Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Sun sets on the Grand Old Lady
Athletes past and present, spectators old and young, gather for final fling at Kallang
By Marc Lim, Sports Correspondent
SHE gave Singapore the best years of her life. So it was only fitting that, when it came time to say goodbye to the Grand Old Lady of Kallang, a bash like no other drew the curtains on the 34-year-old National Stadium.
Singaporeans across three generations - 45,000 in all - joined VVIPs such as President SR Nathan, members of the Cabinet and Singapore athletes, past and present, in a tribute yesterday that had nostalgia and entertainment weaved into a sporting spectacle.

The arena had been home to numerous National Day Parades and hosted icons such as Michael Jackson and Billy Graham.

But it was always sports which defined Kallang. Which was why Singapore's greatest sporting warriors returned to their former stomping ground for one last hurrah before it makes way for the new Sports Hub at year's end.

Footballers like Quah Kim Song and Dollah Kassim were immortalised on the National Stadium pitch.

They gave Kallang some of its best years during the days of the Malaysia Cup. It was they who gave Singapore the Kallang Roar - that sonic boom that sent shivers down opponents' spines.

Yesterday, they blew the dust off their boots to grace the pitch once again as they took on their Malaysian counterparts.

They may no long resemble the greats of the 1970s, but the fans hardly cared. Their mere presence rolled back the years. And to many, that was all that mattered.

Likewise for sprinter C. Kunalan, a former Olympian and once Singapore's fastest man.

He showed he still had spring in his feet when he ran up the stadium's East gallery to light the cauldron one last time.

It was first lit when the Republic hosted the 1973 South-east Asian Peninsular Games, and last burnt bright at the 1993 South-east Asia Games.

Then there was Tan Howe Liang. Singapore's only Olympic medallist has called Kallang home for over a decade, working at the stadium's gymnasium.

How his heart must have swelled with pride - as it did when he won a silver in the 1960 Rome Olympics - when he held the Singapore flag high to lead a contingent of current and former athletes in a lap of honour.

So often the home of soccer, it was left to footballers V. Sundramoorthy, Lionel Lewis and Indra Sahdan Daud to walk the fans through some of the more memorable Kallang moments.

But it was only a night for reminiscing.

Although Khairul Amri was on the wrong side of a 0-3 scoreline against Australia, he had the crowd on their feet when he twisted and turned a world-class Australian defence in the 57th minute, before finding space to unleash a shot on goal.

Alas, the Lion's effort smacked against the post.

But, at just 22, Amri - whose wonder goal won Singapore the Asean Football Federation title in February - is one player Singapore football could build around to excite future generations.

So, too, the many young athletes who took to the field as rock music and fireworks turned Kallang into one huge party.

And, just as these young athletes look to the future, so must everyone else. Tears will be shed when the stadium takes her final bow at the end of the year.

But, with a new home, comes new memories - like the ones the National Stadium has provided all these years.

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