MENTION Kaki Bukit and instant fiery flares of Fandi Ahmad erupt as this kampong-based football arena is probably one of the favourite hot-beds of Singapore football.
Kaki Bukit, tugged in the eastern corner of Singapore, evokes nostalgic memories of the 1950s and 60s when grassroots football mania was in its element, nurturing scores of young Malay lads to seek fame in the international sporting platform.
Today, the President of Kaki Bukit Sports Club, a National Football League (NFL) Division Two club, Muhammad Zaki Ma’arof has come to the forefront, towards a national challenge to be a FAS Vice President candidate in Bill Ng’s “Game Changers”.
And the 53-year-old father of three teenage boys, who is a Director Yama Medical Supplies, acknowledges that real-life tales of Fandi’s rags-to-riches rise as a Kaki Bukit kampong boy to one of Asia’s most talented footballers and among a handful to earn a European contract in the 1980s, are just the stuff for the legendary books.
“Fandi was just 12, when he told his famous father, former national goalkeeper Ahmad Wartam, and mother, Semiah Ismail, that he was simply born to play football!,” says Zaki. “And he worked very hard and later rose to European stardom, best remembered by his Uefa Cup goal for( Dutch club) FC Groningen against (Italian giants) Inter-Milan, and today he’s hailed as the ‘Son of Singapore football’.”
Zaki praised the role-model hero-like status of Fandi and Kaki Bukit to show that ‘kampong boys’ (village lad, in Malay) can rise to be exemplary Singapore icons and global ambassadors, if they put their “heart and soul to what they believe in”.
MORE YOUTH FOOTBALL
“I personally see a serious need to place greater emphasis on youth football, and I see Fandi’s recent appointment as FAS Head Youth Coach as one of the key planks on which we can build on the future youth development programme,” says Zaki, who also played competitive football for Combined Schools, Changi United, South Avenue FC and Kaki Bukit in the 1980s.
“I’m proud to be part of the Bill Ng’s team of ‘Game Changers’ and we want to serve football with heart, seriously and sincerely,” he adds. “We want to project a very positive change and we’ll learn from one another and we’ll share responsibilities in a team-spirited way.”
Zaki has also come up the ranks, professionally, as a businessman over two decades and served the Singapore Malay Chamber of Commerce & Industry, over 10 years, as Treasurer and Deputy President.
“Football is always very close to my heart and, dare I say, my first priority. I usually postpone business work even cancel family appointments because of football. Football-gila, lah,” he says with a big smile.
His three sons, aged 16, 22 and 24, share the same sporting passion although they have excelled in silat (a class of indigenous Malay martial arts) at national competitive levels.
In order to encourage the growth of more Kaki Bukit-styled football flavour, Zaki intends to use his grassroots experience to focus on heartlander football.
The Liverpool FC die-hard fan says: “Bill Ng and his team share my same philosophy that we must show more care and concern to the ground and motivate the rise of the previously-neglected leagues in the lower divisions such as the National Football League (NFL), Women’s League and even look at ways to reinstate the Business Houses and Government Services competitions and also the Singapore Hotel Association tournaments.”
Zaki also sees a “genuine need to feel the heart-beats of the HDB and grassroots folks”. He adds: “We must create more communication and inter-action lines to every 44 FAS-affiliated clubs so that we listen to what the ‘small men and women’ have to say. Their honest feedbacks are important to setting Singapore football on the right path.”
In the longer-term, Zaki’s dream is to arouse more Fandi Ahmads, of that rare Kaki Bukit era, who can be Made-in-Singapore mentors of a “kampong hero” generation, with maybe minimal academic qualification, but who will show that through the football boots, they can carve a value-added sporting career.
Zaki says: “I always smile with confidence when I think of Fandi Ahmad. He capitalised on his blessed football skills which took him to fantastic heights and even nurtured his fast-growing global diplomatic skills that have today made him a superlative home-grown “bola” perfectionist.
“Rather unconsciously, he was capable of raising the hearts and souls from the grassroots football fields, in classrooms to community centres, even to win the hearts of the print, broadcast or social media to show that there can be a brighter future for a struggling game today.”
“Game Changers”, under Bill Ng, intend to draw a sincere longer-term plan to groom the future generations of Fandi Ahmads, with a “kampong boy” like Zaki Ma’arof at the helm as FAS Vice President.
In ending, Zaki shared a personal motto he has lived by since young and has been inculcating to his young charges at Kaki Bukit Sports Club.
“Michael J. Fox always says: ‘There’s no short cut to success’,” he says, referencing the star of the Back to the Future films. “If you’ve got no discipline, you cannot drive your car back home, and you will never reach your house.”
• ‘Game Changers’ is led by football-hearted businessman Bill Ng and the alternative team of 15 football-hearted personalities will be contesting the FAS elections on April 29 at the SportsHub.