In a safe-deposit box at a Kuala Lumpur bank lie five precious medals won by celebrated Malaysian footballer N Thanabalan.
The key to the box is held by his accountant daughter Thanashree, who lives in London.
It’s not as if his family thinks he will sell off the medals or give them to someone: they value the keepsakes as Thanabalan’s legacy and don’t want them to get lost.
The medals in the bank vault are from three Malaysia Cup wins, a 1968 Merdeka Tournament triumph, and a bronze medal at the 1969 Rangoon SEAP Games.
There’s a good reason why Thanabalan’s family regards them as precious: he has held an unbroken record for 52 years of scoring four goals in a Malaysia Cup final, when Selangor crushed Penang 8-1 in 1968.
The same year, he scored eight goals in six matches in the Merdeka Tournament including one in Malaysia’s 3-0 win over Burma in the final that took place a day before his wedding.
At the wedding reception, team manager Harun Idris told Thanabalan’s bride, the late Jeyalachumy, “take good care of our national property.”
And that’s exactly what his family has done.
Thanabalan said his medals hold a lifetime of football memories built on sacrifices, devotion and dreams.
“It would be disgraceful if people sold their medals as they are a legacy of a sportsman’s feat and an inspiration to the young,” said Thanabalan, 77, who played alongside legends of that era such as Chow Chee Keong, Namat Abdullah, M.Chandran, Ibrahim Mydin and Stanley Gabrielle.
Capped 107 times for Malaysia, the national hero was asked to comment on the seething debate over two former Malaysia Cup winners, striker Khalid Jamlus and goalkeeper Jamsari Sabian, who have parted with their prized memorabilia.
Former Premier League Golden Boot winner Khalid says he is hard pressed for money while Jamsari declares he wants to forget the moments he won his medals.
Khalid’s public disclosure shows that he likes controversy and apparently doesn’t care what people say about him.
Khalid, 43, who played for Perak, Selangor, and Kelantan, has sold nine medals and his football jerseys. He received a bid of RM50,000 for his 2002 Golden Boot award, but says he is holding out for any offer from the Perak government.
He caused a stir last Friday when announcing his intention to sell his memorabilia.
For someone who is conducting weekend sessions for kids, he asked, “why is a former international with a B licence in coaching working with children instead of senior teams?”
There is no free pass, and such statements demotivate the young who seek guidance.
In response, former Harimau Malaya coach and ex-international Bakri Ibni said: “Don’t think just because you won the Golden Boot award, you can become a good coach. Go and teach the young and work your way up.”
Khalid also drew flak for having a smoke after saying he did not have money to buy milk for his children.
Jamsari’s case might be different but still smacks of arrogance. The former Selangor custodian said yesterday that he was “disappointed and frustrated” over the failure by certain officials to keep their “verbal promise” to pay about RM120,000 in salary arrears dating to 2006.
Yesterday, he sold three gold medals – Premier League, Malaysia Cup and FA Cup (2005 treble) — and the 2006 Charity Shield silver medal for a total of RM12,000 to a buyer from Negeri Sembilan.
“I sold the medals to forget the bitter memories of what happened to me,” said Jamsari, 42, who is now the goalkeeping coach for the UITM President’s Cup team.
While certain quarters feel that it is the prerogative of the two men to sell their medals, others held they showed disrespect to the fans who motivated them and ignored the contributions that went their way.
Sportspeople shouldn’t sit idle once their careers end. If one fails to plan, one’s destined to fail.
There’s always a way to navigate hardship especially when you are still young and healthy.
When the final whistle blows on a professional athlete’s sporting career, catch that second wind to find even more fame and fortune.
They must continue being the champions the younger generation can cheer on and believe in; someone they can rally around and be inspired by.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.
Fake or not? Check our quick fake news buster here.