FAS ● Jul 29, 2021
Mrs Football hangs up her ‘boots’ after 48 years in the local football scene
SINGAPORE, 29 JULY 2021 – She may not be the match-winning goal-scorer or the mastermind behind astute tactical plays, but 70-year-old Lydia Lim is just as big a hero to grace our local football fraternity. A multi-faceted pillar, she has served as an administrative staff at the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) for a whopping 48 years.
Lydia, also known as Mrs Football to the FAS staff and the National Team players, is the longest-serving staff member in the association’s history. She has witnessed many milestones along the way, from the days of the Lions’ successes in the Malaysia Cup to the final match at the old National Stadium as well as the various FAS office upgrades.
Simply put, she has been at the heart of Singapore football and her contributions extend far beyond helping the association to function.
At first glance, Lydia comes across as a gentle woman with a slight build; her greying hair the only evidence that this is a woman with an arsenal of life experiences under her belt. When you speak to her, she exudes a charming personality – chatty, lively and full of positivity.
Peel off the external layers, however, and you uncover a humble woman with steely grit and strength that lie under her demeanour, for she has gone through two major health scares. Yet, she continues to work and deliver, as stoic as before.
Lydia’s footballing adventure started in 1973, as the association’s stenographer and the only office staff member.
The grandmother of two cited religion as one of the biggest reasons that she had chosen to stay on in her job. “Each time I had contemplated if I should leave in my 48 years at FAS, there was always an inner feeling within me that gave me the confidence that I was doing the right thing by staying on,” she said.
Lydia’s passion for football grew with the job, which started merely as a way to make ends meet for her family. She worked alongside football stars like Quah Kim Song and S Rajagopal, ensuring that their preparations were always smooth sailing. She also witnessed local legend Fandi Ahmad from his first appearance for the Lions to his appointments as head coach and recently, the senior international debuts of his three eldest sons Irfan, Ikhsan and Ilhan.
Lydia with Fandi Ahmad after the 1994 Malaysia Cup win (Photo courtesy of Lydia)
Lydia was heavily involved in the Malaysia Cup operations and led the sale of physical tickets to fans. She said, somewhat wistfully, “There were so many fans that the queue would stretch all the way from the (old) Jalan Besar Stadium to V Hotel. We would collect the cash and although each ticket was priced very cheaply, our boxes would be filled with so much money that I was honestly quite worried we might get robbed.”
This was testament to the popularity of the sport back then and Lydia remembered the electrifying atmosphere in the stadiums, saying, “It was simply amazing to watch a live match with thousands of fans cheering on the Lions. Even for someone who did not start off liking football, it would make my hair stand.”
Throughout Lydia’s career, she came across a fair share of personalities – colourful ones, conscientious ones, and selfless ones.
When asked to name individuals who had the greatest impact on her, out came the likes of the late Dr Philip Chen, Dr Tan Eng Yoon, Mr Michel Sablon and current President Lim Kia Tong.
Lydia highlighted the good relationship she shared with Dr Chen, the former general secretary of FAS. “It was because of him that we had a five-day work week instead of six,” she said. “I have always been very grateful towards him for taking up my suggestion so that the staff members could spend more quality time with their loved ones on the weekends. I think it is very important for everyone to remember that family should always come first in whatever pursuits that one might have.”
Next, she brought up Dr Tan, an executive secretary that she had worked with, who granted her official permission to bring her son to the office when he was three years old. “I was very thankful for Dr Tan’s flexibility because I could spend more time with my son and watch him grow up,” she recalled. “Without this special arrangement, my son would have been alone at home for most of the week with no one to take care of him. I would have been worried sick every day.”
Lydia also had fond things to say of former Technical Director Michel Sablon, who she deemed as an empowering father figure. “I only worked with him for three years but in that short time, I came to appreciate his wisdom and foresight,” she said. “He appointed me as team manager for the Men’s Under-16 National Team for two competitions as he saw potential in me. Even though I’ve never taken on such a role before, he taught me the ropes, trusted me and gave me the confidence I needed.”
Lastly, her biggest beneficiary turned out to be President Mr Lim Kia Tong, who she worked with for over 20 years. They first met when Mr Lim was a member of the Disciplinary Committee, and they maintained a close friendship even as he climbed up the ranks to presidency. “A few years ago, I found out that I needed to have a pacemaker surgery because my heart was failing,” she said. “I couldn’t afford it and I was panicking. I called Mr Lim in the middle of the night, who was in China on a business trip, but he still picked up.” Mr Lim assured her that FAS would take care of her and not to worry, which allowed Lydia to have a smooth and successful surgery.
Contributions to the association
Lydia was heavily involved in all the office moves, and she was also appointed as the Head of Food and Accommodation for all international tournaments and events.
Some of her more memorable contributions included the Southeast Asian Games, which was then termed as the SEAP Games, where her role was to assist the secretariat. She also mentioned the strict rules back then which did not allow athletes to keep long hair. Lydia would conduct hair-checks and for those who failed, she would engage barbers to do instant trims in the locker room at the Jalan Besar Stadium.
As a woman who wore many hats, she also helped to organise official dinners such as the Soccer Ball (now the FAS Awards Night) and was assigned the role of secretary for these important functions, which included the centenary event to celebrate 100 years of football in 1992. The 100-table dinner event was graced by then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong.
Hanging up her ‘boots’
When asked about her final years at FAS, Lydia struggled to hold back her emotions, declaring, “I have really enjoyed working over the years. I wish I could go down the time tunnel to start all over again. This place has been like my home and the staff are like family to me.
“I have lived through two major health scares in my life – breast cancer and a heart-related problem. Both times I was able to come out of the woods because of the assistance rendered to me by the FAS. I am grateful for everything that they have done for me, but I know that at 70 years of age, my journey is complete. God has given me the opportunity to work here for 48 wonderful years, but God has also given me the green light to retire and focus on spending more time with my grandchildren and loved ones.”
FAS General Secretary Yazeen Buhari said, “Today, we celebrate Lydia’s exceptional 48-year football journey. Lydia has been a selfless, stalwart employee who, despite facing two major health hurdles, continued to be an integral part and benevolent cornerstone of the association. The FAS is truly honoured to have had Lydia’s loyalty for nearly five decades and regard her as an exemplar for us to emulate. While it is bittersweet to bid her goodbye as a colleague and that we will miss her presence in office, she will always be one of us. We wish her all the best with her retirement.”
As Lydia steps away from the football scene and bids a fond farewell, it is without a doubt that she has rewritten history for herself – showcasing a rare kind of loyalty that is almost unheard of in today’s times.
On this note, all of us at the FAS would like to wish her the best of health always and all the best in her retirement journey!