KUALA LUMPUR: Amid the rubble of discarded sporting memories lies the 60-year-old heroics of the national men’s hockey team that won the country’s first medal at a major tournament.
They beat a fancied Japan team 2-0 to win bronze at the 1962 Asian Games in Jakarta, illuminating the character of a young nation remaking itself in accordance with its highest ideals.
The team comprised a marvellous array of players who excelled in both studies and hockey and influenced the game in the country in its formative years.
The players later became top sports figures like goalkeeper Kamalul Ariffin Abdul Rahim who was the fourth director-general of the National Sports Council (NSC) from 1988 to 1992.
The left inside of the team, Aboo Samah Aboo Bakar, became a four-star army general while right inside Mohd Haniff Taib was an army brigadier-general.
Their teammates starred in top capacities in sports administration, education, medicine and national security.
The other goalkeeper in the team, Ho Koh Chye, guided the Malaysian hockey team to fourth place in the 1975 World Cup with wing wizard and former Asian All-Stars player R Yogeswaran as his assistant coach.
Koh Chye and Yogeswaran trained the national team five times each between 1970 and 1989.
The fullback and captain in Jakarta, M Shanmuganathan, centre forward C Paramalingam and half backs Michael Arulraj and Lawrence Van Huizen were also national coaches.
In their own special way, they lifted the hockey careers of many, created stars and became supreme athlete mentors.
On Tuesday, six of the players in the 19-man squad came together, some with their wives, to mark the 60th anniversary of their bronze-winning feat.
They were Yogeswaran, Haniff, Mike Doraisamy (half back and former Asian All-Stars player), Dr R Duraisingam (right back), M Sockalingam (forward) and Robin Jayesuria (left inside), who are in their late 70s and 80s.
Also present was hockey umpire and administrator G Vijayanathan, who was then secretary of the Malayan Hockey Federation, and assistant to team manager Aziz Durairatnam.
Aboo Samah, Kamalul, Arulraj, Paramalingam and right winger A Sabapathy could not attend the catch-up for various reasons.
Those who have passed away over the years are Koh Chye, Shanmuganathan, Lawrence Van Huizen (half back), R Anandarajah (right back), Chua Eng Wah (half back), Mike Shepherdson (centre half), Ismail Ali (left inside) and Zam Ariffin (right inside).
They were trained by Pakistani Nabi Ahmed Kalat who, with coaches from Pakistan and India such as Gian Singh, M Anwar Beg Moghal, Randhir Singh Gentle, Kishan Lal and Venky Naidu, took charge of the national team from 1958 to 1968.
The reunion at the Royal Commonwealth Society of Malaysia clubhouse was a remarkable window onto a bygone sporting age, with some of them proudly wearing their medals around their necks.
It provided a snapshot of Malaysian hockey in transition at a time when post-war, post-colonial Asia experienced economic experimentation that led to social upheaval.
Untold hockey stories emerged as straight talking rants and witticism raised a chuckle, sometimes lifting the heart as well.
An inspiring story involved small town boy Kamalul who made his goalkeeping debut in 1962 for the national team that was coached by Melbourne Olympian Chua Eng Cheng before Nabi Ahmed took over.
The lad from Bidor was a form three student of Anderson School in Ipoh, playing for Perak at a combined schools tournament in Melaka, when national selectors spotted him.
Kamalul was roped him in to replace the injured Gui Poh Chui for an international hockey tournament in Ahmedabad, India.
Yogeswaran recalled the debutant Kamalul gave a standout performance in Malaya’s 3-0 loss to India which was described by some as “India vs Kamalul”.
Kamalul told FMT he received his Lower Certificate of Education (LCE) examination result while he was in Ahmedabad in January and went for the Asian Games in Jakarta seven months later.
Malaya lost the opening match 3-0 to India, beat South Korea 5-1 in their second match, and Hong Kong 4-0.
In the semi-final they lost 5-0 to eventual champions Pakistan and beat Japan 2-0 for third place with goals by Paramalingam and Duraisingam.
“I quit hockey after the Asian Games to focus on my Senior Cambridge exam and never played the game after that,” said Kamalul, 78, who was also director-general of the community development department (Kemas) from 1999 to 2001.
Since the 1962 Asian Games podium finish, Malaysia has won bronze at the competition in 1974,1978, 1982, 1990, 2002 and were runners-up in 2010 and 2018.
At the Jakarta games, the players were indirectly affected by cold war politics that sparked heated debate over the exclusion of Israel and Taiwan from the multi-sport spectacle.
In the centre of the political storm was India’s Guru Dutt Sondhi, a long standing International Olympic Committee (IOC) member and Asian Games Federation vice-president, who was critical of the Indonesian government’s stance.
Indonesian president Sukarno saw Sondhi’s call to withdraw the Asian Games as sabotage and India was targeted by protests.
Sockalingam recalled the Malayan hockey team that comprised 10 Indians were instructed to wear songkok wherever they went to avoid being mistaken for players from India.
He said Indian criticism remained a sensitive issue throughout the games.
Sockalingam said there were boos from home supporters when the Indian anthem was played after India beat South Korea 2-1 in the football final.
The IOC later sanctioned Indonesia for their actions in denying entry to Taiwan and Israel.
Sukarno retaliated by announcing a new sporting event, The Games of New Emerging Forces (Ganefo), which was short lived because it was intended as a retort against imperialist powers.
Malaysian Hockey Confederation (MHC) president Subahan Kamal, who hosted the legends, said such reunions contributed a sense of pride to the past, present and future sportspeople.
He said the presence of former Malaysian hockey skippers Poon Fook Loke, Mirnawan Nawawi, Nor Saiful Zaini, Stephen Van Huizen and former national goalkeeper MP Haridas was a sign of respect to the heroes who had displayed the finest attributes of sportsmen.
Perhaps former sportswriter R Nadeswaran stated it best in his call for a documented sporting history of hockey: “Loyalty to nation and sports can be best served and promoted by a better knowledge of the country’s splendid sporting past.”