This article was first published in The Straits Times on Oct 15, 2010.
SINGAPORE - Dollah Kassim, a man inextricably linked with the golden age of Singapore football, died yesterday, just over a year after collapsing during a veterans' game.
The former international, who helped the Lions to Malaysia Cup glory in 1977, was 61.
More than 300 family members and friends, including former teammates Quah Kim Lye, Samad Allapitchay and Ho Kwang Hock, gathered at Choa Chu Kang cemetery for the burial of the man nicknamed "Gelek King" for his superlative dribbling skills.
Even Lions who played in the 1990s like Rafi Ali, Malek Awab, Nazri Nasir and David Lee came to pay their respects, a testimony to Dollah's appeal.
His wife of 31 years, Madam Faridah Syed Anwar, sobbed uncontrollably throughout the day, first at the wake at their five-room Sengkang flat, then at Sultan Mosque along Arab Street, and finally during the burial.
She was supported by family members as her husband's body was lowered to its final resting place.
The 56-year-old, along with her son Ezaad Abdullah and daughter Ellya Abdullah, had tended to him tirelessly after he suffered a heart attack on Oct 4 last year, during the Sultan of Selangor Veterans' match.
Ironically, Dollah's death came just two days before this year's edition. The annual affair, which features Malaysian and Singaporean veterans from both sides of the Causeway as well as current internationals, takes place tomorrow in Shah Alam.
Mr Ezaad, 32, said: "My mother's the worst hit, he was her backbone.
"It's going to take some getting used to, not seeing him on his bed any more. Above all, he was a family man."
Family members said that in the past few months, Dollah could not speak and could barely recognise his loved ones.
At around 5am, Madam Faridah heard a strange noise coming from her husband during morning prayers. Mr Ezaad later described this as his father "taking one last breath".
Along with his sister, they used an oxymeter to check his pulse, changing the batteries when it registered no reading initially. An ambulance was called, and paramedics declared Dollah dead.
A minute of silence was observed at last night's S-League match between Etoile FC and Singapore Armed Forces FC at the Queenstown stadium.
This will be repeated tomorrow before the Singapore Veterans v Selangor Veterans game, part of the annual Sultan of Selangor competition.
During the corresponding fixture last year, Dollah, then a Singapore Pools sports analyst, collapsed after suffering a heart attack while playing at Jalan Besar Stadium.
He was rushed to Tan Tock Seng Hospital, where he remained until the end of last year.
Former teammates remembered Dollah for his easygoing disposition and love of practical jokes. He had a good heart, many pointed out, keeping an eye out for the younger ones in the national side and ensuring they blended in.
Lim Teng Sai, part of the 1977 Malaysia Cup-winning side coached by the legendary Choo Seng Quee, said: "Back in those days when we were playing for the youth club Burnley United at Farrer Park, Dollah lived nearby and his family would always prepare food for us."
Former teammate Quah, 68, who was Dollah's roommate on overseas trips with the Lions, called him "very secretive but a man with a very gentle heart".
Dollah's most memorable goal came in 1975, during a Malaysia Cup quarter-final against Pahang which Singapore won 2-0.
He weaved past the entire defence from the halfway line, rounded the goalkeeper, and back-heeled the ball into goal.
In an international career spanning from 1968 to 1979, Dollah and his team won one Malaysia Cup, finished runners-up four times, and won a South-east Asia Games bronze.
Football Association of Singapore president Zainudin Nordin said: "He was an exceptional individual and an outstanding footballer who moved many people. His life will continue to inspire countless Singaporeans in the future."
Despite his talent, Dollah had no airs, 62-year-old Yeo Hock Yew said. He played against Dollah in Inter-Division matches in the 1970s and 1980s, and was regularly among the 60,000 fans who packed the National Stadium, drawn by the midfielder's silky play.
"What was memorable was his friendly unassuming ways, when he moved smilingly before games among quite ordinary footballers," said Yeo, a retiree.
"You would think that he was just a popular kampung boy at a neighbourhood kick-about. In an age of commercialised football, we are going to miss Dollah Kassim, the football legend, and humble gentleman."