Fandi's book goes beyond football

V.K. SANTOSH KUMAR

Ms Durga Poonambalam had just finished one of her book projects and was contemplating what to do next when her husband Allan Ang popped the question: "If you were to write about someone in Singapore, whom would you pick?"

"I had no hesitation in saying Fandi Ahmad," she told tabla! on Tuesday. "Because for me he was everything when I was growing up.

"He gave all Singaporeans a sense of belonging. Football brings the entire stadium together. But Fandi truly brought Singaporeans of different races and religions into the stadium.

"I felt he is a good representation of the Singapore spirit as he always wanted to fly the Singapore flag as high as he could wherever he played, whether it's in Malaysia, Holland, Indonesia or Singapore."

Another important reason for Ms Durga was that the Singapore football icon's story needed to be told because it would offer perspectives closer to Singaporeans' hearts.

"We always like to read about the life stories of overseas people, whether it is Steve Jobs or Cristiano Ronaldo," said Ms Durga.

"I felt that we could actually learn from our very own because we're all culturally similar. Learning from Fandi's life can help us understand how we can better ours as well."

So, 37-year-old Durga and 40-year-old Allan, who together run the branding, marketing and publishing company WriteHaus Asia, approached Fandi with the idea of writing a book on him.

A biography of Fandi had been published in 1993.

"But we pointed out to him that this one would be different," said Ms Durga, who has a degree in mass communications from MDIS and is a freelance writer.

"He was Singapore's footballing son then. He still is but he has grown so much... he is a husband, a father, a coach, he does so many different things. We could cover all of it. Fandi liked the idea."

It set Ms Durga on a four-year journey to research and complete Fandi: Honour & Sacrifice, which was launched on Fandi's 60th birthday on May 29 at the ITE College Central.

"Once I started talking to Fandi, I realised that it would not be enough just getting his views. So, we travelled to Holland, to Malaysia... wherever he played," said the writer.

"You always hear that he is humble and very kind. But I also wanted the readers to get to know the real Fandi - how the people around him know him and have contributed to his success and how he has influenced the people around him.

"So, we travelled to KL and Holland to meet his former teammates and friends. It was amazing to see the reach and impact he left behind in Groningen (a Dutch club Fandi played for from 1983 to 1985).

"Covid also led to the delay in the publication of the book."

Fandi: Honour & Sacrifice is basically about how Fandi made sacrifices to bring honour to the country.

"Everybody knows Fandi's life but what we don't see is what happened behind the scenes," said Ms Durga.

"The book takes us from his childhood to the person that he is today.

"It narrates how his carefree and fun childhood contributed to his development as a player and how he used football to deal with the divorce of his parents.

"It also dwells deep into his professional career, his relationships with his wife and kids, how he went into coaching after his retirement and how his three sons made it to the national team."

Throughout the interaction with Fandi, what stood out for Ms Durga was that "he really practises what he preaches".

"He often talks about his three Ds - determination, dedication and discipline. He is truly an epitome of that," she said.

"He's a very giving person. He never said 'I have no time'. He was very dedicated to making the book happen.

"I followed him around just to know how other people perceived him. I could see he was well-received and he brought a certain personality to occasions.

"So, it was not a surprise to know he really is who people say he is: very humble.

"It was really a privilege to have done this book with him."

santosh@sph.com.sg

Fandi: Honour & Sacrifice is available at major bookstores and online at fandibook.com for $28.90.

"I followed him around just to know how other people perceived him. I could see he was well-received and he brought a certain personality to occasions. So, it was not a surprise to know he really is who people say he is: very humble." - Writer Durga Poonambalam (left) on Fandi Ahmad

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