Heart and Soul: Coach Guna – The untold story of a kampung hero

Guna (sixth from left) with his close friends at his 60th birthday celebration. Thomas Samuel (far left) is the former Honorary Secretary of Flames FC, and next to him is Malaysian football legend in the 1960s and 70s, Datuk N. Thanabalan. Datuk P. Kamalanathan (fifth from right) is former Deputy Education Minister.

Heroism is more often associated with people who put others first, even at their own peril. Their actions are not selfish and often in the interest of others, be it an individual, a community or even a nation.

In recent times, I have personally lost many of my "heroes" who have passed on too soon with so much knowledge, wisdom and experiences still to share. I will greatly miss doyens of the media fraternity and legends in their own right, like Datuk Ahmad Talib, Datuk Wong Sai Wan and Tan Sri Lim Kok Wing who were illustrious sons of this soil. They were all eminent personalities, and tributes to them are still coming in. They all deserve every bit of the recognition.

Coach Guna, Gunasegaran P. SambosivamCoach Guna, Gunasegaran P. SambosivamDuring these times of uncertainty and hardship to many, it is consoling to reminisce about the great moments of people near and dear. There will be many who will continue to express and write tributes of these prominent personalities.

However, I wish to humbly pay tribute here to a "kampung" hero who deserves some mention for his selfless contributions to the misplaced youths of Sentul. It’s been more than a month since the passing of a true kampung hero, Gunasegaran P. Sambosivam or coach Guna.

Just like many other local village heroes, Guna may not be a familiar name to many Malaysians. However, if you mention the name Coach Guna from Flames Football Club in Sentul, you will be surprised how many young and old current and former residents in and around Sentul and Jalan Ipoh know and adore this man.

Coach Guna or Guna Anna (big brother in Tamil) as he is fondly known, who celebrated his 65th birthday on April 6, 2021, breathed his last a month later. Guna had met with a fatal accident a year ago and became bedridden since. His passing was a sad day for the community in Sentul and in particular the youths of yesteryear.

Many would have ended up in jail, maimed or even dead if not for the untiring sacrifices of this man in guiding and moulding these youths to focus their energy on sports, and in particular, football. Many of them are now responsible citizens of this country.

Sentul was known to be a notorious place in the 1970s till the '90s. Eight out of 10 Indian youths you meet in Sentul would have been a member of the many gangs thriving during that time. Poverty, poor education and squatter settlements were the main reasons many of these youths got themselves involved in gangsterism, delinquency, fights, drugs and other negative elements.

Guna was the saviour to many of these youths who are now proud parents, grandparents and living a decent and comfortable life of their own. Ask any of them and they will sing the praises of this kind soul from Sentul and how he managed to take many of them away from gangsterism and a life of crime.

Tharma Kumaran, 47, a successful businessman and prominent politician now, has this to say about Guna. “I am extremely indebted to Guna Anna for who I am today. If he had not picked me up from the streets of Sentul and disciplined me, I dread to think where I would be today. He will always remain in my heart and soul for saving me from the clutches of evil. He was my guardian angel by being there every time I was getting into bad company. He took great care in protecting many of us from falling into crime. He treated all of us as his own children and our parents were more than grateful for his efforts to keep us safe.”

Faarhad Masraf, another successful football administrator now, was shocked to hear of Guna’s demise. “It is a very sad day for all of us in Sentul. I was just 16 years old and mixing around with bad company in Sentul when Coach Guna picked me up to play football for the junior team of Flames Football Club. The rest is history as I got myself committed and involved in football and now it is my career. Coach Guna used to come to my house to pick me up for training and my father would walk me back after every session at the Railway Recreation Club field in Jalan Ipoh. That was how carefully I was protected from being caught in the infamous web of notorious Sentul.”

Former Deputy Education Minister, Datuk P. Kamalanathan, is another close friend of Guna's and was an active committee member of Flames Football Club for many years.

“Guna was instrumental in playing a big role to reform the youths of Sentul. He was very passionate about the welfare of the community and sacrificed his time, effort and money to go out of his way to help people in need. Every time there was a fire or a flood, Guna would be the first person at the scene to offer help. Together, we have gone around to seek donations for these victims from the business community in Sentul. His level of sympathy was beyond reason to any race that was affected by these unexpected tragedies. My deepest condolences to his wife and children for their great loss, ” said Kamalanathan.

I am blessed to have had a very close and personal relationship with Guna over the years and I respect him as my big brother. We have gone through many challenges in managing a football team and trying to keep our players and the youths of Sentul out of harm's way. He was a brother, friend and soulmate whom I am going to miss terribly. His demise is a loss to the community and his act of kindness is going to be a tough to be emulated.

Malaysian football legend in the 60s & 70s, Datuk N. Thanabalan feeding the cake to Guna.Malaysian football legend in the 60s & 70s, Datuk N. Thanabalan feeding the cake to Guna.

Guna’s proudest moment was when a small "kampung" football team achieved its greatest feat by emerging as the champions of the Selangor Super League in 2005. The coveted trophy was the highest achievement any football team in the state could achieve then. It basically meant that Flames FC was the best football team in Selangor. It was an exceptional feat after 25 years of hard work. It spoke volumes of the passion and commitment Guna had put in to reach the pinnacle of success as the manager, coach and president of Flames FC.

Guna’s saddest moment was when the football team lost its playing field in Jalan Ipoh, formerly known as the Railway Recreation Club Jalan Ipoh, to development by a corporate entity. Both Guna, myself and the local community stood together to object to this takeover of a public playing field for more than 12 years. We walked in and out of the developer’s office many times to appeal for the field to be left alone for the benefit of Sentul residents. We staged a couple of protests to convey our objections against the takeover of the field. We raised the matter in the media and lobbied for higher authority intervention to stop the takeover. But all these failed and the field was barricaded and fenced up in 2008.

That was a sad day for sports in Sentul as many youths, residents and senior citizens were deprived of a playing field or an open space for their daily recreational activities. Guna was heartbroken as he had failed to save the field; he took it very personally and felt that he had failed the youths and community in Sentul. Sentul was never the same again after we lost the field to the greed of money for commercial development.

Guna’s passion to help others did not stop with Sentul. As an employee of Tenaga Nasional Berhad (TNB) in Bangsar, he was a committee member of the TNB temple and was actively involved in Hindu temple matters around Bangsar. He was also a volunteer at the temple in Batu Caves. Guna was also actively involved in the Football Association of Selangor.

Guna loved children and youths. Four times a year, he used to collect donations from well-wishers and hosted orphanages to sumptuous lunches where the children’s birthdays were celebrated. The children always looked forward to these events with much joy and hope.

Guna was a man with a big heart, always being at the forefront or the first person to offer help whenever someone was in need. He helped many people and I am sure all of them will miss him. Many of his friends will miss him dearly because of his simple approach to life and his sincerity in wanting to help others.

To his wife, daughters and son, your father or Appa as you call him, was a wonderful man. He touched many lives and helped many people. On behalf of Flames Football Club, all your Appa’s friends and even the strangers he had touched in one way or another, we extend our deepest condolences to you. He was a great human being who touched many hearts and souls. He will be missed.

To my dear big brother Guna, thank you for sharing all the big moments in my life, being my confidante and sharing your wisdom in my journey of life. Though you are in a better place far away, you will always be close to my heart and our bond will never fade away.

Rest in peace, big brother Guna, till we meet again in God’s beautiful garden.

Thomas Samuel is the former Hon. Secretary of Flames Football Club

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