12 hours before kickoff on matchday. A small, but nevertheless loud and boisterous, group of red-shirted people gathered in front of the FAS office at Jalan Besar Stadium. LATW's fourth official away tour to Shah Alam, for the match against Malaysia, was about to begin. But none of us had any idea lay in store ahead.
The trip had been planned for a couple of months in advance. This time round, the core committee was eager to go independently, and have control of the whole operation. Serious work started in early May, as we scouted for a suitable bus operator to take us up to Shah Alam. Announcements calling for interested participants were also made on the crew's Facebook page, to gauge the interest and feasibility of the project. Eventually, an affordable operator was located, and enough interest was registered to make the trip on. In all, 31 people signed up for the tour. The final few days before matchday saw a furious flurry of PMs, emails and emergency trips, as security, ticketing and payment issues were sorted out. All this occurred while an eventful home game against the same opponent was to be held on 8 June.
Back to matchday. The bus, with its polished livery and Singapore PA-plate and all, rolled into the stadium carpark on time to our cheers (and relief). Pictures were taken (loudly, as is usual for LATW), and we got onto the bus to start our northward journey. Immediately, it was apparent that our spirits were high. The back of the bus (and particularly a certain purple-shirted big man) was where all the action was, and made sure that the bus was filled with a jovial and festive atmosphere. Jokes were flying about with reckless abandon, and the chants and songs never stopped from Jalan Besar to the Second Link. It was almost a pity that we had to stop for customs and immigration checks.
With those out of the way, we were now on Malaysian territory. Given the events of the preceding days, this did not seem like the safest thing to do for Singaporeans of course. But as we would later find out first-hand, our worries were far-fetched. Meanwhile, we settled to breakfast at Gelang Patah's rest area. While the food was average at best, our hunger meant that we wolfed down our breakfast quickly. Supplies for the trip up were also purchased (ie. cigarettes, gum and soft drinks).
At this point, a few of us started to sense something wrong with the bus: it was going nowhere near as fast as the other coaches flying down the highway. For the moment though, we put that at the back of our minds, as Benz took out his prized possession on this trip: a bottle of fine Chivas Regal. With our stomachs full from breakfast, nothing was left to hold back the start of the drinking session. Ever so often, we would break out into a particular song: "WE DRINK A DRINK A DRINK, TO FANDI THE KING THE KING THE KING, HE'S THE LEADER OF OUR FOOTBALL TEAM, HE'S THE GREATEST CENTER FORWARD, THAT THE WORLD HAS EVER SEEN!" Even our foreign ambassador Daniel Lau (MANA?) was unwittingly doped into a sip or five.
Another toilet stop at Yong Peng followed, but as we set off again, it was getting more and more apparent: this bus was not picking up any speed at all. Eventually I had to ask the driver what was happening. He said that the engine was overheating, and hence it was dangerous to accelerate more. He then pointed to the temperature indicator on the dashboard, which was continously tipping OVER the red at 100C plus. At any moment, our asses at the back of the bus could be on fire, if the driver was not careful.
Eventually, we managed to reach the Ayer Keroh overhead bridge restaurants at a slow crawl. We had definitely built up an appetite again during the long journey, and immediately hunted down the A&W restaurant that we had been so looking forward to. Hot dogs, curly fries and root beer were munched and gulped down in an instant, and our cravings for both food and nostalgia were fulfilled. Although some of us did require extra servings.
Back to the bus of horrors. The engine had cooled down marginally, but that was never going to last under the unrelenting road and weather conditions. You could have done your cooking in those circumstances. Nevertheless, there was only so much worrying that we could have done. The jokes started flying around again, Chivas and beer began to be passed around and toasts began to be made once more. As the driver aptly put it, "Don't worry about the engine breaking down, you all just laugh, sing, drink, and enjoy the extra time we'll be taking!" So we toasted to Fandi a few more times at least.
It wasn't that funny though, when the bus eventually pulled over onto the side of the highway in the middle of nowhere. I was not prepared for the worst, but fortunately the engine would still work: it only needed some time to cool down again. It was at this time that Merv, having had too much beer (come on that was only one can!), decided that he badly needed to take a piss. What transpired next made for epic laughter: Being a little embarrassed to pee in the open, he decided with Shawn that he would climb up over the huge slope to take a leak in private. But he never stood a chance with the steep incline, and next decided to pee into the small hole right beside. Yet this would require the flexibility of a gymnast and the accuracy of a sniper to be possible: Merv was neither. Eventually, he had to gingerly make his way back down to ground level, and settle for peeing with back towards everybody behind a pillar. But of course, by this time everyone's eyes (both on and outside the bus) had been thoroughly fixated on him. It took a few of us to form a barrier around him, while Danny and I got everyone to look away, before Merv finally could release all the pent up liquid and frustration inside him.
Epic peeing encounter finally over, the bus engine had sufficiently cooled down to start moving (slowly) again. At this time, we had just about gotten sleepy from the food and drinks, and many decided to nap until we reached the stadium. I stayed up to watch the driver proceed with the greatest amount of patience and driving skill I've ever witnessed. Another small pitstop for nature's call was taken (with a U-turn by the driver that befitted LATW's 'WE DO WHAT WE WANT' motto), before we finally approached the Shah Alam Stadium, nine hours after we had set off.
At this point, it turned out for the better that we had taken a longer time, as the latest word from FAS filtered through. Gates were only going to open at 1830, and we were advised not to enter before 1730 when security measures would have been completed. As it turned out, the LATW bus arrived right on time at 1730. We literally rolled into the stadium compound, with our Singaporean car plate and uber-loud engine making us highly conspicuous. It took a few attempts before we finally managed to find our designated gate, and indeed we actually alighted in the players' entrance due to miscommunication within stadium security. Which meant we could actually plant some of our 'non-allowed' equipment, that we had brought along nevertheless, inside the gates. Amazing how things work out eventually sometimes.
written by Benny Tong,
proud member of LATW CREW
written by Benny Tong,
proud member of LATW CREW