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1977 "Friday The 13th" Stampede at Kallang

One of the headlines on the stamped, like this by the now-defunct "New Nation" on 14/5/1977
One of the headlines on the stampede (NLB archive)

The build-up to the match was intense.

After all, it was between the two biggest sides of the tournament that saw them being the first finalists of the competition first known as the HMS Malaya Cup back in 1921.

To make the showdown even more mouth-watering was the fact that Selangor, widely known as the Malaysian "second national team" back then with the likes of Mohktar Dahari, Soh Chin Ann, Santokh Singh, etc., had already beaten Singapore twice on a roll in the final to win the coveted Malaysia Cup in previous two years (1975 and 1976).

The blogger speaking to Dato' Soh Chin Ann in 2010 (Gale Gan)

Instead of making the arch-rivals face each other for the third consecutive time in the ultimate fixture in 1977, the script was changed to see both Singapore and Selangor in the semi-final instead.

The young republic, coached by the legendary "Uncle" Choo Seng Quee, topped the South Zone undefeated with eight wins and two draws, whereas the Klang Valley giants emerged as runners-up of the North Zone.

While the other semi-final saw the North Zone winners Penang took on Trengganu (now known as Terengganu) who competed and finished as runners-up in the South Zone.

FROM 22ND TO 15TH MAY

The first-leg fixture was originally scheduled to be played at the Merdeka Stadium in Kuala Lumpur, however, at the request of both Selangor and the organisers, the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM), Singapore agreed to the swap and hosted the match on the 15th of May at Kallang.

The request was made because Merdeka Stadium was being used for the Junior World Hockey Tournament during that period, and the alternative venue at Klang - Kota Rajah Stadium could only accommodate 15,000 fans.

The match ticket to the 1977 Malaysia Cup semi-final (1st-leg) match between Singapore and Selangor
Take note of the lines and arrow on the change of date

Following consultation with Singapore Sports Council (SSC) and taking other factors like safety into consideration, the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) agreed to the request of the Malaysian.

In order to save reprinting costs, the SSC staff worked around the clock to re-stamp the date on the tickets from 22nd May to 15th May.

SALE OF TICKETS ON FRIDAY THE 13TH

So one could imagine the demand for the tickets when they were announced for sale on 13th May at the old National Stadium.

Citing "security reasons"** by an SSC spokesperson, the sale of the tickets would only be taken place at the East Entrance of the "Grand Old Lady" on that fateful Friday night from 8 pm to 11 pm, according to a Straits Times report on 11th May.

** It was later revealed the reason for selling the tickets only at National Stadium was because it would be easier for the police to control the crowd at one place rather than in three or more decentralised locations. Prior to this, sales of the Malaysia Cup match tickets were taken place at various stadiums like Toa Payoh, Queenstown and Jurong. (source 12, 3)

A huge crowd already congregated outside the stadium before the opening of the sale with people from all walks of life, young and old, regardless of gender queuing up for the elusive tickets.

Typical scene of old National Stadium in the 1970s

The proceedings went on smoothly at the beginning when the sale began at the East Entrance with 20 turnstiles in operation.

However, the sale was suspended at 8.10 pm following scuffles that broke out among the crowds with incidents such as queue-jumping which led some of the crowds to surge forward in disorderly manners.

Soon after there was chaos which escalated to a stampede that resulted in 44 injured with one man died because of heart attack.

The deceased was a 33-year-old father of three from Toa Payoh, he was knocked down unconscious and pronounced dead on arrival at the Singapore General Hospital

Even after the sale was suspended and announcements were made using the loudspeakers to urge them to disperse, the crowd, estimated to be around 40,000, refused to heed the advice and demanded the resume of ticket sales, as many claimed they travelled from faraway places like Jurong and Sembawang to buy the tickets.

The whole mayhem came to an end close to 10 pm when the SSC announced the sale of the tickets would resume on the match day itself at 8 am.

"TOO DARK"

It was believed that the day gradually turned into night with the lack of adequate lighting at the stadium premises being one reason that caused the stampede when some latecomers tried to jump the queue in the dark, according to this eyewitness account by the now-defunct New Nation.

RUDE SHOCK AT THE RESUMPTION OF TICKET SALE ON MATCH DAY MORNING

To prevent a repeat of the "Friday the 13th" incident, the police were aided by the Reserve Unit Troopers, national servicemen from Field Service Unit and the crack Dog Unit to maintain crowd control when the sale of the match tickets resumed on Sunday (15th May, the match day).

"1,000 POLICE TO CONTROL TICKET RUSH" screamed the headline on "The Sunday Times" front page to inform the public of the extra security presence at the East Entrance, the same page also confirmed a live telecast of the match on RTS (Radio Television of Singapore, a former name of Mediacorp) Channel 5 in colour.

The police tighten up the security (NLB archive)

The decision to show the game live was a reversal of an earlier decree by FAM who did not give their approval when requested earlier by FAS (the permission to beam the game live would only be allowed if the game was sold out).

But to the shock of those who made their way to Kallang before 8 am to buy the tickets, they were told the tickets were already sold out at 6.35 am!

Many fans expressed shock and anger when they realised they could no longer be part of the 65,000 inside the stadium, and questioned inconsistency over the ticketing policy.

"NO HARD AND FAST RULE" ON TICKETING POLICY

Addressing those grumblings on the ground was SSC chairman Dr Tan Eng Liang who explained to the media the sudden U-turn was made because of safety reasons.

In the quotes carried by a Straits Times report on 16th May, the day after the match, the former national water polo player said: "Shortly after 4.30 a.m. (on Sunday morning), heavy rain broke out. There was thunder and lightning.

"The crowd had been gathering since 5 p.m. on Saturday and we were advised by the police to start selling.

"You know the police are the experts at crowd control and not us," added Dr Tan in the said article which also mentioned some 30,000 tickets were sold before the occurring of the "Friday the 13th" stampede.

Nonetheless, after the fiasco, the SSC stated it "has no hard and fast rule about centralising the sales of tickets for future football matches at the National Stadium. It will 'adapt and adjust according to the circumstances.' ", as quoted in another article by New Nation.

Still, lessons were learnt from the stampede and improvements were made in subsequent ticketing policies, such as decentralising the sale of Malaysia Cup match tickets at various venues around the island besides the old National Stadium, queue jumping was deemed as an offence, as referred in this 1978 Straits Times notice.

FOR THE RECORD

Singapore went on to beat Selangor 4-2 on aggregate over the two-legged fixtures to qualify for their third consecutive Malaysia Cup Final appearance since 1975.

The first-leg match saw the Lions beat the "Gergasi Merah" 2-1 with goals from Quah Kim Song and Dollah Kassim for the host.

It was the same scoreline days later when Choo's men repeated the same heroics in a hostile Merdeka Stadium - the same venue where they claimed the Malaysia Cup five days later after beating Penang 3-2 in extra time on 28th May 1977.

(P.S 1: Some images in this entry were reproduced from online sources, as credited, should anyone feel it's inappropriate to have any of the media shown, please kindly email me as soon as possible and I will remove them upon request.)

(P.S 2: I stand to be corrected should there be any mistake in this entry, please feel free to email me if there is, thanks)

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