Stories

FFT's Best Stadiums: Remembering the Grand Old Dame of Kallang

Time stands still for no one. The need for evolution was not going to stop the demolition of even Singapore’s most celebrated venue...

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The image remains clear in the memories of most present that night as then-President S R Nathan, who has since passed away, declared the 34-year-old venue officially closed by dousing the flame on the cauldron in the middle of the pitch, which had been lit earlier as part of the celebrations.

A lot of fans who couldn’t get tickets would just climb over some of the closed gates and fences to get into the stadium

As the fireworks lit up the night sky behind the East gate, it signalled a farewell. As splendid and filled with fond memories as she was, she simply had to go. And she did.

Seven years ago, the Grand Old Dame of Kallang was torn down to make way for the spectacular Singapore Sports Hub, ushering in the age of one of the most state-of-the-art and majestic stadiums of the modern era.

But for all of her successor’s splendour, the Old Kallang Stadium remains every Singaporean’s most loved venue; a key feature in any opus related to Singapore sports, especially football.

The construction of the old National Stadium began in 1966 after it was decided there was a need for a large venue to hold national and international events in Singapore.

Previously, the notable footballing venue was Jalan Besar Stadium, with its capacity of 10,000 deemed insufficient by authorities.

The Kallang site was chosen because of its prime location, close proximity to other sports venues and easy accessibility.

Seven years, three million bricks, 300,000 cement bags and 20,000 plywood pieces later, the old National Stadium was officially opened by then-Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew on July 21, 1973.

The first football match staged at the stadium was the Singapore-Thailand encounter at the 1973 Southeast Asia Peninsular Games.

Back then it was common to have up to 50,000 fans at the stadium, even if it was against small Malaysia state teams

It would go on to host a plethora of events over its 34 years of existence, but what was it about the venue that made it one of Southeast Asia’s most revered football stadiums?

This was where dreams came true in the name of sporting glory, where national pride and celebrations of common identity were forged from the high stands right down to the track and the pitch.

The stadium’s long friendship with football in particular yielded countless memories for players and fans from different generations, be it raising the AFF Suzuki Cup aloft, executing one of the most beautiful goals scored at the venue or something as simple as making a debut for the nation.

But most importantly of all, ask any Singaporean their fondest memory following Singapore football in the little island and their stories would centre around the eruption of the Kallang Roar, where fans cheered on the Lions during the Malaysia Cup days.

The Kallang Roar was immortalised at the Kallang Stadium.

A number of fans that FourFourTwo spoke to were more than happy to share their own memories of the Old Dame.

Said 55-year-old taxi-driver, Raja Murthi: “During the old Malaysia Cup days, my dad and I would go together to watch the matches there and the atmosphere at every game was simply electrifying.

The fans would do the ‘Kallang Wave’ even if the team was losing and you could see fans of different races coming supporting a common team

“I remember that a lot of fans who couldn’t get tickets for the games would just climb over some of the closed gates and fences to get into the stadium.

“I don’t think you can do that now with all the security that exists.

“It was all part of the memory. I have been to the new Sports Hub but there was just this feeling with the old one that you can’t have with the new stadium.

“The Kallang Stadium was special, especially because of how loud it was every time. I think the best word to describe the sound was that it was deafening each time.”

Sales director Stanley Wong, 40, is another Lions fan who would help pack the stadium with his friends during the Malaysia Cup days.

“Back then it was common to have up to 50,000 fans at the stadium, even if it was against small Malaysia state teams,” said Wong.

“The fans would do the ‘Kallang Wave’ even if the team was losing and you could see fans of different races coming into the stadium supporting a common team and there was even excitement outside the stadium after the game as fans would cheer their way out if the team had a victory.

“Football hype in Singapore slowly died down when the old Kallang Stadium was demolished.”

[UP NEXT: The glory years of Singapore football]