By Suresh Nair
This is a football marriage from the “kampong” books of an extraordinary bond of friendship across the boundaries of the Causeway between Kluang and Singapore, nurtured three decades ago.
I was honoured to attend the 30th anniversary of the ‘Causeway Friendship’, over this weekend, in the little rustic Johor town of Kluang as the two generational teams bonded together over a ceremonial match, makan and minum and in the amazing company of family and friends,
The two prime movers of this “bola-styled” congregation were Veterans Football Club (VFC) founder Karuppiah Kandasamy, the iconic personal security officer of the late Lee Kuan Yew, and Matthew Thomas, a former Johor state player, coach and referee. Both are in their mid-70s but with the fire in the belly to nurture an extraordinary football friendship and fraternity.
I realised, during the August 13-14 weekend visit, the importance of the friendliest of friendship bonds which are based on trust, honesty and sacrifice, a bond that it is as hard as a God’s trust, as grand as love and as precious family ties, born into someone’s heart.
It’s these endearing bonds that make us realise that in this world we need a pal by our side, a pal that completes us. What I mean is that in life we come to learn how to talk and walk, we go to school, we start to work, we get married, have kids and became grand-parents; and through all this-courses of life, we meet different people, people that might change our life in a good or bad way, people that are there when we need them and some very few people who sacrifice themselves to save us.
However we always are in search of a friend who completes us. And over 360 months, Kandasamy and Thomas have showed, by sterling personal examples, friends are someone who know what we are feeling before we say anything, a person who knows our sufferings, pains and darkest secrets in our hearts; in short, a person who reads our hearts.
BONDSHIP FROM 1986
The “old guards” of VFC, which started this bondship in 1986, were precisely in the thick of action. Skipper for the ceremonial 90-minute match at Stadium Kluang was 68-year-old leading Raffles Hospital gynaecologist Dr Tan Yew Gee, with majority of the players in the late 40s and 50s. But the generation gap was never in evidence as it was an amicably hard-fought sporting match, where Kluang won in an eight-goal thriller by 5-3, over three halves of 30 minutes.
As the post-match friendship went through the night’s “makan besar” in a humble Kluang community hall, with food graciously served from the kitchen of the Thomas family of uncles and aunties, nephews and neices, in-laws and out-laws (!) and the grand-kids in tow, it was evident of an unprecedented and, rather unimaginable, “gotong royong” football partnership between caring Causeway buddies.
I realised that friendship and neighbourliness is, at its core, recognising that football people, who live near and around us, form a community of potential long-standing friends and “family by proximity”. It widens our traditional definition of community to go beyond kinship, nationality, race or social group such as work or school ties.
Yes, the key to this three decades’ bondship and neighbourliness are the behind-the-scenes connectors, the passionate people who take the initiative out of goodwill and the desire to be a good neighbour to another. Being good Causeway neighbours, through the beauty of tooball , is the perfect exceptional first step.
The Kandasamy-Thomas buddyship, which sparked this 30-year-old awesome relationship, showed the importance of goodwill and harmony, regardless of race, language, colour or religion. Their longer-term breathtaking goal was to show that through football, across-the-Causeway neighbourliness reaches out to embrace distinguishing people next door.
It simply begins with the will or desire to connect with our generational families. Indeed, the need for neighbourliness is made even more urgent by dwindling family sizes, long hours at work and increased work-related travel.
Football clubs on either ends of the Causeway can perfectly take a leaf from Veterans Football Club (VFC). Not only to revive the “kampong spirit”, because then you can unwind with family, friends, and neighbours after an ultra-hectic urban lifestyle in Singapore or the rustic laid-back life in Kluang. You can also build friendships and bonds with Malaysian-Singaporeans of different races and religions and strengthen the racial harmony, through football.
Hats off to Kandasamy, Thomas and Dr Tan Yew Gee, the VFC, endearingly through the Singapore-Kluang 30-year familyship, have a “compelling social mission”. As I watched the two teams integrate and socialise at the post-match reception, it dawned on me that this generational football teams on either sides of the Causeway have sincerely and seriously promoted through football, genuine family values of close “bola” bonding, active ageing, racial harmony and the singularly-special kampong spirit.
In many little humble ways, the VFC has always been the pride of the simple Singaporeans, among the football grassroots. It is one of Singapore’s best known veteran football icons. It is a tangible demonstration of the highly successful heartlander policy of football ownership, among those very passionate with the world’s No 1 sport.
The Singapore-Kluang sense of football neighbourliness and “kampong spirit” is simply out of this world. Rare and phenomenal. Incredible. Exceptional. In promoting the three “F”s, football, family & friendship, the across-the-Causeway way.
Let’s use this “Causeway Friendship”, this endearing “bola” spirit and contribute more to community efforts to forge a new way forward in the next phase of buddy-buddy partnership at either ends of the Causeway. I look forward to the formation of new ties and friendships, new communities which will take root and blossom from these new bonds of neighbourliness.
I keep my fingers crossed that in the months and years to come, such football-family bonding taken exquisitely from the VFC book, through founder-members Kandasamy and Dr Tan Yew Gee will regain its position in every sporting Singaporean heart and mind.
- Suresh Nair is a Singapore-based journalist, who in the early 1990s, was assistant secretary of the Veterans Football Club (VFC). He had tear-jerking memories of this 30th anniversary Kluang date over the August 13-14 weekend.