's song book

Frozen in silver bromide, the black and white film-era print captures the moment that defined this footballer's career. Quah Kim Song is airborne, a human torpedo with his head cocked to the right and glancing in the 104th-minute extra-time winner in the 1977 Malaysia Cup final.

That 3-2 win over Penang was his zenith, that goal his finest hour. But the man himself is fiercely private and has kept a low profile since resigning as the Football Association of Singapore's director of competitions four years ago.

But he is back, pouring his thoughts into a book, revisiting his playing career and sharing nuggets about his formative years and family. That picture of his diving header, printed on the back cover, crystallised his career, but it is just part of a sea of memories for the man idolised by the Kallang Roar.

Entitled "Pass Kim Song the per cent#@* ball! The Quah Kim Song Story", the soft-cover will be launched tomorrow at the Singapore Writers Festival by the Straits Times Press.

"I'd rather leave quietly and I'm very reluctant to do big interviews. I prefer not to reveal too much," said the 62-year-old to The Straits Times on his preference to stay under the radar.

"But it's time to rethink. I want to document my story, to dedicate it to my father, Heck Hock, and mother, Lau Ah Noi.

"They were not sports people but they raised 11 kids on Sembawang Naval Base, 10 of whom went on to represent Singapore. They had to work hard and put food on the table for the 11 of us.

"They did so much for Singapore football. Not much attention was paid to my folks. This book is for them."

For four decades, there was at least one of the Quah brothers in the national team, from elder brother Kim Beng in 1954 to Kim Song, who played for the country from 1968 to 1983.

Sisters Theresa, Doreen and Rosa also played for the national women's team in the 1960s. Even though youngest brother Kim Tiong did not play football, he was a 400m runner who won a gold medal in the 1975 Seap Games (now known as the SEA Games).

The former star striker's book, written in his voice - as told to freelance journalist and documentary maker Jacintha Stephens - hopes to take readers on a ride and look at his playing career and his life through his eyes.

The book is the culmination of a year's work. Stephens would meet Kim Song two to three times each week and record his thoughts. Most of his words, which could be blue at times, are preserved. Hence the title, a scream the striker could often hear from the terraces during his peak.

There is no gossip on his current private life. There is no axe to grind, not even against the goalkeeper who fractured his right shin in 1978, effectively robbing him of his warp speed. Roy Keane, please take note.

It is a celebration of his career that was sandwiched in a period of nation building.

And his finest moment? "The newspapers reported that the streets back home were empty, fans were glued to the television and radio sets. When we scored, there was a deafening noise in the heartland," Kim Song recalled.

"The Malaysia Cup was a phenomenon that gripped the nation. We were a multi-racial team and we had players with unique skills that entertained the crowd. It was the moment the country, which was only 12 years old, celebrated together and the 1977 team contributed to that."

Lavishly illustrated with photos, Kim Song's book takes readers back to an age of flared trousers, sideburns, disco dancing and eight-track cartridges.

At his prime in the 1970s, he was paid by C. K. Tang to make store appearances to sign autographs. There is a picture of him strumming the guitar in front of his team-mates. But as he revealed, he only knew the chords to one song - Don't Play That Song, by local band Keith Locke and the Quests.

His cheeky side is also shown through his words. Trained by hyper-strict coach Choo Seng Quee, the national team lived in the dormitory at Jalan Besar Stadium, woke up at the crack of dawn to sing the national anthem and had to recite the Singapore pledge 10 times before training commenced.

But unknown to the man they call "Uncle Choo", players rappelled out of the windows, using bedsheets to slip out at night.

These days, Kim Song keeps himself busy with cycling, catching up with friends and taking care of his grandchildren Ryan and Renee, the twin toddlers from daughter Leonora. His son Leon, married recently.

And being a thoughtful chap, he has taken special care of a particular aspect of his book.

Trying hard to contain his laughter, he quipped: "The fonts are larger than normal so that my fans, who are all probably quite old, can read it."

Kim Song will be at the Singapore Writers Festival tomorrow to launch his book and sign autographs.

And one suspects, his fans will be there to thank him not just for that goal, but also for the nostalgic ride down his 148-page time machine.

This article was first published on Nov 6, 2014.
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