Gone but not forgotten

Malacca: It spelt episodes of mixed emotions associated with tributes, farewells and welcome for local and international hockey stalwarts that was etched into Malacca hockey annals. Coming into focus were ex-international Balbir Singh, former Malacca Hockey Association (MHA) secretary K. Balakrishnan and International Hockey Federation (IHF) president Spain’s Leandro Negre.

It was a tearful and heart breaking scene at the Bukit Serendit Hockey Stadium. Around 250 members of the local Sikh community, good friends and supporters were in attendance and in fellowship at a friendly tribute match for the late 51 year old Balbir Singh who passed away in Singapore on April 22 while turning out for Malacca Sikhs in the annual Vasaki Cup inter state tournament.

Balbir died of a heart attack while playing for Malacca in an extra time semifinal encounter against Singapore Sikhs (A). Eyewitness reports noted that Balbir just collapsed while giving last minute instructions to his players.

Immediate attempts by medical personnel present to revive him proved futile. He was rushed to hospital but was pronounced dead on arrival, said Karan Singh, a team’s spokesperson.

Balbir who hails from the historic state of Malacca is well remembered for his sterling playing days as a forward when wearing Royal Malay Regiment colours when the Malaysia Hockey League (MHL) made its debut in 1987. He went on to don national colours for a spell in the late eighties.

He also enjoyed a playing stint with Yayasan Negeri Sembilan in 1995 and helped the side lift overall MHL honours the same year.

Balbir who served the Malaysian Armed Forces for 18 years retired with a sergeant major rank, also helped Negeri Sembilan emerge victors in last year’s National Veterans inter state tournament in Alor Star.

At the tribute match between Malacca Sikhs and an invitational selection witnessed by his mother Madam Pal Kaur, wife Joginder Kaur and three sons Balraj, Shaunraj and Jasonraj, the local outfit scored a 2-0 win over the visitors.The visiting selection also included five of Balbir’s RMR team mates as well as long time good friends Gurmit Singh, Inderjeet Singh and Jagjit Singh.

Both Madam Pal and Joginder gave away souvenirs to all players and team officials of both sides involved in the tribute match. In a short address just before the presentation, Balbir’s emotionally choked and tearful brother Haricharan Singh, said that that Balbir was one of the fittest players featuring in the MHL and made up for his lack of polished skills with hard running and army-styled discipline.

“Our family is still shocked over his sudden demise and still find it difficult to come to terms, let alone get over it”, he added.

For 71 year old Balakrishnan or ‘Hockey Bala’ as he is fondly known in national hockey circle,he recently called it a day after serving national and state level hockey as an administrator, technical official, statistician and conveynor for 43 years.

Starting off as a MHA committee member between 1966 and 1972, Balakrishnan held the secretary’s post from 1973 to 1985 before taking on the vice president’s tenure from 1986 to 2002. He was the MHA deputy president fron 2002 to 2006 and served with the Malaysia Games (SUKMA) secretariat for five editions beginning in Kota Kinabalu in 2002 to Malacca in 2010.

In between he also held the postings of the Malacca Government Services hockey conveynor from 1985 to 1989 before a stint as its secretary fron 1990 to 1996.

A former student of Malacca High School who never played competitive or social hockey, his high point in the game came in 1978 when appointed assistant manager of the national team that secured the bronze medal at the Bangkok Asian Games behind Pakistan and India, the gold and silver medalists respectively.

It was indeed a red letter day for Malacca hockey when the president of the IHF Leandro Negre led a five-member delegation on a goodwill visit to Malacca.

The delegation also called on chief minister Datuk Seri Hj Mohd Ali Rustam and rendered compliments and high regard in the local state organisational capabilities in hosting international hockey tournaments.

Also accompanying the delegation was Malaysian Hockey Confederation (MHC) senior vice president Datuk Azmi Ahmad.

According to MHA secretary Francis Leong, the visitors noted the tremendous support and response from fans and during the state’s first ever hosting of an international competition in May when the Asia Hockey Cup and 2013 Junior World Cup qualifier was held at the Bukit Serendit Hockey Stadium.

History was created when Malaysia became champions for the very first time since the series inception in Karachi in 1987.

“There is a very strong possibility of Malacca playing host to a 2014 World Cup tournament qualifier or the inaugural World Hockey League qualifier provided current stadium venue facilities are upgraded”, he added.

The delegation also indicated several areas within the Bukit Serendit Hockey Stadium complex, which comprises of two artificial pitches, that need to undergo improvements, renovations and extensions before the venue is regarded as adequate and conducive for another international status tournament to be hosted.

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