updated 22 Feb 2013, 12:10
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Thu, Feb 14, 2013
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Fandi "lacking in the romance department"

Wendy Jacobs does not expect flowers on Valentine's Day.

For most wedding anniversaries and Valentine's Days, her husband is home late after coaching duties in Johor.

Wendy Jacobs said Singapore's football legend Fandi Ahmad is "lacking in the romance department because there haven't been presents for a while".

But the 38-year-old former model quickly added their relationship is still going strong.

"The only problem I have is, I'm always the one getting the presents," she said, with a mock scowl.

"I would be buying presents for the family and he would be like, 'Go get something nice for yourself'."

To which Singapore's favourite son, now a 50-year-old coach of Johor Darul Takzim, hit back, albeit a little out of earshot: "I also don't know what you like. And I need to work, lah."

The couple, widely regarded as the first family of Singapore football and the closest thing to the local version of the Beckhams, are into their 17th year of marriage.

And from the way they playfully took potshots at each other, affectionately calling the other "baby", there was a feeling that there would be many more chapters to add to the episodes of romance, financial woes, illness and recovery in their eventful love story that began in May 1995.

From the comfort of their condominium near Seletar, Fandi told The New Paper their relationship grew stronger even as his wife was reduced to a bedridden and wheelchair-bound state for more than a year after a fall in July 2008.

"It was difficult, but it brought us closer as a family and as a couple," he said.

When Jacobs was sent home after being admitted, a mini hospital was set up, with doctors and nurses to monitor her.

'More downs than ups'

Jacobs added: "In every marriage, if you are only going up, there's something wrong.

"There will be a plateau of nothing and there will be ups and downs. We've had more downs than ups, but we're getting back up there.

"We are sticking together and building ourselves back up as we hold our heads up high. And we're humble and thankful for what we have."

That was perhaps the only sombre moment in a light-hearted interview that was interrupted by third son Ilhan's curiosity and the enthusiasm of their youngest boy Iryan, who was bouncing from chair to chair.

Fandi was at his cheeky best when was asked about his love story. He said: "We met at the wedding of a mutual friend, photographer Wee Khim.

"I was late because I had an event before that. When I reached the location, I saw this beautiful girl and I knew she was the one I wanted to marry."

Legend has it that his first words were: "Wah, baik! Baik! (good in Malay)"

Fandi laughed and said he was discouraged to find out that the girl he had set his eyes on was from South Africa, and was in town only because her father would be working here for two years. "But the next day, (former teammate) Abbas (Saad) and I were having nasi bunkus (packed rice) and her face was in the newspapers.

"I told Abbas I had to go out with this girl.

"So I called all the people I knew in the fashion industry. I finally got her number through a make-up artist."

But things appeared to hit a stalemate when Jacobs refused to attend his birthday dinner.

She exclaimed: "I didn't even know who he was! I never heard of Fandi Ahmad!"

But the former national skipper persevered and was rewarded when she finally agreed to meet him for lunch.

Recalled Jacobs: "I still remember it was at Restaurant Al Forno at Novena, and everyone was like 'Mr Fandi Ahmad, do you want this or that?'.

"I was like 'What is up with this dude?' and asked him what he did. And he just said he played football.

"It's weird to say this, but on our very first lunch (date), I knew this was the man I was going to marry.

"I don't know if anyone else has ever felt it but I went home and told my mum, 'This man is special'."

Fandi moved, with all the predatory instincts he is famed for on the field, and asked Jacobs' father for her hand less than two months later.

He proposed when they were in a car, stopping after they drove past Cairnhill Community Club. According to Jacobs, there was no bended knee, just 'Want to marry me or not?'.

At the time, Jacobs, who was turning 21, was about to return to South Africa. Fandi was worried she would not return.

"She told me that she would marry me if she came back. So every day, I just thought about her," he said.

He did have another ace up his sleeve - he worked with the Jacobs' family to spring a romantic surprise on her.

She said: "He actually called the restaurant we were at for my 21st birthday dinner and asked if I was coming back to Singapore.

"And when I said, 'I think so,' the next minute, I got a bouquet of red roses with an air ticket to Singapore the very next day!

"I thought that was really nice of him."

10,000 well-wishers

They tied the knot in December 1996, with more than 10,000 well-wishers attending their wedding reception at a football pitch in Yishun.

Today, the couple have five kids - Irfan, 15, Ikhsan, 13, Iman, 12, Ilhan, 10, and Iryan, six - each of whom has inherited their parents' good looks and sporting talents.

And Jacobs still seems besotted with Fandi.

She said: "As my husband, he has exceeded every single thing I wanted in a man.

"He is humble, he is true, and he works really hard to make me happy and comfortable in any way he can.

"As a father, he's strict. His expectations for our five kids are so high. But he has not forced them to do anything.

"As a provider, he has always done his best... during the good and not-so-good times - when we were overseas and led the expatriate lifestyle, and when we were back and had to tighten our belts a bit more.

"As a coach, as a career man, he's a superstar. I think it is important for athletes who took sports to the next level to then teach it and pass it on.

"That is what Fandi is doing, that's why he is working with the youth."

Fandi smiled and returned the compliment with one simple line: "She is the only one I love, now and always."

"As my husband, he has exceeded every single thing I wanted in a man. He is humble, he is true, and he works really hard to make me happy and comfortable in any way he can."

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