'60 years old? You don’t seem to age lah, Fandi'
Singapore's footballing son launches biography, detailing tales of honour and sacrifice
Sporting a grey jacket over a black t-shirt and that ever recognisable smile, Fandi Ahmad found a few seconds amid a hectic Sunday (May 29) afternoon to come over to this reporter and say hello.
We had not met in over seven years, but he recognised me just as he had recognised practically everyone at the ITE College Central that afternoon.
He might be a celebrity, an icon, the son of Singapore football, the man who brought a nation to its feet on countless occasions – but if he knew you – whether you were a fan, an ex-player he coached, or an usher who worked at one of his events two decades ago, Fandi always had a few seconds for hello, to take a photograph, and to flash that disarming trademark smile.
“I am sweating so much. It’s been non-stop,” he says in exasperation, referring to the hubbub and the hundred or so people that showed up for the launch of his second biography Fandi: Honour & Sacrifice.
The event aptly coincided with his 60th birthday.
But, of course, you couldn’t tell, with Fandi looking just as young as he did 10, maybe 15 years ago.
“60 years old? You don’t seem to age lah, abang Fandi.”
But before I could wish him “Happy Birthday”, he was swept away for yet another meet and greet – this time it was to receive Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Edwin Tong, the guest of honour at the event, who had just arrived.
Watching a five-minute montage later in the auditorium, where various people from different countries and different stages in his life sent Fandi birthday wishes, it’s no surprise just how many have been smitten by his charm.
Never mind that he last kicked a ball professionally over 20 years ago. If you met Fandi, chances are, you liked him. And you’d always remember him.
The book’s author, Ms Durga Poonambalam, testified as much when she remarked how amazed she was to witness the influence Fandi still had in Holland.
She had travelled there with him during the making of the 472-page autobiography – to interview Fandi's former teammates and friends.
Aside from being the Republic's top scorer with 55 goals in 101 caps, Fandi is also well noted for playing and scoring in the Uefa Cup with Dutch side FC Groningen, a feat still unmatched by a local footballer.
"Fandi always says, 'The humble don't stumble', and he practises what he preaches, which is why people overseas still remember him fondly,” said Ms Durga, creative director at WriteHaus Asia. “He is exactly the humble and kind person people talk about,"
"It is important to honour someone who creates a sense of belonging and contributes so much to Singapore.
“Football brings people together, but Fandi brings Singaporeans together.”
Mr Tong said: "Having come to know Fandi, one thing that stood out is how much he cares about everything around him - his family, his boys, Singapore football and Singapore in general. What's most important to him is how high our flag is flown, and not just in football... he wears his heart on his sleeve."
Available at local major bookstores and this website for $28.90, 5,000 copies of Fandi: Honour & Sacrifice have been printed.