There are fans, there are diehard fans and fanatics. And then there is A Thiyaga Raju, a superfan with an unadulterated passion for the game in Malaysia and Singapore.
Thiyaga, 59, has been supporting his beloved Singapore team since witnessing his first Malaysia Cup match as a 12-year-old.
Though Singapore then won the first leg semi-final 3-2 against Penang at the National Stadium on May 26, 1974, two Penang players – strikers Isa Bakar and Shaharuddin Abdullah – caught his attention.
The game remains etched in his memory. Tickets for the match were sold out, and hundreds of fans climbed the gates and high walls to enter the stadium.
Thiyaga and his friends did likewise to join the frenzied 70,000 fans inside the 60,000-capacity stadium.
Since then, he has never failed to keep track of the progress of all the Malaysian and Singaporean players via the sports pages of The Straits Times and New Nation and started a scrapbook.
While chasing his dream to be a top footballer, Thiyaga spent more time on the field than in the classroom, running into problems with his baker father.
After his plans to become a football player hit a wall, he found another way to get involved with the game – writing.
Thiyaga joined The Straits Times in January 1979 as a wire news feeder in the editorial department before becoming a resource clerk in the library. He rubbed shoulders with the newspaper’s sport journalists like Derek Wild, Teoh Eng Tatt, Godfrey Robert, Wilfred Yeo and Joe Dorai, all of whom he had dreamt of meeting as a boy.
Soon, Thiyaga was contributing articles to the paper’s “Sports View” column every Friday.
“My flair for sports writing was limited and soon it was the end of another dream to become a football writer,” he said.
Thiyaga quit the newspaper and joined a bank’s fraud control department but kept writing. In 1998, he published his first book, “Captain Marvel: The T. Pathmanathan Story” about the former Singapore skipper, who also played for Pahang towards the tail-end of his career.
It was at the launch of this book that the late Isa became his close friend. Isa was in the Malaysian team that played Singapore in a friendly ex-internationals’ match that preceded the book launch.
“Isa asked me to do a similar book on Malaysian football legends and offered me to stay in his Penang home for six months to write it,” said Thiyaga. However, Thiyaga had to refuse the offer as he was unable to spend a long time away from home.
When Isa died on Oct 28, 2010, Thiyaga decided to make the book a reality, but only got down to it two years ago. Ten years after Isa’s passing, Thiyaga hopes to launch the 57,530-word book to coincide with his idol’s death anniversary.
The 300-page “Roar” is a compendium covering 80 years (1920-2000) of Singapore-Malaysia football history. It contains profiles of iconic players, unsung heroes, visionary coaches and dynamic officials, key events and famous stadiums over eight decades.
The celebrated Kallang Roar that inspired Singapore to seven Malaysia Cup finals in eight years, winning two in 1977 and 1980, is also storied.
The exhaustive research by the author is a work of love for the game and underlines Thiyaga’s determination to fulfil Isa’s wish.
“The book aims not just to list records but to connect today’s generation and beyond to our priceless past – one that was built on toils, sacrifices amid a turbulent past strained by war, famine and hardship.
“Many of these players had long died and there weren’t adequate public records, so I spent much time at the National Library microfilm archives retrieving information.
“Besides interviews with family and friends, many well-wishers shared their memorabilia including photos and trivia never seen or heard before,” said Thiyaga who was given the “Vibrant Football Culture Award” by the FA of Singapore last November in recognition of his contributions to local football.
The younger generation will benefit greatly from the history of Malaysia-Singapore football, and Thiyaga’s effort will hopefully encourage others to document the exploits in other sports.
We need to be reminded that sports are not just games or unimportant, rather how sportspeople capture the imagination and love of a nation.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.
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