Singapore

Fandimonium through the years

The New Paper was the new kid on the block; he was already 26 and in his prime. "We'll bring Fandi home: FAS" was the promise on the cover of the first issue of TNP, on July 26, 1988, as the Football Association of Singapore sought a source for goals and glory through the years

Who can forget the power and timing in those trademark scissor kicks?

Or when he seemed to hang majestically in the air, waiting to power a header into goal?

Fandi Ahmad was a shooting star and TNP was happy to help chronicle his every move for a rapt audience.

After his years with Malaysian state teams, we rejoiced when the prodigal son returned and helped Singapore end a 14-year Malaysia Cup drought.

We celebrated when he became the first local millionaire sportsman, cooed at the birth of each of his five children and cried along with him when he lost his fortune due to poor business decisions.

And for more than two decades, TNP and Fandi grew older together.

It was not just his heroics - such as when he scored a late winner against Indonesia with 33sec to go to lead the Lions to the 1989 SEA Games final - that made headlines.

If he was unhappy, if he grew a moustache or wore a goatee, if he added another item to his catalogue of injuries, it was all news.

Call it Fandimonium.

It is fair to say that no other local, or any other individual for the matter, has adorned as many of our iconic Page Ones over the years.

GRATEFUL

"Wow," he exclaimed when we pointed this out to him in an interview in March 2013, followed by his idiosyncratic chuckle, as if he had indeed grown from 26 to 50 in the blink of an eye.

"I'm really grateful that people still care about me after all these years.

"From the Malaysia Cup days, to the twilight of my playing career, to my current job as football coach, and even my personal life, through the highs and lows.

"You guys made me a hero, you guys also showed no mercy when I didn't have a good game - all these are normal.

"I have always had a positive outlook and the stories in The New Paper made me want to prove a point - to justify the praise or prove critics wrong - even till today."

After scoring the winner in a 2-1 victory over Selangor in the 1980 Malaysia Cup final, Fandi made the giant leap into Europe.

With one Dutch newspaper describing Fandi as "the man with the Johan Cruyff touch", Ajax offered him a contract after a two-week trial in 1982, which he spurned.

A second chance to go Dutch beckoned in 1983, and it was with unfashionable Groningen that he wrote himself into football folklore, scoring against Italian giants Inter Milan in a Uefa Cup match - the best moment of his career, he claimed.

He also scored against Diego Maradona and Boca Juniors (guest-starring for Selangor in a 1982 friendly), Arsenal (in his farewell match for Niac Mitra) and Werder Bremen, among other famous teams.

But it was not all rosy for the football superstar. He strayed offside with his restaurant and used-car businesses, losing a considerable sum.

Then he pulled one back in 2012 by signing a lucrative deal with Malaysian Super League club Johor Darul Ta'zim.

He left by mutual consent the following year, after which TNP broke the news of his interest and application for the LionsXII job and his ensuing appointment in December 2013.

FIRST MILLIONAIRE

In 1990, we reported on how his last stab at European glory with OFI Crete turned sour and he had to pay the Greek outfit US$30,000 (S$42,850) for his release.

Two years later, he became Singapore's first millionaire sportsman.

In 2000, a bountiful year when he won the S-League title, S-League Coach of the Year and AFC Coach of the Month, we broke the story about how Fandi took in a Thai monk Worachart, a complete stranger, and let him stay in his house for an extended period.

In 2009, Fandi's wife Wendy Jacobs slipped and fell in the bathroom of their house in Jakarta, where Fandi was coaching Indonesian club Pelita Jaya. She was bedridden and in bad shape, but slowly recovered.

For years, Fandi fiercely guarded his family's privacy after Wendy's traumatic health scare.

Many Singaporeans had almost no idea of what was happening before TNP's exclusive in February 2013.

That was when the family welcomed TNP into their condominium unit in Seletar for an interview with Fandi, Wendy and their five kids.

Their eldest kid, Irfan, now 19, plays for the national team.

Other sons Ikhsan, now 17, and Ilhan, now 14, all had stints with clubs abroad. Daughter Iman, now 16, is also a champion runner and aspiring model, while Iryan, now 10, packs a mean left foot.

To this day, the Fandi Ahmad story enthralls.