PETALING JAYA: As a young boy growing up in Kota Baru, Khairul Fahmi Che Mat often marvelled at the way footballers were cheered on by their supporters.
He said he was inspired by the great World Cup players he saw on television when he was a schoolboy.
“The fans cheering all those famous players is what drew me to become a footballer. I wanted to be just like those players standing on the pitch surrounded by their fans,” said Khairul, the national team goalkeeper who shot to fame with Malaysia’s victory in the Asean Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup on Wednesday.
On that night, he gave a top-rate performance, including a penalty save, during the second leg of the final in Jakarta which saw Malaysia wrest the trophy for the first time.
Khairul’s name became a top five Twitter topic on Wednesday and fans were jamming his Facebook page.
The 21-year-old goalkeeper, whose favourite team is Bayern Munich, said he was unaffected by his sudden rise to fame.
Asked whether his girlfriend Elia was worried about the attention he was getting, Khairul said she was familiar with the life of a footballer.
“She’s used to the attention I get from fans. We have been together for about a year, so she understands the situation,” he said.
Khairul, whose nickname is Apex (or Ah Peks), said his friends gave him the moniker probably due to his face.
“My friends have been calling me Apex since I was a kid. They said I look like an old man,” he said.
Asked why he chose to be a goalkeeper, Khairul said he never thought about playing in any other position.
“I have been a goalkeeper since primary school. I guess I kind of fell into that position,” he said.
He credited the entire team’s indomitable spirit in bringing home the cup.
“I feel really lucky and proud but I don’t see myself as a hero.
“Every player in the team is a hero, Without them, we wouldn’t have won,” said Khairul.
There is one person, though, who remains dear to his heart.
“My father is my greatest inspiration,” he said.
“Although he only plays football in the kampung, he has been supporting me since I was little.”