SINGAPORE - The surface and the stands may have looked far different back when they were at the peak of their powers, but that mattered little to the Singapore football stars of yesteryear when they took on their counterparts from Malaysia in an exhibition game at the Jalan Besar Stadium on Thursday (Aug 31) night.
In front of about 1,000 fans - entry was free - they gave their all on the pitch and jested one another just as hard off it.
The game was part of the launch of 'Roar: Football Legends of Singapore'. The book, written by football fan A. Thiyaga Raju, is billed as a tribute to 100 years of football history in the Republic.
Raju, 61, said it was a labour of love for over five years, with most of it written after he left his job as a fraud control analyst with Standard Chartered Bank in November 2017 after 33 years.
The idea of the book was first conceived, he explained, in 1998 when he shared a casual conversation with former Penang stars Isa Bakar and N. Baskaran at the Padang.
"After I left Standard Chartered, the National Library became my second home," said Raju, describing the amount of research that went into the writing the book.
The lifelong football fan, who had also organised an appreciation dinner for the 1977 Malaysia Cup victory in 2017, said he hoped to revive stories and personalities of local football from the past who fans may not know.
"Seeing smiles on their faces or on those of the loved ones of players who have passed, is like a million dollars," said Raju.
The launch was attended by players from various generations, from the likes of 1977 captain Samad Allapitchay to arguably the Lions' biggest star, Fandi Ahmad, who returned from Malaysian side Sri Pahang, where he is technical adviser.
A plaster cast of the left foot of 97-year-old former Singapore player "Twinkletoes" Chia Boon Leong, was also unveiled before kickoff, with the dulcet tones of 75-year-old former commentator Brian Richmond providing the voiceover for the evening's proceedings.
While the Singapore ex-internationals frequently played together in friendly games in the past, the pandemic meant they went over two years without sharing a pitch. They clearly enjoyed the opportunity on Thursday night.
When loudhailer of the group Ho Kwang Hock, 67, barked orders from the touchline, 72-year-old Samad quipped: "Hock, lu cakap macam Seng Quee lah! (Hock, you talk like Seng Quee)", referring to their late legendary coach "Uncle" Choo Seng Quee, to huge laughter from the bench.
Another former Singapore captain, Terry Pathmanathan, who did not play in the game, said it was a pleasure to be able to reminisce about the old days with ex-Malaysian stars Soh Chin Ann and Santokh Singh.
Pathmanathan, 66, said: "Santokh would kill you on the field if he could, but off it, we shared many friendly moments... The game may be for (60 minutes) but the chit chat will last for four hours."
For the record, Singapore won the game 2-0 through goals from Zulkarnaen Zainal and E. Manimohan.