Dollah Kassim (b. 13 March 1949, Singapore – d. 15 October 2010, Singapore) was a footballer who represented Singapore between 1968 and 1979. A centre-forward, he was nicknamed the “Gelek King” (gelek is a Malay word for a bending movement) for his languid, graceful style of play and deceptive dribbling. Dollah was one of Singapore’s most popular footballers in the 1970s. His fame was underscored in local pop culture when songwriter Azim Chan and singer Kamaliah Latiff released a song titled “Dollah Kassim” in 1975.
Childhood and education
Growing up in a kampong at Owen Road in Farrer Park, Dollah was the fourth child in the family, with five brothers and two sisters. He attended Rangoon Road Primary School from 1957 to 1962, and Serangoon English Secondary School between 1963 and 1966.
While in Primary 3, Dollah made the school’s football team. He also competed in hockey, table tennis, softball, basketball and athletics in school. The young Dollah’s neighbours around Farrer Park included national football team coach Choo Seng Quee, future Football Association of Singapore (FAS) president N. Ganesan and prominent referee George Suppiah.
Early football career
It was “Uncle” Choo who spotted Dollah playing football in the kampong and brought him for training sessions at the famous Farrer Park fields. In 1966, Dollah formed a team named Burnley United with some friends, which included future national team players Samad Alapitchay and S. Rajagopal.
In 1968, Burnley competed in and won the FAS’ youth tournament. Dollah impressed in the tournament and was called up for the national football team, which came with a training allowance of S$5 per session. He made his debut for Singapore in April in a Malaysia Cup match away at Negri Sembilan, and also played for Singapore in the Asian Youth tournament in Seoul before entering National Service that year.
After National Service, Dollah joined Singapore Pools as a clerk and played for the Toto Pools team in the FAS’s National Football League (NFL) Division One. His national team career progressed as he was named in the Singapore squad for the 1969 and 1970 editions of the Merdeka Tournament in Kuala Lumpur.
Dollah went on to make an impact on the tournament by scoring four goals in 1971, including a penalty in a memorable 1-0 win over Burma. The following year, Dollah was part of the Singapore squad which spent a month training in London with English clubs Arsenal and Chelsea.
The National Stadium opened in 1973 and Singapore hosted the Southeast Asian Peninsular (SEAP) Games that year. Dollah was part of the team which reached the semi-finals of the SEAP Games in the newly-minted stadium, as Singapore beat Thailand 1-0 and drew with Malaysia 0-0 before going out on penalties against South Vietnam.
Having been briefly dropped from the national team for skipping training in September 1974, Dollah was back in the national team in January 1975. That year he was the top goal scorer for Singapore in the Malaysia Cup, with one goal proving particularly memorable. It came in the semi-final against Pahang at the National Stadium, as Dollah tricked his way past four defenders and the goalkeeper before scoring. Singapore however lost the Malaysia Cup final 1-0 to Selangor. At the end of the year, Dollah was in the Singapore side which finished joint third with Burma at the SEAP Games in Thailand.
In 1976, Dollah appeared in the Malaysia Cup final but Singapore again lost to Selangor. The next year, however, he was part of the team which defeated Penang 3-2 in the final, marking the first time in 12 years Singapore had won the Malaysia Cup. Dollah played in two more Malaysia Cup finals for Singapore in 1978 and 1979, but was denied another winner’s medal on both occasions by Selangor.
Retirement from football
After the 1979 Malaysia Cup final, Dollah played for Singapore in the Merdeka Tournament, where he dislocated his right shoulder in a 1-1 draw with South Korea. At the end of July, Dollah announced his retirement from the national team, citing his age, a wish to make way for promising young players and his shoulder injury.
To mark his 11-year national team career, the FAS presented him with a gold medal worth over S$1,000. The FAS also organised a testimonial match for Dollah against Japanese side Hitachi FC, which was attended by 15,000 fans and ended with a 3-2 win for Singapore, with Dollah scoring the first goal. At the end of the 1979 season, Dollah was voted the FAS Footballer Of The Year.
In February 1980, Dollah passed a coaching course held by the FAS and went on to coach Geylang International in the National Football League while working with Singapore Pools. In the following years, Dollah coached Singapore’s youth teams in the Lion City Cup (in 1981 and 1982) as well as school and company teams. He also continued to play for the Singapore veterans team into his 50s.
