Tributes pour in for departed legend Majid
Local legend, who died of pneumonia aged 80, remembered fondly by the likes of Fandi
He remembers walking out onto the pitch at the Jurong Stadium in 1978 as a wide-eyed 15-year-old.
It was his first "big break" with the Singapore Malays in his fledgling football career but Fandi Ahmad didn't have butterflies in his stomach.
Instead, he was raring to go, thanks to a pep talk from his coach Majid Ariff, and those assuring words remained etched in his mind till today.
"Majid told me: 'Today you are going to play, don't be scared, you have ability, so be confident, you just have to play with the team'," Fandi, 55, head coach of the Young Lions, told The Straits Times yesterday.
"It was a full stadium, and I was a little nervous, but he gave me confidence and it was a fantastic experience for me as a scrawny young boy."
Majid, who took Fandi under his wing and taught him the finer points of being a footballer, died of pneumonia early yesterday morning. He was 80, and leaves behind three children and 10 grandchildren.
Majid's health had deteriorated since Dec 23 when he suffered a stroke that affected part of his brain.
He is widely believed to be the finest footballer the Republic has produced and is the only one to play for the Asian All-Stars team in 1966.
That same year, Majid helped the national team finish fourth in the Bangkok Asian Games - a feat that remains Singapore football's best showing at the Games.
"He was a very skilful player who read the game very well and distributed the ball very accurately. He was also a great dribbler and a schemer who can lead the team very well, and that's why he was the best midfielder I've ever seen," said 71-year-old Andy Yeo, a former Singapore winger who played with Majid in the 1960s.
"He is a good coach too, who guided many players to eventually play for the national team."
Fandi is Majid's most prominent protege and the duo were the only Singaporeans among 116 top Asian players to be nominated for Asia's Footballer of the Century award in 1998.
"This is a big loss for Singapore football. He is a legend who remains our only Asian All-Star and, for me, Majid was the most complete player I've seen," said former national striker Fandi, who represented Dutch side FC Groningen in the 1980s.
"He had a big influence on my career and, even after I came back from the Netherlands, I looked for him to help me train."
That commitment to developing young footballers was a passion that Majid held true to for as long as his health had permitted.
"Four years ago, he was still healthy and coaching the Kaki Bukit kids with us - and he was very, very good with the kids," said Malek Awab, who along with several former Lions such as Yahya Madon, Shahri Rahim, Dalis Supait and Ho Kwang Hock, paid their respects yesterday.
"He was a one-in-a-million type of footballer, and his death is a big loss for the community."
The Football Association of Singapore (FAS) paid tribute to Majid in a message posted on its website.
"The FAS is deeply saddened by the passing of Singapore footballing legend Majid Ariff," said the statement which highlighted some of Majid's achievements as a player and coach.
The FAS made special mention of the 1965 Malaya Cup final that took place just eight days before Singapore's independence.
Majid had scored a magnificent individual goal to help Singapore come from behind to beat Selangor 3-1.
"He set an exemplary example of how former players continue to give back to the football fraternity and community," continued the FAS statement.
Former Singapore international Ho urged the fraternity - and the country - to honour its great sportsmen before it is too late.
"Majid was worth his weight in gold - as a footballer and also as a coach - we must honour him, and sportsmen like him from that era, who have done so much for the country," said Ho, whose team of ex-internationals will observe a minute's silence in respect of Majid at their friendly match at the Jalan Besar Stadium tonight.