IT WAS the early hours of last Sunday morning and Alistair Edwards was leaving Astro SuperSport’s Petaling Jaya studios, having made his debut as a pundit on our English Premier League coverage.
He was instantly transported back to his 1990s heyday when he saw a Johor fan patiently waiting for him by the exit door.
The supporter took photos of Edwards and had him sign his player profile in a Malaysian football sticker book.
Last year, when Edwards was head coach of Australian side Perth Glory as they played a friendly game against JDT, the entire crowd at the Larkin Stadium chanted his name.
More than two decades have passed since Edwards was part of the Johor team that won the Malaysian League and Cup double. But local football lovers retain vivid memories of the potent striker who was the Malaysian League Golden Boot winner for Singapore in 1990 before moving across the Causeway the following year to achieve instant success.
“It’s always great to come back to Malaysia and it’s humbling that after so many years that my era of Malaysian football is so fondly remembered.” Edwards said.
“The Johor crowd singing my name after the Perth Glory game brought tingles down my spine. All of the Perth players came out onto the pitch and they just looked at me in amazement.”
Now 45 years old, Edwards remains actively involved in football in Western Australia, although he stepped down as Perth Glory coach just before Christmas after a difference of opinion with the chairman over the direction of the club.
It is believed that several senior players at Perth were upset by Edwards’ youth-first policy as he tried to instill a different style of football.
The previous season, he turned around a team that found itself at the bottom of the A-League table with seven games remaining in the season. Perth were able to make the play-offs featuring the top-6 sides, before losing the preliminary final in extra-time to glamour club, Melbourne Victory.
For more than a decade, Edwards cut his coaching teeth as he worked with Australian national youth teams — both men and women — appearing at FIFA, AFF, AFC and other tournaments.
He can share his own insights as an outstanding teenage player. In 1987, Edwards represented his nation at the World Youth Championships in Chile.
As part of his learning process as a coach, he spent one month with Dutch club AZ Alkmaar under master tactician Louis Van Gaal, who is tipped to be the next manager of Tottenham Hotspur.
Seeing the influx of Aussie coaches in the Super League this season has apparently sparked Edwards’ interest in returning to work here.
“I have always planned to come back to Malaysia so if the right opportunity became available I would seriously consider it,” he said. “I have great belief in the potential of football in Southeast Asia.”
Edwards’ wife Gracie was born in Singapore as well as his second eldest son. Twenty-year-old Ryan and 22-year-old Cameron both played for Perth Glory this season.
His other children are 14-year-old Christian, an outstanding scholar, and 12-year-old Aidan, who plays for Perth Glory’s Under-14 team.
“Cameron is a left-footed central midfielder who played in the game against JDT last year while Ryan is an attacking midfielder for the Australian Olyroos,” he said.
Their father earned 19 senior caps for Australia between 1991 and 1997 and scored three times, including goals that helped the Socceroos to victories over highly rated Sweden and Korea Republic.
He also had a taste of British football with stints at Glasgow Rangers, Brighton and Millwall. But it was in Malaysia and Singapore where he earned the most accolades, often in partnership with Abbas Saad, with whom he currently shares the Astro SuperSport studio.
“There are quite literally too many highlights to mention from my playing days here, but obviously the Malaysia Cup, League Championships with Johor and Sarawak and Golden Boot successes with the teams I played for are high up there,” he said.
“But the thing I always look back on was the incredible interest and excitement associated with the football at that time. Playing in front of packed stadiums, with and against quality teams and players, was brilliant.”
The name — and the goals — of Alistair Edwards remain etched in the memory of so many football fans above the age of 30. Not just in Johor, but in Selangor, Sarawak and Singapore too.