Singapore

M'sia Cup + TNP = Dream Team

It would hardly be an overstatement to say the Malaysia Cup was what made The New Paper. The glory days of the Malaysia Cup coincided with the growth of the newspaper in the 80s and 90s, propelling it to the status of "Singapore's Soccer Paper"

Fittingly, the top story of the very first issue - on July 26, 1988 - was how Singapore's favourite footballing son Fandi Ahmad would be brought back to local football.

Match reports, exclusive stories and scoops involving the Malaysian League followed thick and fast.

From annual Malaysia Cup pull-out spreads to breaking news on the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) crackdown on match-fixing, TNP published it all; proving we were the ultimate source of information on the tournament and the country's most loved team.

Mr R. Jegathesan, TNP's chief sub-editor (Sports) during the late 1980s and early 1990s, explained the conscious decision to target the Malaysia Cup as the centrepiece of the paper's sports coverage.

GOLDEN DAYS: An ecstatic Fandi lifting the Malaysia Cup in 1994.

He said: "Football was our main fare, and the Malaysia Cup inevitably became key to our coverage. With the popularity of the Cup among Singapore's masses, it was inevitable that we latched on to it to make the paper a compulsory afternoon read."

PACKED

Even during a regular league fixture, the old National Stadium would pack in 55,000 fans who would cheer on the Lions, yell expletives at the referee and jeer the opposition.

What made the paper's coverage of the tournament unique, said Mr Jegathesan, was the "no holds barred" approach from the sports writers.

One of the breaking football stories TNP published exclusively in the early years was when V. Sundramoorthy was assaulted in Johor the day before a match.

The Singapore star, who was playing for Kedah at the time, was attacked by three men with hockey sticks outside his team hotel.

Injuries to his legs ruled him out of Kedah's match against Johor the day after. Although the assailants were never found, TNP revealed through sources that it was likely to have been bookies who did not want him to play in the match. It was the first reported case of Malaysia Cup violence off the field.

Perhaps the paper's biggest story on the Malaysia Cup was whenour reporter, through a series of stories in 1992 and 1993, urged the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) to investigate match-fixing in Singapore.

JUBILATION: Members of the triumphant Singapore team in 1994.

When Singapore lost the 1993 Malaysia Cup final to Kedah 2-0, he speculated on match-fixing once again, prompting the CPIB to step in.

The bureau launched a probe in August 1994 and subsequently charged footballers Michal Vana and Abbas Saad - both foreign stars in the Lions team that year - with accepting bribes.

The CPIB later credited TNP for "helping Singapore clean up its soccer scene".

Singapore were relegated from the Malaysian top tier for the first time ever at the end of 1992. TNP pulled no punches towards the end of that season, often stating, unreservedly, that the Lions "deserved to play in Division Two".

PROMOTION

The Dream Team achieved promotion back to the Semi-Pro League in 1993, but lost in the Malaysia Cup final. A year later, the Lions lifted the Cup in Shah Alam, defeating Pahang 4-0 in the final on Dec 17.

TNP spared no pages in the build-up to the match and in documenting the glory.

Commentaries and exclusive interviews with the players continued well after the final - all the way to February 1995 when Singapore pulled out of the Malaysian competition after 30 years. The withdrawal ushered in the era of the S-League, launched in 1996.

Fifteen years later, the Football Association of Singapore announced their return to the Malaysian competition - now known as the Malaysian Super League - with a new team named the LionsXII.

TNP launched a 15-day "M-League Countdown" on Dec 26, 2011, which featured profiles of each LionsXII player every day.

Fans who collected the paper's countdown logos over two weeks won grandstand tickets to Singapore's historic opening clash against Kelantan on Jan 10, 2012.

They also received a special gift pack that contained limited-edition scarves, a guide to the M-League, complete with season fixtures, and a special poster of Singapore's greatest Malaysia Cup team.