By Lim Say Heng
AS THE setting sun cast its warm orange rays on the Farrer Park field two Sundays ago, a local football legend cast his gaze into the distance.
"I have not been here for years," said former Malaysia Cup star Au-Yeong Pak Kuan, as throngs of recreational football players went about their game on the very turfhe used to trod.
And now, the 49-year-old will have even fewer opportunities to return to his former stomping ground.
He is migrating to Austria. His reason - he owes it to his wife, Kerin, who is Austrian.
As we settled down on a stone bench near the Farrer Park tennis courts, the former defender shared his excitement over his transcontinental move, to the country where his wife was born.
"We always had the intention of eventually settling down in Austria since I met my wife Kerin 19 years ago," said Au-Yeong, who captained the Lions from 1981 to 1984.
|TIMING'S RIGHT: Au-Yeong Pak Kuan believes making the move this year would have the least impact on his children's education and his job.
He was in the national team from 1979 to 1985, returning in 1989 for a single season. Two years later, he retired from football.
He said, on the migration: "For her, it's a dream come true since she has been away from home for 19 years."
The couple met on 3 Feb 1990 at the Anywhere Pub in Tanglin Shopping Centre, only her third day in Singapore.
"I had just started my job with the Austrian Embassy here, and my colleague took me out for drinks at night," Mrs Au Yeong, a Singapore PR, told The New Paper over the phone from Austria.
Her colleague bumped into Au Yeong, his friend,and started chatting at the pub.
"I guessed he didn't have a choice but to start talking to me," she added, laughing.
After a year-long romance, Au Yeong proposed and the couple got hitched a few years later.
"I certainly didn't think I would find a husband in Singapore,'" said the homemaker.
"I thought I would stay in Singapore for two or three years and then return to Austria or move to some other place."
Having the entire family move to Austria is the best Christmas present she has ever been given, she added.
Au-Yeong said that making the move this year would have the least impact on his children's education, and his job as general manager of Honeywell Process Solutions (Southeast Asia).
"(If we don't move now) we have to continue with the local education here," he said.
|FAMILY: (from left) Wife Kerin, daughter Serena, Au-Yeong Pak Kuan, and sons, Daniel and Alexander.
"My eldest boy, Alexander, is 15. He can still continue to do his O-level equivalent in Europe."
His two other children - Serena, 9, and Daniel, 6 - are still in primary school and kindergarten respectively, so the transition is not as disruptive, he added.
"I'll be 50 next year. I'll probably have 10 or 15 good years to run, as far as my profession is concerned.
So in all, I think the timing is good," he added.
He said the company had offered him a position there, but declined to elaborate as negotiations were still ongoing. Preparations for the big move began in earnest five years ago, after the Au-Yeongs returned to Singapore at the end of his four-year job posting in Holland.
"We would make trips to Austria every holiday. The children stay for four to six weeks during their holidays," said Au-Yeong.
"It has worked out very well from the psychological standpoint since my eldest boy speaks fluent German now," he added, beaming. While he has no reservations about leaving his home of almost five decades, Au-Yeong acknowledged that leaving the country was tough for Alexander, a former Victoria School student.
"Alexander's got friends here and he was a little sad when he left, but he'll outgrow that over time," he said.
"(My children) are fairly international. My two younger ones were born in Holland, and they all have been around a bit, so I consider them international citizens," he added. Serena and Daniel have Singapore citizenship. Any chance that the kids will follow in dad's footsteps"
"Alexander plays a bit, but doesn't show much interest in it," he said.
"Serena and Daniel have not played yet, but I'll certainly be introducing the game to them in Austria."
Left last Tuesday
Mrs Au-Yeong and the children left Singapore for the town of Rankweil in late August, while Au-Yeong stayed on till last Tuesday to tie up company matters.
Rankweil is next to the Swiss border in Austria's Alpine region.
While his family will now sink roots there, Au-Yeong plans to visit Singapore during the holidays to catch up with friends and family.
He has a younger brother and an elder sister here.
Looking back at his illustrious footballing career, Au-Yeong's biggest regret was missing out on a gold medal in football during the 1983 South-east Asia Games held here.
Singapore were beaten 2-1 by Thailand in the final.
"I thought we had a great chance that year," said Au-Yeong, who has played on and off for the Old Rafflesians' Association and other teams since retiring from football.
"We had a great group of players - Fandi Ahmad had just come in, V Sundramoorthy was fantastic and Salim Moin was top of the bill."
The respected ex-player laments the current state of local football, which he says could have been much better.
"We have been out of the Malaysia Cup for 15 years, and while there has been a bit of improvement, we should have gone leaps and bounds with the introduction of the S-League," Au-Yeong said wistfully.
"I think there is a lack of proper planning, strategising and execution," he added, pointing to the failure of Goal 2010 as an example.
He was appointed to the Captains' Advisory Panel last month. It comprises 12 former national captains whose experiences are being tapped for views on how to improve Singapore football.
However, he said he won't be contributing to the panel because of his move to Austria. With his departure, Singapore has lost one of her most distinguished footballing sons, said people in the local fraternity.
"Football-wise, it is a big loss because Pak Kuan has a lot of experience to share, having come through the ranks," said Mr Jita Singh, the senior head of game development at the Football Association of Singapore (FAS).
30 years ago
|(Left) Au-Yeong Pak Kuan in action at the National Stadium in 1980.
When Mr Jita was national coach in 1979, he drafted Au-Yeong, then 19, into the national team.
"He has served Singapore well and he has a family to think about now," added Mr Jita, who is also the association's acting technical director.
Former Malaysia Cup hero Quah Kim Song is another who feels sad.
He said: "We used to play together for the Old Rafflesians' Association football team even though we did not play together for the national team.
"We have lost a footballer who can contribute to the future of Singapore football too," added the 59-year-old,who is FAS' director of competitions.
"But it's a personal choice and we wish him all the best."
This article was first published in The New Paper.