By Jeanette Wang
WHAT do a Cockroach, a Stray Dog and a Crow have in common?
Far from being nuisances, they are the respective nicknames of former sports journalists Joe Dorai and Jeffrey Low, and veteran photographer Jerry Seh.
Otherwise known as the three Js of the National Stadium, they were the see-all and hear-all for most of the landmark’s 34-year existence.
Stories of Singapore’s sporting exploits, seen through their eyes, were read by thousands in the Republic’s newspapers.
Dorai and Seh ended their journalistic careers with The Straits Times in 1998, while Low’s ended in 2004.
At a coffee shop in Bedok yesterday, the trio, with nearly 100 years of combined experience in sports journalism, recounted their memories of Kallang’s Grand Old Lady.
Dorai, 64, said his most memorable moment was the stadium’s official opening on July 19, 1973 – for it marked a turning point in his career.
Still with his signature look – sans notebook, with just pieces of scrap paper in his rear trouser pocket – he said: ‘I was covering football in small places like Farrer Park, and the Jalan Besar and Geylang Stadiums.
‘Suddenly, there was the National Stadium, with its 55,000 crowd and fantastic atmosphere.
‘It raised my profile as a reporter, just as it raised the profile of Singapore sports.’
Low’s fondest memory was the 1973 South-east Asian Peninsular Games football semi-finals, where Singapore lost to South Vietnam on penalties after a 1-1 draw.
Said the 60-year-old: ‘That was the first time the stadium was filled to the brim – I’d say about 70,000 people.
‘Even near the cauldron and the flags at the perimeter of the stadium, there were people.
‘The fans were screaming, and that was the first time I heard the Kallang Roar.’
His other memorable match was the 1977 Pre-World Cup qualifier against Malaysia, which Singapore won 1-0 with a Mohamed Noh penalty.
He recalled: ‘That Malaysian team were among the best in Asia then. They were big-match players – the bigger the crowd, the better they played.
‘Singapore weren’t supposed to win. But the Malaysians forgot they were playing on Singapore ground.
‘The crowd urging Singapore on was really hair-raising and electrifying.’
Seh, 69, the least talkative of the trio, recalled how the crowds would start gathering at the stadium under the hot 4pm sun for the 7.30pm matches.
He added: ‘My work would actually start at midnight – to take pictures of fans who would sleep outside the stadium just to buy tickets.’
And, whichever goal the ‘Crow’ perched at, that team would tremble.
For it meant that goal would likely be under attack.
Seh said: ‘Those days, the punters would bet according to which goal I sat near to. After all, I didn’t want to miss getting a picture of a goal.
‘Roughly 70 to 80 per cent of the time, I was right, because I followed the teams very closely and knew when we had a chance.’
Low recalled the stadium’s ‘national anthem’ – Doris Day’s 1956 hit ‘Que Sera Sera’- which the crowd would spontaneously sing in unison.
Translated, the title meant ‘Whatever will be, will be’.
The other ‘anthems’, he joked, were ‘Referee kayu’ and ‘Kelong’.
Said Dorai: ‘Win or lose, it didn’t matter for the fans. They were there for the enjoyment.’
So, how did they get their nicknames?
Then-Football Association of Singapore chairman N. Ganesan had called Dorai ‘Cockroach’.
‘Everytime he opened his mouth, I would crawl up from somewhere and write a story,’ said Dorai, now deputy manager (sports betting) at Singapore Pools.
The 1.85m-tall Seh had been nicknamed ‘Crow’ since his childhood kampung days for his height.
‘Stray Dog’ was the name of Low’s blues band in the 1960s.
Low, who is with Komoco Motors, said: ‘Together, we covered all angles of the National Stadium.
‘Cockroach was underground, Stray Dog was over ground and Crow, above ground.’
Dorai added: ‘It was a joy to go to work every day.
‘The National Stadium made us household names, just as it made the footballers household names.
‘We have to be thankful to the Grand Old Lady.’