PERMODALAN Nasional Berhad (PNB) chairman Tan Sri Ahmad Sarji Abdul Hamid was not at the stadium to witness Tunku Abdul Rahman's cries of “Merdeka!” But, the moment struck deep in his heart. To this day, it still does.
“As a 19-year-old, I heard Tunku's declaration over Radio Malaya in Tapah, my hometown,'' he said.
“Three days later, I made it a point to visit Stadium Merdeka when I arrived in Kuala Lumpur to study at Universiti Malaya.''
Stadium Merdeka, said Ahmad Sarji, was one three independence declaration sites.
“The other two were Bandar Hilir in Malacca (where Tunku announced a date to declare Malaysia's independence) and Dataran Merdeka where the Union Jack flag was lowered at midnight and the Malaysian flag was raised,'' he said.
“As a symbol of our independence, Stadium Merdeka has to be conserved and preserved to its original design,'' said Ahmad Sarji, adding that his greatest fear was a lack of patriotic values among the younger generation.
“Stadium Merdeka is part of our history,'' he said. “The soul of the nation lies in our heritage and legacy. Without the past, we have no present. Without the present, we have no future.
“The disrespect and disregard for the stadium is frightening. The dignity of the site has to be protected.
“We do not want our future generation to be dispirited.
“We want them to fight to preserve the stadium. That will be the least that they can accord to our Father of Independence.”
In 2001, PNB acquired 13.08ha of Kuala Lumpur's prime land, comprising Stadium Merdeka, Stadium Negara and Changkat Pavillion, from United Engineers Malaysia Berhad through Pengurusan Danaharta Nasional Berhad.
Now, PNB Merdeka Ventures Sdn Bhd manages the stadium.
“I was outraged when I heard that the stadium was to be demolished for development. If it did, it would have been a national tragedy.''
Ahmad Sarji, who is also Badan Warisan Malaysia (Heritage Trust of Malaysia) president, said plans were being made to build an interpretive centre-cum-museum to commemorate Tunku's memorable declaration, besides other significant events that took place in the stadium.
“The stadium should be utilised for sports and cultural activities,'' said the former sportsman who is currently Malaysian Lawn Bowls Federation president and Malaysian Malay Cricket Association deputy president.
Ahmad Sarji treasures the nostalgic sports moments. “The Merdeka Football Tournament, initiated by Tunku to commemorate Malaysia's independence, was Asia's important sports event then,'' he recalled.
“I would even have my dinner and supper at the stadium when the games were played until midnight under the floodlights.''
Ahmad Sarji has fond memories of seeing Datuk Abdul Ghani Minhat, Edwin Dutton and Mokhtar Dahari in action at Stadium Merdeka. The others were international stars Kevin Keegan, Tom Finney and Diego Maradona.
He also remembers events that made history at the stadium. One in particular was the 1975 World Hockey World Cup semi-final match between Malaysia and India. “The stadium was packed to the brim in the pulsating match,'' he said.
“Though we lost, the fans loved the national players who played their hearts out,'' said Ahmad Sarji whose birthday falls on Sept 16 – the same date as Malaysia Day's birth.
FACTS & HIGHLIGHTS
Built: Sept 25, 1956
Competed: Aug 21, 1957
Officially Launched: Aug 30, 1957
Launched By: Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman
Current Capacity: 40,000
Current Facilities: Eight-lane running track, football pitch, floodlights, changing rooms, medical room, organisers' rooms, VIP lounge, catering room, surau, toilets
Restaurant: Restoran Ahamed fish head curry
MAJOR GAMES HOSTED
1965 SEAP Games
1971 SEAP Games
1975 World Hockey World Cup
1975 Muhammad Ali versus Joe Bugner Boxing Heavyweight Title Bout
1977 SEA Games
1989 SEA Games
AMONG CULTURAL EVENTS HOSTED
July 03 Citrawarna Malaysia Celebration
May 01 Inul Daratista Dangdut Concert
Sept 13 Scorpions Concert
Feb 20 Mariah Carey Concert
Dec 31 Alan Tam and Hacken Lee Concert
Oct 15 Linkin Park Concert
May Umno 57th Anniversary Celebration
April Malaysia Unit Trust Week
Dec 14 Kelly Chen Concert
Sep 08 Leslie Cheung Concert
July 21 Vengaboys Concert
Dec 16-17 Aaron Kwok Concert
Oct 27 Michael Jackson Concert