Heart attack and death
On 4 October 2009, Dollah played the first 10 minutes of a veterans match between Singapore and Selangor, a curtain-raiser for the Sultan of Selangor’s Cup, at the Jalan Besar Stadium. At the half-time interval, he collapsed on the team bench after suffering a heart attack. Dollah was taken into an ambulance but his heart stopped en route to the Tan Tock Seng Hospital and he was given cardiopulmonary resuscitation. According to the doctor on duty at the match, Dollah’s heart had stopped beating for up to 18 minutes before it was revived. He then underwent an emergency angioplasty at the hospital.
In addition to the heart attack, Dollah suffered brain injury and pneumonia, and remained in a coma after his surgery. In December, he was discharged from hospital, where he had been visited by former team-mates, colleagues and well-wishers including Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean and officials from the FAS.
In January 2010, the FAS raised S$82,000 for Dollah’s family through donations from sponsors, club chairmen and the public, as well as gate receipts from a friendly match. His employers Singapore Pools also contributed to the financial cost of Dollah’s medical treatments.
On 14 October 2010, Dollah passed away in his home in Sengkang. He was buried at the Choa Chu Kang Muslim Cemetery. In a letter to Dollah’s widow, Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports Vivian Balakrishnan called him “a legend, and a sports hero for all Singaporeans”.
Wife: Faridah Syed Anwar.
Son: Mohammed Ezaad Abdullah.
Daughter: Ellya Hafsah Abdullah.
Chan, Y. S. (2005, May 15). Where are they now?. The Sunday Times, p. 35. Retrieved on June 13, 2011 from NewspaperSG.
Chan, U-G & Nair, S. (2010, October 15). A legend and friend remembered. The Straits Times. Retrieved on June 13, 2011 from Factiva.
Dorai, J. (1974, September 26). Prima donna Dollah is sacked from the squad. The Straits Times, p. 25. Retrieved on June 13, 2011 from NewspaperSG.
Dorai, J. (1979, July 29). Dollah calls it a day after 11 years. The Sunday Times, p. 24. Retrieved on June 13, 2011 from NewspaperSG.
Dorai, J. (1979, August 3). FAS say ‘thank you’ to Dollah Kassim in gold. The Straits Times, p. 33. Retrieved on June 13, 2011 from NewspaperSG.
Dorai, J. (1979, August 20). Dollah bows out in a blaze of glory. The Straits Times, p. 31. Retrieved on June 13, 2011 from NewspaperSG.
Dorai, J. (1980, February 1). Enter Dollah, in new role. The Straits Times, p. 39. Retrieved on June 13, 2011 from NewspaperSG.
Lim, G. (2010, October 16). Goodbye, Gelek King. The New Paper. Retrieved on June 13, 2011 from Factiva.
Low, J. (2010, October 15). Dollah’s jinking all the way to heaven. The Straits Times. Retrieved on June 13, 2011 from Factiva.
Ng, C. (1971, August 8). Hurrah! It’s a great S’pore win. The Sunday Times, p. 22. Retrieved on June 13, 2011 from NewspaperSG.
Osman, S. (2009, October 5). ‘Gelek King’ collapses, undergoes surgery. TODAY, p. 1. Retrieved on June 13, 2011 from NewspaperSG.
Osman, S. (2010, January 22). Football chips in for Dollah. TODAY. Retrieved on June 13, 2011 from Factiva.
Palakrishnan, R. & Das, M. (1996). S.League: The Kickoff. (p. 77). Singapore: Singapore Professional Football League.
(Call no.: RSING 796.33406095957 S)
Perera, A. (1993, August 15). The Gelek King scores new goals. The Sunday Times, p. 4. Retrieved on June 13, 2011 from NewspaperSG.
Robert, G. (2010, October 16). You were something special, Dol. The New Paper. Retrieved on June 13, 2011 from Factiva.
Voon, T. (2009, October 5). Dollah collapses in mid-game. The Straits Times. Retrieved on June 13, 2011 from Factiva.
Voon, T. (2009, October 6). Dollah still in critical condition. The Straits Times. Retrieved on June 13, 2011 from Factiva.
Voon, T. (2009, October 7). New concerns for Dollah. The Straits Times. Retrieved on June 13, 2011 from Factiva.
Wong, J. (2010, January 1). Dollah discharged and home with family. The Straits Times. Retrieved on June 13, 2011 from Factiva.
Yusof, Z. (Interviewer). (2003, September 4 - 2003, October 17). Oral history interview with Dollah Kassim [MP3 Recording No. 2793]. Singapore: National Archives of Singapore.
(Not available in NLB holdings)
The information in this article is valid as at 2011 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.