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Saturday, Oct 11, 2014

Singapore

Home advantage vital for Lions

The New Paper | Saturday, Oct 11, 2014

R Suria Murthi (from left), Malek Awab and Ridhuan Muhammad were inspired by the home crowd.

They are Lions from three different generations, but R Suria Murthi, Malek Awab and Ridhuan Muhammad have one thing in common: they all tasted glory while proudly wearing the Singapore flag on their chest.

And the trio say one big reason was the fervent support of the fans at the old National Stadium.

They believe that if the new 55,000-capacity National Stadium at the Singapore Sports Hub draws in the crowd for the AFF Suzuki Cup campaign, then success could well be on the cards for Bernd Stange's men, who will take on formidable Thailand and Malaysia in their group campaign.

Suria, 56, won two Malaysia Cups with Singapore in 1977 and 1980, and he said: "The support we had was fantastic, and it was crucial to our success.

"There was football fever whenever we had home games. A week before, everybody was talking about the match. At the market, at the barbershop, everywhere.

PUMPED UP

"And, as a player, the bigger the crowd, the better I played."

Malek, 53, was the midfield dynamo the next time Singapore won the Malaysia Cup in 1994.

He said of the supporters then: "They were a big reason for our league and cup double.

"Can you imagine having 55,000 people turning up just for you? Of course it makes you feel good, makes you feel important.

"It makes you want to fulfil what these fans want. In fact, you don't just want to win, you want to win in style and play well."

Ridhuan, 30, was a member of the Lions team that won consecutive Suzuki Cups in 2004 and 2007.

The winger was so pumped up by the sight of a packed stadium before the semi-final second leg against arch-rivals Malaysia in January, 2007, that he was able to play through the pain barrier, even with 12 stitches above his eyebrow.

Sporting a bandaged head as he headed into battle, he eventually scored the goal that forced the tie into a penalty shoot-out, which saw the Lions triumph.

"I got the cut in the first leg just days earlier and the wound was still raw, but there was no way I wasn't going to play," Ridhuan recalled.

"The fans gave us such a boost I didn't feel the pain... I felt it only after I scored... Because (teammate) Noh Alam Shah shook my head during the celebration and I started bleeding again!"

While the surface of the pitch at the new stadium is of top priority, with this year's Suzuki Cup just over six weeks away, Ridhuan and Suria hope the Lions will have some time to train there and get used to it.


This article was first published on Oct 9, 2014.
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