Time to feel a bit nostalgic today...
I still remember during the early 90's without cable TV, the sports coverage, though minimal, was already quite satisfying to me at least. That was the time when I believe the EPL and Serie A played a second fiddle to the Malaysia Cup. There was EPL and Serie A highlights shows on TV on weekends and a couple of high profile matches shown live then. I would say they played 2nd fiddle is purely based on my perspective. There was a half-hour locally produced sports show on Sunday then, just imagine that 10 to 15 minutes of the show was dedicated to the Malaysia Cup, just because we were supposedly to be doing well. In fact, it made heroes out of normal players in Singapore which we would admire and respect.
That was the time when all Singaporeans stand together to cheer on our Singapore team, albeit with 3 foreigners, week in week out, taking on the challenges of the Malaysian state teams. When I really started following football, it was during 1990 and Singapore was challenging for the Malaysia Cup in the Final. As my parents weren't actually football fans, I did not have the opportunity to travel to the National Stadium for any of the matches. However I was still able to watch most of the matches on TV. That TV coverage was definitely superb in those days because we have the ever so passionate Mark Richmond commentating on the matches, and I can really feel that he is representing the voice of all the fans in Singapore.
1990 we did not manage to win the Cup, we actually lost 3-1 to Kedah in the Final but that was the catalyst that stoke my passion in Singapore sports. We did fairly badly in the next 2 years and was relegated to Division 2 after 1992. But we managed to re-sign Alistair Edwards and Abbas Saad, together with Jang Jung and our local legends which included Fandi Ahmad, V. Sundramoorthy, Malek Awab, K. Kannan and David Lee, we managed to top the Division 2 and went all the way to the Malaysia Cup Final again. This team was dubbed the Dream Team but we lost to Kedah 2-0 in the Final yet again. There was definitely heartbreak after all the good performance throughout the season, which also included a 8-0 mauling of Brunei at the National Stadium and the iconic Sundram's bicycle kick goal.
As if the losing of the final was not enough in 1993, Singapore also hosted the SEA Games that year, and the Lions sans the foreign players did reach the semi-finals of the football event only to lose to Myanmar after the dreaded penalty shootout. We did started off well in that game and in fact got a 2-0 lead before 30 minutes. However 2 own goals by Lim Tong Hai gave the Myanmese the confidence and held on to full time. Extra time beckoned and Myanmar scored through mistake by the Singapore defence and led 3-2 at the National Stadium. With Steven Tan coming on as the substitute, he would go on and prove why he's the legendary super-sub. He scored the equalizer and the match went into penalty kicks, which Singapore could not hold their nerves. But the Lions did redeemed themselves by claiming bronze.
1994 was the of rejoice for us and it was also the first time I went to a football match at the National Stadium. A 14 years old going all the way to National Stadium to buy match ticket days prior the match, and going all alone to watch the match by itself. It may feel lonely at first, but once I stepped down from the bus-stop at PA and following a sea of red shirted supporters walking 10 minutes to reach the Stadium, I don't feel lonely anymore. that was the first time I watch a football match live at the stadium, alone with 50000 passionate fans. Anyway I think I've watch about 4 or 5 matches that year live and it was one of the most wonderful feeling I've experienced.
We did well in 1994 with Douglas Moore taking over the helm as coach. He changed the moniker Dream Team into Real Team, and dropped Alistair Edwards and Sundram. I believe they could not fit into his tactical plans. This Real Team truly was real, as they stormed to the new formatted 15 teamed M-League title and then reached the Final of the Malaysia Cup yet again. However this time their opponents were not Kedah, but Pahang (if I did not remember wrongly). We trashed them 4-0 and the entire nation was jubilant as we finally managed to win back the cup after 14 long years.
Well, happiness did not last long though. We were accused of match fixing and we exited the competition in 1995. Can't help feeling sad, but it also gave birth to the current S-League where more players were groomed and shine on more platforms. We started the S-League in 1996 with a bang and I've been to a couple of matches pitting the top clubs of Singapore. The atmosphere were not too bad, but it lacked a sense of belonging compared to the old days. Anyway, the crowd atmosphere also whittled after the debut season.
This year FAS and FAM announced the joint participation in the Malaysia Cup in 2012, I truly hope that it will be a success and bring back the passion of the fans.