It was a balmy evening, one of those purple nights when you don't know if the weather would hold out. Arriving half an hour before the match, it was already turning out to be a logistical nightmare, especially if you're trying to communicate over the network. The air waves were literally jammed with frantic SMSes destined never to reach their intended recipients. With a little persistence and a huge dose of luck,
my group of friends and I were able to settle into a clearing with a great view, facing the grandstand and directly in line with the goalline. Well, at least we could weigh in with truly expert views on those "Did it cross the line?" debates.
As soon as we settled down, and inspected the equipment, the familiar strain of Majullah Singapura came on. What was unfamiliar was the way the words were belted out with so much pride, causing even the most hardened, antiauthoritarian taxi-driver to have those patriotic lumps in the throat, I'm sure. Now, why doesn't this happen in school assemblies and army parades?
And so the match is underway... I looked on in despair as a friend whipped out his 70-300 zoom and fired away. This was the best my 17-70 Sigma could muster.
Suddenly there was a lot of action at the Thai penalty box, with the ball ricocheting back and forth between the Thai defenders and the Singapore players, before rolling into the net. Er....was that really a goal? Can't blame us, everything happened very fast, and worse, there was never going to be a replay.
Judging from the cacophony of cheers and feet stomping, I guess Singapore must have been one-nil up. Switching my viewing channel to the scoreboard,
Ahh....that was reassuring indeed! 1-0 up, and I started jumping for joy, along with the rest.
After the goal, the play generally settled into the type normally played with coconuts in a kampong village. There were 50 yard passes to players 30 yards away. At least these bobbed away harmlessly. It was on one of those 3 yard passes to players 5 yards away that Thailand finally capitalised. Breaking from midfield, the Thai players were swift, perhaps too swift and swiftly rounded our poor Lionel Lewis. It must have been a wretched feeling to be rounded like that, even more wretched if you witnessed the whole thing right before your very own eyes.
The crowd became much more subdued after that. My friend and I soon launched into a debate on whether Thierry Henrys of the fantasy world or the Thonglaos of our world were faster, as the game was fast petering out to a 1-1 draw.
Then came the defining moment of the night. Suddenly out of a harmless looking cross in the 81 min. the referee seemed to be pointing to the spot. PENALTY! And for Singapore too! Wooohooo! In harsh times like this, fair play is the last thing to worry about.
Unfortunately the Thai players had something up their sleeves. They felt that they were unjustly penalised, and for justice to prevail, they simply could not continue the game.
Of course, the partisan crowd of 60000 could not have disagreed more. Amid jeers of "Thailand BAPOK! Thailand BAPOK!", which of course I participated with perverse delight, the Thai players marched off the field.
Now this game was fast degenerating into a farce. Many of us were bewildered at the bizarre turn of events. The crowd were getting seriously impatient and restless, and spontaneously launched into those famous Kallang waves for entertainment.
The wave coming nearer...
Oh no! What shall I throw up in the air? My mind was racing and my eyes were darting. Grabbing my D70, I gave it a second thought, decided against it and took this shot instead.
The Thais finally decided to play ball instead of masak-masak, and trudged back rather unwilling to the field. It's a dreaded feeling Saddam Hussein would concur on his way to the hangman. The crowd sympathesied, and encouraged them with random cheers of "Balik kampong", "chao agua", "thailand bapok", and of course, our national slogan, KNNBCCB.
Our Fahrudin Mustafic, Serbian-born foreign import, as close to a German penalty machine as Singapore could ever afford, slammed home emphatically!
What a farewell to the Kallang National Stadium. The 2-1 victory was to be the first, and last time Singapore beat Thailand at Kallang (or anywhere else, for that matter).
And all around the Kallang stadium, the tribal victory dance began.