Football: Old but gold masters showing

Former stars may have lost a yard of pace, but not their edge before 8,000 fans at National Stadium

Reds striker Robbie Fowler objecting to the rough treatment dished out by Arsenal right-back Lauren. Liverpool won the Battle of the Masters last night.
Reds striker Robbie Fowler objecting to the rough treatment dished out by Arsenal right-back Lauren. Liverpool won the Battle of the Masters last night. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

Their hair may now come in 50 shades of grey and some labour around the pitch carrying a paunch, but the fire still burns for the football heroes of yesteryear at the Battle of the Masters.

The triangular veterans tournament, pitting the former players of the Singapore national team, Arsenal and Liverpool in three games of 40 minutes each, saw the Reds win the competition last night after a 5-0 victory over the Lions and a 2-2 draw against the Gunners.

And for those doubting if these retired professionals are still serious about the sport, they needed only to witness the final minute of Liverpool's clash with Arsenal.

Before more than 8,000 fans at Kallang, Reds captain Robbie Fowler and Gunners' Cameroonian right-back Lauren pushed and shoved each other, with both sets of players joining in the fracas before the heated exchange dissolved.

Fowler, now 42, did not mince his words after the game. He told The Sunday Times: "We are very happy to be here and even though we are not as quick as before, we still have the competitive edge and want to win.

"We are a good bunch of lads and we are all good friends. He (Lauren) elbowed me, he's an absolute idiot. He kicked a few of our players during the game.

"That's not in the spirit of the game and he's been naughty. I'll be surprised if he gets invited to another Masters tournament. But the game is over, the incident is finished, it's sorted out."

But Arsenal's Mikael Silvestre, 40, offered another side of the story, saying: "Robbie reacted to Lauren's push but it's nothing major."

That was just a little episode that encapsulated a night of football entertainment under Kallang's floodlights. In the evening's first game, the veteran Lions earned the cheers of the crowd after a gutsy 1-1 draw against the Gunners.

The north London club led through former France international Robert Pires, who slipped past the defence to side-foot the ball beyond the fingertips of goalkeeper Rezal Hassan in the 19th minute, but with four minutes left, Noh Alam Shah drilled a low ball into the box for fellow striker Aleksandar Duric to equalise.

But the Singapore Masters suffered a 0-5 hammering at the hands of their Liverpool counterparts in the second game. Although goalkeeper Rezal drew loud cheers from the crowd by saving Jari Litmanen's 10th-minute penalty, the Reds surged forward to score through Steve McManaman, an own goal, Luis Garcia, Emile Heskey and a penalty that was blasted home by goalkeeper David James.

In the evening's final game, Liverpool drew 2-2 with Arsenal. Once again, Pires opened the scoring after Omer Riza's cut-back in the fifth minute. But the men from Anfield replied just four minutes later through a volley from Heskey. And in the 13th minute, midfielder David Thompson ran unopposed into Arsenal's half before hitting a fierce shot from 25m that found the net.

But in the final minute, Fowler argued with Lauren after a robust tackle and as the Reds lost focus, Arsenal took a quick free kick that left Pires free to tap into an open goal to level the scores.

For the Kallang faithful, the Masters tournament is also about reliving the past.

Nwankwo Kanu thrilled with his body swerves. Luis Garcia, at 39, was lively in possession. And the night's biggest cheer was reserved for former Singapore captain Fandi Ahmad, who shrugged off illness and injury to play the final five minutes against Liverpool.

Silvestre said: "The Premier League is huge in Singapore and the people here know all the faces. They are passionate and they would wait for us outside the hotel hoping to get photos with us. That showed how much they like us."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 12, 2017, with the headline 'Old but gold masters showing'. Subscribe