PETALING JAYA: Whether you are a sports fan or not, you cannot fail to be moved by the nostalgia-soaked golden age of Malaysian sport between 1966 and 1980.
In that era, Malaysia earned an overachiever’s share of gold medals at the Asian Games, and our football team qualified for the Moscow Olympics, but did not go.
There was Malaysia’s badminton victory at the Thomas Cup in 1967; the football team’s exceptional qualification for the 1972 Munich Olympics; and a terrific fourth place at the 1975 hockey World Cup.
Sportswriter Terence Netto said the achievements fortified the claim that the 1966-80 period was the “anni mirabilis of Malaysian sport”.
He said the accuracy of the description was reinforced by the feats of sprinter Dr Mani Jegathesan, and badminton players Tan Aik Huang, Tan Yee Khan and Ng Boon Bee.
Jegathesan was declared “Asia’s fastest man” at the 1966 Bangkok Asiad, Aik Huang won the All-England singles title in the same year, while doubles pair, Boon Bee and Yee Khan, grabbed practically every title in the mid-1960s.
Netto said Mokhtar Dahari’s brilliant goal against the England B football team in May 1978 underscored the Malaysian potential on the global stage, “if, alas, largely unfulfilled”.
Mokhtar had scored from 40m out, his shot dipping in flight over out-of-position keeper Joe Corrigan.
Netto, writing for mysportsflame.com, said adding piquancy to the flavour of those early achievements were three of the most skilled secretaries of national sports associations.
The trio, football’s Paul Mony Samuel, hockey’s G Vijayanathan (Viji) and golf’s Edmund Yong Joon Hong, were widely perceived as world-class sports administrators.
Viji and Edmund were a key force in the Malaysian Hockey Federation and Malaysian Golf Association respectively at about the same time, from the 1960s through to the early 1980s.
Paul was appointed to the general secretary’s post in the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) in 1984 when the nation’s position in Fifa’s rankings had begun to slide.
Netto said as that dip took effect, international observers were puzzled as to why Malaysian football was sliding, while the administrative mettle of its general secretary was regarded as world class.
He noted that the 1950s subcultures, which produced the men, were already waning when they displayed their vintage in national, regional and continental bodies.
Netto said the chief features of the subcultures were an education system that had English as the medium of instruction, and schooling that emphasised academic attainment in tandem with extracurricular distinction.
“The system was propped up by an ethos that did not lose sight of the fact that certain pursuits must be done for the intrinsic satisfaction they afford, more than the extrinsic rewards that could be gained.
“All these features began their descent into oblivion from our national milieu as this trio of top administrators reached the heights of their capabilities,” he said.
According to Netto, a social engineering process was afoot in the country that had negative consequences on all aspects of national endeavour. He said against this backdrop of decline, Paul, Viji and Edmund stood tall.
Edmund was held to be capable of refereeing the Masters competition at Augusta National, Viji would have been a credit to the world body for hockey, and Paul could have administered FIFA.
Then FIFA general secretary Sepp Blatter, on an evaluation visit to FAM in the early 1990s, pronounced the national body as one of the best run in the world. Paul was then the general secretary.
Netto said when Paul left the FAM post in mid-2000, the national body had RM5 million in cash deposits and fixed assets of RM100 million.
“Upon assuming the post in 1984, the corresponding figures were RM500,000 and RM5 million. It was caretaking of the highest probity,” he said.
Netto said in a 32-year career (1975-2007) as a sportswriter, he considered himself gifted to have observed all three of them in their administrative prime. “Watching them at work was a delight in itself. But more than delight, it was an education.
“Of the three, I most benefited from watching Paul because of what I felt was the breadth of his vision, depth of his understanding, and, more importantly, the generosity of his spirit.”
Paul succumbed to Parkinson’s disease in 2016 when he neared 72, and Edmund died of cancer in 1997, aged 62.
Vijayanathan turned 91 on Nov 7 and will be one of the oldest guests at FMT-supported Sports Flame’s reunion of more than 100 sports legends on Dec 9 at Concorde Hotel in Kuala Lumpur.
Netto said: “Our lives are blinks of duration but when they possess what Viji exuded, Edmund epitomised and Paul embodied, they can be tiny diamonds in the cosmic sands.”