A true diehard of Singapore football
Lions fan Raju organises appreciation dinner to honour loyal servants of the local game
His love affair with Singapore football started more than 40 years ago.
A Thiyaga Raju still remembers how he fell in love with the Lions for the first time watching the Malaysia Cup semi-final match between Singapore and Penang on that Sunday on May 24, 1974.
Singapore lost 4-1 but that started a decades-long relationship with local football for Raju.
On New Year's Day, the 55-year-old, who works as a fraud control analyst with Standard Chartered Bank, took a trip down memory lane when he spent about $7,000 to organise an appreciation dinner for former national players at the Ceylon Sports Club.
Raju said his idea was inspired by the England Football Association's 50th anniversary as well as the death of his neighbour, close friend and former journalist, Santokh Singh.
Among the 70 guests were national coach V Sundramoorthy and local greats Fandi Ahmad and Quah Kim Song.
"I was thinking to myself, someone should appreciate legends like the late Dollah (Kassim), Fandi (Ahmad) and all the players who have shaped Singapore football," said Raju, who is also the author of Captain Marvel: The T Pathmanathan Story - a book on former national captain Terry Pathmanathan.
"We should take the opportunity to honour and appreciate these people while we still can."
The event was emceed by veteran radio DJ and former national youth player Brian Richmond.
Raju also presented a total of 54 plaques to people who had contributed to Singapore football, including footballers, family members and sports journalists from Singapore and Malaysia.
Also present at the event was Godfrey Robert, a former Sports Editor of The Straits Times and Consulting Editor of The New Paper.
"I am into my 48th year in journalism and, during this period, I had received a few awards, mementos and plaques," said Robert.
"During those awards, I had to reply: 'Thank you sir, thank you minister, thank you boss.'
"But for this appreciation dinner, after receiving my special award, I said: 'Thank you, Thiyaga', for the organiser and sponsor was a simple football fan.
"Expressing his passion for a popular game that transcends all races and peoples, Thiyaga was the man of the moment among football legends and veteran journalists."
Family members of the late Dollah and former national goalkeeper Lim Chiew Peng also attended the dinner.
Said Gregory Lim, son of the late custodian: "I would like to express our big thanks to (Raju) and Richmond as well as the others for putting on a spectacular event."
He also referred to Raju as a "true son of Singapore football" and hoped there would be more of such events in the future.