Whenever someone brings up the Malaysia Cup in football conversation, emotions run high. For me, I've followed the exploits of Quah Kim Song and gang and subsequently those of Fandi Ahmad and Steven Tan. Didn't they used to call Steven Tan the Super Sub? In my mind, he's more the 'Damn!-He-Lost-The-Ball-Again' Tan. I liked the Malaysia Cup when Singapore was winning - not so much when they were whining. Oh, they had genuine reasons to whine. When they played in Malaysia, the pitch seemed rougher, the tackles much harder. The referees were also more 'kayu'. A match seldom finished without a contentious decision. These were the reasons why I didn't think Singapore should have continued playing in the Malaysia Cup. I believe the same problems will arise in the newly announced edition. New era, same bias. I can understand the practice our Young Lions need but to play in controversial matches again? Nah.
My interest in the old Malaysia Cup peaked at the finals of 1994. At the time, I was into my second job and had started dating. My object of affection was a slim, intelligent girl who ran a family counselling centre. Luckily for me, she had a colleague who was related to Fandi Ahmad's manager and they both got on well. It was Fandi who invited us to go along for the finals. We drove up in two cars, the two of us riding with the manager. The manager was unlike anyone we have seen in football management. For one, she was female - an elderly lady probably in her 50s. She had auburny-grey hair and a maternal air about her. From what I could see, she had a penchant for silky floral prints. She wasn't slow when she drove but she drove with care. There were others in the party.
The match was to be played at the new Shah Alam stadium. We had concerns about locating the stadium as it was shown on the map to be in some industrial part of KL but that turned out to be a needless worry.
We checked first into a four-star hotel on the outskirts of town. We had barely put down our bags when the manager excused herself to answer a call on her mobile. Later she told us that it was Fandi. She said he always got nervous about a match and would talk to her first to ease his nerves.
Outside the stadium, we parked at a sandy lot. Back then I was always apprehensive about mobs at football matches and would always look out for any sign of trouble. That day, there were banners put up and people chanting from the chartered buses. Other than that we streamed into the stadium without much fuss when the public loud speakers called.
The pre-match atmosphere was electric. There was singing and chanting and the passing of a giant square banner over the heads of spectators - the kind one often saw at large foreign stadiums like the San Siro in Milan, Italy.
A lot of it had to do with the design of the Shah Alam stadium. Unlike the National Stadium which was small and dowdy by comparison, the Shah Alam was open, sweeping and kept spectators close to the action. The seats (not benches) reached all the way down to the pitch!
Many of the Singapore supporters were decked out in red; we were no different. We also wore special-edition bandannas tied round our heads. Other folks used them as scarfs.
The match itself was surprisingly lobsided. Singapore had the upperhand throughout. And whenever our side scored, we would shout ourselves hoarse. We won, no call that "thrashed the other side" by 4-0. Abbas Said was the hero, but we were just glad that Fandi Ahmad finally got on the score sheet. We were also happy for the manager that Fandi scored. We all felt that this match was Fandi's swansong.
My girlfriend and I never got to meet Fandi. We celebrated a little at the hotel and spent the night. The next morning the sun shone extra bright; we woke up feeling great. The Malaysia Cup had always been a kind of Holy Grail given the issues mentioned earlier, and I was glad that we finally wrested it back to our shores. Given that Singapore was retiring from the Cup, we felt extra special to have been there to witness the momentous occasion.