PETALING JAYA: Dirty tricks from hostile Indonesian spectators and a race to the airport under cover of darkness is how the final of the 1967 Thomas Cup ended.
The Malaysian team faced real danger that night.
Pre-independence Malaya had won the Thomas Cup, also known as the World Men’s Team Championships, sweeping the first three competitions between 1949 and 1955.
However, the years following Tunku Abdul Rahman famously raising the Jalur Gemilang, had been a lean time for Malaysian badminton. The new nation had never won the badminton world’s most coveted trophy.
The 1967 team was determined and ready to change that as they travelled to the tournament, hosted that year by Indonesia.
The team featured badminton royalty, starting with doubles pairing Ng Boon Bee and Tan Yee Khan, who had won nearly every tournament in which they played together.
Tan Aik Huang had won five major singles titles in 1966. Joining him on the team was the man he had battled in three of those finals, Yew Cheng Hoe, and Billie Ng and Omar Manaf.
Captained by Teh Kew San, in his fourth and final Thomas Cup, the Malaysian contingent boasted veteran savvy and youthful verve.
The players were well prepared, and in the peak of condition. They were sure they could handle any situation on court and emerge victorious.
But they could not have prepared for the off-court events that would wreck the tournament.
Indonesia had won three tournaments on the bounce, but that didn’t impress Boon Bee, now 82, who tells FMT: “We didn’t see them as being that difficult, as they weren’t on our level.”
After seeing off India, Pakistan and Denmark, Malaysia dumped Japan 6-3 to set themselves up for the clash with Indonesia.
Cheng Hoe beat Ferry Sonneville on the first night, and both doubles pairs came out on top. Aik Huang lost to wonderkid Rudy Hartono, which gave Malaysia a 3-1 lead heading into night two.
Indonesia managed to even the series when play resumed, before Aik Huang bounced back from his loss the day before to hammer Sonneville.
The task of finally putting the Indonesians away fell to Boon Bee and Yee Khan.
Muljadi and Agus Susanto, who had lost to Aik Huang and Kew San the night before, were all that stood between Malaysia and victory.
The match was unforgettable, says Yee Khan, although not for the best reasons. It is remembered as one of the most controversial in the game’s history.
Boon Bee and Yee Khan took the first set with ease, 15-2. Yee Khan commanded the baseline while the shorter Boon Bee lurked in front of the net, which gave them remarkable court coverage and caused havoc no matter where the Indonesians put the shuttle.
Muljadi and Agus Susanto rallied back to even the match at a set apiece.
However, they were aided by fans shining flashlights at Boon Bee and Yee Khan, prompting passionate protests from the Malaysians.
Tournament referee Herbert Scheele asked the Indonesian authorities to remove the offending fans from the stadium. They refused, and Scheele, fearing for the Malaysian shuttlers’ safety as verbal abuse rained down from the stands, abandoned the game.
Yee Khan remembers the crowd hostility in the stadium, saying: “They threatened us very badly.”
The team was escorted out of danger and back to their hotel by their Indonesian security detail.
“All of us were very, very scared, we couldn’t sleep. Indonesian fans stayed outside shouting like nobody’s business,” says Yee Khan.
At 3am they heard a knock at the door.
“They told us to get ready,” Yee Khan says. “We all thought we were going back to resume play, but they were putting us on a flight home.”
No champion was crowned that night.
Both sides were later offered a chance to resume their clash in New Zealand. Malaysia accepted but Indonesia declined, so handing Malaysia the cup.
“They knew they were going to lose,” chuckles Yee Khan “So they gave us a walkover.”
The Malaysians may have missed the chance to raise the trophy in front of the Indonesian fans, but at last it was theirs.
“We felt so proud,” Yee Khan says.
“So, so happy,” says Boon Bee. “I don’t think any team could’ve beaten us at that time.”
Even now at the age of 82 he fancies their chances against today’s teams.
“They only have one or two strong players; the rest aren’t the world’s best like we were.”
The game was different back then.
“We weren’t professionals” says Boon Bee. “We only trained for two or three weeks leading up to the tournament as we all had day jobs.”
It wasn’t the first Thomas Cup to reach our shores, but that group of courageous and gifted amateurs brought the nation as we know it our first taste of international badminton glory.
Despite all the less than sporting tricks they were served.