Irfan and Ikhsan ready to step out of Fandi’s shadow
The 29th SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur will be a family affair for six members of the Team Singapore contingent competing in the regional event. Hailing from football, silat, badminton, and fencing, the young athletes will be following the footsteps of their parents, who also competed and won honours for Singapore at previous SEA Games. In a four-part series ahead of the KL Games, footballers Irfan and Ikhsan Fandi, Sheik Farhan and Ferdous, Nur Insyirah and Nicole Wong tell TODAY what it is like growing up and playing the sport as children of Singapore’s sports personalities, how they hope to emulate their parents’ successes, and eventually make a name for themselves.
SINGAPORE – There is no doubt that Fandi Ahmad is Singapore’s favourite football hero.
With more than 50 goals for Singapore and a multitude of honours to his name – including three Malaysia League titles, five Malaysia Cups and three S.League titles – Fandi Ahmad is arguably the most successful footballer to have donned the Lions jersey. The local football icon also enjoyed some international success as he turned out for Dutch side FC Groningen for two years.
Against the backdrop of such accomplishments, it is only natural that carrying the ‘Fandi’ name comes with a certain amount of pressure and expectation attached to it.
It is something that Fandi’s two eldest sons – Irfan and Ikhsan, who are 19 and 18 respectively – know only too well.
Since the duo signalled their intentions to pursue professional footballing careers by signing two-year contracts with Chilean top-flight outfit Universidad Catolica in 2014, local football fans have followed their progress closely. Many are waiting to see if they will ever match up to the achievements of their famous father.
WE’RE NOT LIKE DAD
Both footballers, however, do not like being compared to their dad. Instead, Irfan and Ikhsan, who are in the Young Lions squad competing in the SEA Games, want to be recognised for their own abilities.
“I think we’ve proven that we are our own men, we have our own style of play and should be judged on our own merits,” said Ikhsan, a striker.
“My father was a very good player for Singapore, but it’s so many years since he’s stopped playing and the game is different now. So while he’s achieved a lot and set a high bar, we don’t feel the need to live up to those expectations.”
Agreeing, Irfan added: “Every team is different with its own strengths and weaknesses, and the teams my dad was in were very good. After all, football is a team sport, and my dad couldn’t have won what he did without his teammates.
“For our team at this SEA Games, I believe our greatest strength is teamwork. So we will have to work hard together if we want to achieve something at the tournament.”
Arguably one of Singapore’s most famous football families, the Fandis join a special fraternity for whom competing at the SEA Games has become a family tradition. Aside from Fandi and his sons, other young athletes from silat, badminton and fencing will also be following in their parents’ footsteps in Malaysia.
Two-time world silat champion Sheik Alau’ddin – who won four gold medals at the SEA Games - will be there in Kuala Lumpur to see his two sons, Sheik Farhan and Ferdous battling for glory on the competition mat.
Over at the Axiata Arena, teenager Nur Insyirah will be unleashing smashes and drop shots on the badminton court, just as her father, ex-Olympian Hamid Khan, did over six SEA Games from 1983 to 1993 where he won five team bronzes.
The SEA Games is also a family affair for former national fencer turned entrepreneur Wong Toon King, who will be closely following his daughter Nicole Wong’s bouts on television – he prefers not to be in the arena to avoid giving her more pressure – as Nicole aims for a medal in the individual foil event after finishing in the top eight in 2015.
DONNING NATIONAL COLOURS
Like any proud father, Fandi is happy to see his two sons following in his footsteps and competing at a major tournament like the SEA Games.
Fandi, whose late father Ahmad Wartam was also an ex-Singapore international, said: “I’m very proud that my boys will get a chance to play together at this coming SEA Games.
“It’s been their dream to play for Singapore since young. They’ve always wanted to follow in my footsteps, so to have them playing in the team at this major tournament is a great achievement for them.
“I hope this will be just the start of a successful career for them…I’m happy to have achieved all that I did in the past, and hopefully my sons will carry on doing the country proud like my late father did as well…all of us are honoured to be part of this footballing family.”
For all of Fandi’s successes on the pitch however, there is one medal that has proved elusive – the SEA Games gold.
In nine editions of the SEA Games, he scored 24 goals but has never won the tournament, although he still managed to garner three silver and three bronze medals.
Despite that, Fandi, who made his SEA Games debut in 1979, says the tournament will always have a special place in his heart.
“I still remember my first SEA Games. All I wanted was to wear that (national) jacket, and it was a huge honour for me at such a young age to be representing the country and to do the march past during the opening ceremony with everyone watching,” said Fandi.
“I’ll always cherish that Games because that was when my international career started to take off. It was a good way for me to grow as a player as well, as playing such a major tournament made me more disciplined and focused.”
YOUNG LIONS AT THE GAMES
While winning Singapore’s first-ever SEA Games football gold in Malaysia will be a sure-fire way for Irfan and Ikhsan to finally step out of the shadows of their father, the two are realistic about their chances at the upcoming tournament.
“My dad has played in nine SEA Games and he’s never won one, so you can tell that the SEA Games is a really tough tournament,” said Irfan, who plays as a centre-back.
“All the teams are really strong...Thailand are one of the best teams in the tournament, and so is Myanmar, while Malaysia will have the home support. So we have to be really focused in every match that we play in order to go far.
Ikhsan added: “Of course, every team wants to win gold. But it’s going to be a huge challenge, and hopefully our form will pick up at the right time.”
The Young Lions have been drawn in Group A along with hosts Malaysia, Myanmar, Brunei and Laos. Head coach Richard Tardy has set a semi-final goal for the team, and Fandi believes his two sons can help the team achieve success on the pitch.
He has this advice for his boys, as he said: “They must be strong and believe in their abilities and talents. Only then will they be able to prove that they are worthy of wearing the Singapore colours.”