Local hero: Fandi Ahmad

16 July 1982: Ajax Amsterdam offers Fandi a three year contract

Fandi Ahmad got his first pair of football boots when he was 12. You’d think he’d have owned a pair earlier, or even been born wearing them. But early in his career (he started playing for school at 10), he wore hockey boots with rubber studs, until his father, national goalkeeper Ahmad Wartam could afford installments for a new pair of Adidas Inter.

Thanks to Naomi who brought up the topic of national footballers in the 90s, and thanks to the ingterneck, I have re-acquainted myself a little with football, and how it was when Fandi was in his prime.

Everyone knows at least vaguely that Fandi was some sort of football hero. But in my opinion, not enough mention is made of his achievements. And given the troubles Singapore football has been in the last couple of years, you either need a new hero, or at least, look back to when there were heroes.

Fandi is still the only Singaporean player that I know to have been pursued by European and South American clubs (Ajax, Groningen, Nottingham Forest, Boca Juniors) and to have played for some of them (Ajax, Groningen, Crete) and on 19 October 1983, scored in the 89th minute of a UEFA Cup match for FC Groningen against Inter Milan. Inter’s goalkeeper that day was Walter Zenga, Uomo-Ragna (Spider-Man), who played for Italy in two World Cups, and still holds the record for number of minutes (508) without conceding a goal.

Fandi was so talented that Ajax Amsterdam offered him a contract twice. Once right after he had completed a trial with them, and another after he had finished his stint with FC Groningen. This is what they (Ajax) said about him, thanks to Google Translate:

Who is this player, which some people after his first dribbels the “new Coen Moulijn” called and who was described by others as the “new Simon Tahamata of De Meer”. In Singapore, despite his youth, he was the absolute star and how popular he was in that country have demonstrated by the fact that he came to his departure to Amsterdam by around 500 fans were uitgezwaaid. Last week areas even though two journalists from the country of Ahmad in Drente down to the people in Singapore to reports of the actions of these bright, but schietgrage attacker. In Asia, but also in Argentina (Boca Juniors) were the qualities of Fandi Ahmad long discovered. But he and his family saw more bread in a career with Ajax.

It was just that he couldn’t get used to the “bread” at Ajax and chose to move back to Singapore before giving Holland a second go with Groningen. One can only imagine Fandi playing a stellar role alongside Marco Van Basten and Jan Molby (with whom he was recruited), and being mentored by the great Johann Cruyff.

on the sidelines with Marco Van Basten

For the short stint at Groningen, Fandi left his mark. The town of 180,000 people apparently remember him fondly. At least FC Groningen does – in 2003, they named Fandi in their best XI of the 20th century.

He might have regretted not sticking with Ajax or playing out a career in Europe. But Fandi was magic with the ball at home, in the sky blue Singapore jersey, scoring against hapless Malaysian opponents in the Malaysia Cup. Once, as I remembered, even by tapping the ball into the net with his heel when he was caught facing the wrong way. This was the boy from the kampung of Kaki Bukit, wherever that is now, and not a newly naturalised imported athlete from Sports School, and goodness, how he inspired. Those were the days I watched football (and listened to Brian Richmond call it on the Ovaltine Wide World of Sports).

So I say, bring out the archived footage of his exploits and let us enjoy them all over again. Football from the country of Ahmad needs it.