SINGAPORE - As a pre-teen, all he wanted to do was to play football; as a kampung boy, he looked at the sky and aspired to jetting around in an aeroplane. When he was a teenager, he had ambitions of putting on a red jacket and representing Singapore at major Games; when he became a footballer, he dreamt of turning pro and playing in Europe.
As a father, he hoped his sons would do the country proud and create more memories for Singaporeans.
Remarkably, Fandi Ahmad achieved all of that and more, becoming the Republic's top scorer with 55 goals in 101 caps and playing and scoring in the Uefa Cup with Dutch side Groningen, a feat which is still unmatched.
His life stories are shared in his second biography Fandi: Honour & Sacrifice, which was launched on his 60th birthday on Sunday (May 29) at the ITE College Central, his alma mater where he has also been its sports ambassador since 2010.
Fandi was accompanied by his mother Semiah Ismail, wife Wendy Jacobs and five children - Irfan and Ikhsan scooted off after a while to join the Lions on a flight to Abu Dhabi to prepare for the June 8-14 Asian Cup qualifiers - as well as guest of honour, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Edwin Tong.
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."
Looking young and dapper in a grey jacket, matching pants and black tee, Fandi had the 200-strong crowd eating out of his hand like he did in his playing days with his easygoing charm.
Singapore's first millionaire sportsman did not just make time for photographs and autographs with former teammates like Malek Awab and David Lee, or other sports luminaries like bowling queen Grace Young, he fulfilled every pakcik, makcik, schoolkid and fan's photograph and autograph request.
Above all, he had a heartfelt message for the nation's youth which centred around 3Ds - determination, dedication and discipline.
Fandi shared that his football career was not always a bed of roses - he did not make the initial cut at the Milo Soccer School as a boy, endured 15 surgeries, and held the family together when Jacobs was ill for some time.
He told The Straits Times: "The will to succeed is very important. I hope youngsters can believe in themselves and work hard to transform their ambitions to reality like I did. Make things happen.
"Along with the 3Ds, you also need to make sacrifices. Even as a parent, I was making sacrifices to send my boys away to as far as Chile to give them every chance to succeed as a footballer."
Written by Durga Poonambalam, the 472-page book with photographs and illustrations took four years to complete as they flew to the Netherlands and Kuala Lumpur to interview Fandi's former teammates and friends.
The creative director at creative agency WriteHaus Asia said: "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. People always talk about learning from Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, but why not learn from our own?
"Fandi always says, 'The humble don't stumble', and he practises what he preaches, which is why people overseas still remember him fondly. He is exactly the humble and kind person people talk about."
Available at local major bookstores and this website for $28.90, 5,000 copies of Fandi: Honour & Sacrifice have been printed. This is Fandi's second biography. His first was written by former ST journalist Wilfred Yeo and released in 1993.