Sundram and Murali relive their Sembawang football days
Murali, a childhood teammate of Sundram's, would leave early to study
He spoke to The New Paper from Bangladesh, where his Tampines Rovers side are poised to take on Sheikh Jamal Dhanmondi in Group E of the AFC Cup today.
Victory will push the Stags a step closer to becoming the first Singapore side to qualify from the group stage of the second-tier regional tourney since Home United in 2012.
V Sundramoorthy's team are chasing history, but it was The Dazzler's own footballing past that caught up with him recently and drew a warm glow.
Sundram met up with childhood football buddy K Muralidharan Pillai - the People's Action Party (PAP) candidate who will contest the May 7 Bukit Batok by-election - to make a video and, together, they talked about the sepia-tinted days gone by, when football was simple and brought so much joy.
Former Singapore international Sundram believes that Murali's character, displayed early on the streets of 14th mile Sembawang and at the foot of the Jurong Town Corporation flats there, will ensure the lawyer does well in the coming hustings.
"He was more of a scholar who would balance football with studies and that was what made him stand out from the rest of us who just wanted to play football," Sundram told TNP.
"We'll be playing till it got dark, but Murali would always leave earlier so he could go back and study. He didn't even have to say why he had to run off, we all knew he was that kind of responsible boy."
The kind of responsibility Murali displayed as a kid is a major reason Sundram, 50, believes his old buddy will serve the people of Bukit Batok well.
"The moment we met, I realised that he is still the same down-to-earth and jovial fellow I knew then - and he carries himself well. Those of us who grew up with him will be very proud if he does pull this off," said Sundram, who meets Murali every now and then at family gatherings.
Murali remembers vividly playing football with his famous friend as a kid, and how his job as a teammate was to simply collect the ball and pass it to Sundram.
The 48-year-old credits his parents for his off-the-field discipline.
"Coming from a modest family background - my father even juggled two jobs at one time to put food on the table - my parents emphasised that a good education would serve us well in life," said Murali.
"I must confess I leaned towards play more often… I recall a number of occasions where my mother would go marching to the football pitch to ask me to go back home immediately to wash up and study."
Sundram went on to don national colours and become one of Singapore's greatest footballers and he now dreams of leading the Lions as coach.
Murali's journey to leadership on the national stage followed a different path, but one that Sundram believes deserves equal, if not more, credit.
"My dream as a kid was every kid's dream, just to play a match at the National Stadium... we never even thought about playing in Europe," said Sundram, who turned out for Swiss side FC Basel in the 1980s.
"I think the challenge - and impact of success - of this election is about the same for Murali, and all of us who grew up with him are supporting him."
“In the 14th mile JTC flats at Sembawang, I had a wide circle of friends from different races and social backgrounds, and we respected each other. This early childhood experience laid the foundation for me to be able to reach out to people of different backgrounds, make friends with them and work together for the betterment of our community.”
— Murali Pillai
“I’m in Bangladesh now, the first time I’ve been back here since 1982 when I was 18 and played in an Asian youth tournament. You won’t believe how old I feel. But you realise some things never change — like friends from your younger days, like Murali — a time when it was all so innocent.”
— V Sundramoorthy