SINGAPORE - He is usually the first to show up and the last to leave, but a familiar face will no longer be seen at Hougang Stadium.
Groundsman Lambri Moondari died on Monday (Dec 25) at the Singapore General Hospital due to complications from a head injury after a fall in Batam while on a family holiday last week.
The 66-year-old's sudden passing saddened many in the local football fraternity, especially those at S-League club Hougang United, who play their home matches at the Hougang pitch which Lambri tended to for almost two decades.
Hougang United general manager Matthew Tay said: "Practically every morning he would be out on the pitch under the hot sun scattering fertiliser, cutting grass, flattening the pitch and personally marking the boundary lines just to make sure the pitch is ready for training and match days.
"All of us at Hougang United Football Club are deeply saddened by the loss of Mr Lambri and we extend our deepest sympathies to his family."
Cheetahs skipper Nurhilmi Jasni, who has been at the club since 2012, said: "His dedication is evident through our field's tip-top condition. When we report for our morning training, he is already at the stadium.
"He is a cheerful soul, and we are sad to see him go."
The father of three, who grew up idolising former Singapore internationals Arshad Khamis, Samad Allapitchay, Quah Kim Song and the late Dollah Kassim, started out as a grass cutter at the Farrer Park field in 1971.
Lambri joined the National Sports Promotion Board in 1971 before the Singapore Sports Council (now Sport Singapore) was established in 1973. He rose through the ranks from an unskilled workman to become a groundsman at Queenstown Stadium in 1977 before he moved to Hougang Stadium in 2000.
Whatever the weather, Lambri faithfully and painstakingly patched up the pitch six days a week, and even trimmed the grass before it was outsourced to a contractor.
"The pitch changes day by day - it is never the same," he told The Straits Times in a 2013 article that later won the S-League's Story of the Year.
During that same awards ceremony, Lambri took home the S-League Special Award - the first time a groundsman was honoured.
Former Hougang defender Delwinder Singh noted Lambri was equally attentive to people as he was to the pitch. He said: "Cik Lambri was always cheerful, always smiling. Whenever he saw us, he would wave and greet us. Even if you were having a bad day, seeing him would brighten your day.
"He was an honest man too, telling us we played well or not after matches, but there was always encouragement from him."
There was kindness outside of football as well.
On Hougang's Facebook page, Nalza Ijah Nalzam wrote: "An event my organisation had planned was rained out in November 2017. As I stood in the rain to inform participants of the cancellation, the late Mr Lambri came up to me to chat.
"Halfway through he went to his room and came out with a cup of hot coffee. He offered me the cup and insisted I drink it to warm myself up. I asked him why he wasn't drinking and he said it was his last packet of instant coffee and when I offered it back to him, he declined and said he would make a cup of tea for himself.
"All through the two hours he stood beside me to keep me company and I never thought much of it. He told me how he cycled from his home every morning even in the rain. I was blessed to have had the pleasure to meet such a kind and selfless soul."