Tun Razak’s passion for hockey gave the sport its golden era in the early 1970s.
A gentleman, an administrator, a player and a true fan of hockey. A sportsman unparalleled.
These words epitomise the late Tun Abdul Razak Hussein, who was the president of the Malaysian Hockey Federation (MHF) from 1957 to 1976.
Most players and officials of the 1970s remember him as a quiet, unassuming and dedicated person whose passion for the game knew no bounds.
He was an avid hockey player during his time reading law in London.
Tun Razak was the natural choice to head the MHF (then known as the Malayan Hockey Confederation) as its first president in March 1957, in those heady pre-Merdeka days. He was appointed the deputy prime minister when we achieved independence on Aug 31 that year.
The years during his tenure as MHF head are also remembered as the golden years for hockey in Malaysia.
Malaysia’s 1975 fourth placing at the third Hockey World Cup tournament in Kuala Lumpur remains the best ever achievement by the national team at that level. “We achieved that on Tun Razak’s birthday,” gushed Tan Sri P. Alagendra, who was then a vice president of the MHF.
“It was a day – March 11, 1975 – that is clearly etched in the minds of hockey fans here. We were playing the Netherlands (group phase) and the match – due to rain – had been switched to the Kilat Club Padang in Bangsar (from Ipoh). Malaysia scored a historic 2-1 win over the Dutch (the reigning World Cup champions then) and we qualified for the semi-finals and effectively earned a top four finish,” recalled Alagendra.
An entire nation was lifted by this result and hockey mania was in full gear.
“The atmosphere was fantastic (at Kilat Club) with the celebrations all around us. I called Tun (Razak) to convey the result, but he already knew the score. Later, he relented for a request to visit him at home as the team members wanted to convey their birthday wishes to him.
“It was a moment to be remembered as he spent some time talking to the players. He remarked that it was the best birthday present he could have asked for. Tun Razak was a tremendous boost to the game,” said Alagendra.
That fourth placed finish earned the players a mere RM150 each as reward from the MHF. Tun Razak then hosted them to a dinner (at Lake Club in KL) and each member received a gold Omega watch.
Forty years later, K. Balasingam, one of the main players in the team, still wears the watch proudly.
“It was a proud occasion as we not only met the Prime Minister but also received the gift (watch). I treasure it as it was an unexpected gesture. Those days we played for the country, and not for any rewards,” said Balasingam.
“It was not often that we met with the MHF president, but when we did it was always a joyous occasion. He was a great man and we admired him,” he added, proudly showing off the watch.
Another hockey player – M. Mahendran – had the distinction of meeting and receiving awards from the late prime minister twice.
Mahendran, a centre forward in the national team, was picked as National Sportsman of the Year at Anugerah Sukan Negara (National Sports Awards) in 1972 and received his medal from Tun Razak. Elsewhere, former women’s team captain Rani Kaur was the other hockey player to receive the award (National Sportswoman of the Year in 1974).
For the record, Mahendran remains the only male hockey player to win the award. Mahendran’s second award from Tun Razak was the gold watch in 1975 for the team’s fourth place finish at the Hockey World Cup.
“For me, meeting Tun Razak was always a happy moment and his words of encouragement had a ring of honesty,” he said.
That watch became useful for Mahendran two years later.
His young brother M. Devendran, who was going to Universiti Sains Malaysia in Penang, did not have a watch. So Mahendran decided to give him the gold watch.
“The occasion was great for us – the family – as my brother was going to university. I had no qualms giving the watch to him,” he added with a smile.
There are many such fond memories of Tun Razak from the older players and officials.
There is no denying that Tun Razak had shaped the national hockey community and made it dream. His work was later carried on by the late Sultan Azlan Shah.
Tun Razak’s legacy in hockey is the annual Tun Razak Cup which is one of the oldest tournaments in the country, inaugurated in 1962.
The writer is a fan of hockey and has widely covered the sport (as a reporter) over the last 30 years. He travelled from his hometown of Bentong, Pahang to watch the opening match of the 1975 Hockey World Cup between Malaysia and New Zealand at Stadium Merdeka in KL on March 1. It was a trip arranged by his school to support the national team. The match ended 0-0 but the experience of seeing the national heroes in action was worth the distance and time spent on the road.
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