Earlier this week, I was at a two day conference where the final session was a panel session moderated by the great Datuk Rahim Razali, and the guests were, literally speaking, legends of Malaysian football. They were, in no particular order:
- Datuk Soh Chin Aun
- Datuk Santokh Singh
- Datuk Hassan Sani
- Datuk James Wong
The conference organisers had brought them in to share their experiences. To tell us what it was like being in the last Malaysian football team to qualify for the Olympic Games, and how they managed to come together as a group to get to that achievement.
And boy did they share their experiences. Together, led typically by their captain Datuk Soh Chin Aun, affectionately known as Tauke, they told us about life as a football team back in the days. How they all bunked in dormitories. How they got attire to use for tournaments but had to give them back when the tournament finished! And the only masseuse they would have access to would usually just be each other! Yet somehow all these limitations helped to bring them together.
How they scolded each other on the field, but were the best of friends off it. How they were united by their desire to represent Malaysia. Money didn’t matter. Race didn’t matter.
Datuk Santokh Singh also highlighted the 3Ds which were key to their overall success: Determination. Discipline. Dedication. Three attributes that are key for pretty much anything you set out to do,if you think about it.
“You need to have heart!” This was from Datuk James Wong, or King James, when asked by the moderator on what you need to achieve success. When representing Malaysia, you must hold Malaysia to your heart. There’s a simple reason the national flag, or its corresponding symbols or likeness, are sewn onto the left side of most national football jerseys. He was quite emotional when talking about it, which showed just how much love he had for his country, and the honour he felt when representing it.
Datuk Hassan 'Lipas Kudung' Sani was asked about the final goal against Korea in the final World Cup qualification match. Why did he cross the ball to Datuk James when he had a good chance of scoring himself and becoming the hero, especially after an amazing solo run? His answer was easy. Teamwork. He didn’t look at any goal scored as an individual achievement. To them, goalscoring was a collective achievement. Everyone worked to make it happen. Simply put, EVERYONE in the team had scored that goal.
It seems so simple but sometimes the best things are..
They left me with a fuzzy feeling, something I’m sure many in the more than 2000+ crowd felt as well. While many sought pictures with these football icons after the event, I’m sure many were simply inspired by what they had heard, and let the words of the four football greats sink in. A reminder that whenever you represent Malaysia, whether it’s in sports, business, entertainment, or anything at all, do it with pride. And how, when you are united, and with incredible teamwork, you can make things happen.
This weekend sees the kickoff of the Suzuki Cup with the Philippines and Myanmar co-hosting the event. Malaysia's first match is on Sunday where they face Cambodia.
Malaysia actually enter the tournament as second seeds, thanks mainly due to their strong performances in recent editions since winning it in 2010. In reality, their form is anything but. A 2-1 win against Papua New Guinea is their only win since June. The team is also still feeling the impact of losing four key players who announced their retirement earlier in the year.
Cambodia may not be one of the favourites, and this is the first time they’ve qualified again since 2008, but Malaysia needs to set the stage. A strong win against Cambodia will give them a strong base before they face a strong Vietnam team in the other group matches, followed by co-hosts Myanmar, when they will face a surely hostile crowd.
Can Malaysia win it all again? The odds are stacked against them. But if they can channel the spirit of Harimau Malaya 1980, they can do it. They need to believe that they can, and we need to believe that they can too.
Therefore, let’s put aside our personal criticisms of the team, its players or the administration for now. Let’s cheer them on, pray for their success and back them to the max!