MALACCA: A black and white photograph with of himself with Bapa Malaysia and a letter from Tunku Abdul Rahman to his father are among Robert Choe’s prized possessions.
These mementoes bring back cherished memories to the 76-year-old former national footballer.
He also has three Rolex watches given by the Tunku after Malaya captured the 1958, 1959 and 1960 Merdeka Tournament editions, and they are still in working condition,
Robert was a 17-year-old schoolboy from Malacca High School when he gained a national call up and even captained the Malacca Combined Schools side at the age of 15.
He played alongside national regulars like Wong Kim Song, Jalil Che Din, Sexton Lourdes, Ahmad Nazari, Ng Boon Bee (also of badminton fame), S. Govindaraoo, Abdul Ghani Minhat (or Raja Bola), Chan Tuck Choy, Mok Wai Hong and Rahim Abdullah.
Other legends back then were Edwin Dutton, Stanely Gabriel and Arthur Koh. Then, Malaya was supreme in Asia.
Apart from the Merdeka Cup triumphs, Robert also won a bronze at the 1962 Jakarta Asian Games and a silver at the 1959 Asian Youth Tournament in Kuala Lumpur when going down 1-2 to South Korea in the final and where he netted Malaya’s lone goal.
He also won the 1961 SEAP Games gold medal in Rangoon.
The letter his late father Choe Soon Lee received from Malaya’s first Prime Minister in 1958 is now framed and is regarded as a family heirloom which has pride of place among Robert’s medals, watches and football souvenirs.
The letter reveals Tunku’s surprise to learn that Robert was the son of a well-known and high-ranking Malacca state football and badminton official.
Small in stature, Robert was known for his tremendous bursts of speed and superb ball control.
He was regarded as a striker par excellence who was feared by opposing defenders as he could out-jump much taller players in aerial duels especially in the goalmouth area.
A piece of advice from Tunku that is etched in Robert’s memory was given just after a national squad training session in the fifties.
Pulling the young schoolboy, Tunku put a hand on his shoulder and told him: “Young man do remember that football is not everything.
“Make education a priority. Make sure you keep up with your studies even when playing or training for the country”.
The veteran, however, feels sad whenever he is asked about the state of Malaysian and Malaccan football.
Robert, who played for Malacca from 1957 till 1972 and coached the state side from 1972 to 1974 said: “Total commitment, that’s what today’s national and state players sorely lack. All the money that is being poured into the game will come to nought if total commitment and dedication are lacking.”
He added that in the past, there was no such thing as contracts and money was never on the players’ minds.
“We bought our own boots and health supplements and made sure we were fully prepared for national or state duty.
“We were fired up with the love of football and it was all about donning state or national colours. But now, we even flounder at the regional level.
“During my national playing days, Japan and South Korea were afraid of us.
“Look at where they are now. They have appeared in several World Cups while we are still struggling to be the top side in South-east Asia”.