New year and an air of sorrow

TWO celebrations, two days of sadness. The Chinese New Year festivities have not been kind to our football legends.

Just five days into the Year of the Dog, we saw the passing of one the greatest names to grace our football fields.

Chow Chee Keong is no more.

Chee Keong is recognised as probably the best goalkeeper to man the posts for Malaysia. He was so good that Pele – considered the best ever player in the world – sang his praises.

He was such a talent that Cruzeiro, at one time one of the top Brazilian teams along with Pele’s Santos, wanted him in their line-up.

Better yet, they even wanted him to take on Brazilian citizenship. But he wanted to be Malaysian. So he opted for Hong Kong instead.

Chee Keong was voted Asia’s best by the Asian Football Confederation five times in a row, from 1966 to 1970, and made a name for himself as a professional player in Hong Kong.

He is said to be the first professional footballer from Malaysia. I am not too sure about that, but it was reported that he was so important he was taken by helicopter to the field.

He will always be remembered in Hong Kong as the Crazy Sword and Asian Stainless Steel Gate. He was that impenetrable.

After his death due to bladder cancer on Feb 21, he was sent off with a No 1 shirt, a tribute to the shirt he had so proudly worn.

Sadly, he was not in the glorious Malaysian team that featured in the 1972 Olympics which beat the US and held mighty Germany to a 0-0 draw until half time.

Then, Uli Hoenness and gang got the better of the Malaysians, winning 3-0.

Chee Keong was not the only one to have said his farewell during the Chinese New Year.

In 2014, on the first day of the Year of the Horse, Wong Choon Wah passed on. Here was another great football star.

Choon Wah was among the heroes of the 1972 team.

This was another man who will forever be remembered as one the greatest footballers to have donned the Malaysian jersey.

He strode the middle of the park like he owned the place, almost treating his rivals with disdain.

He sprayed passes to his strikers, men like Shahruddin Abdullah, Bahwandi Hiralal and Loo Loon Teik, leaving them acres of space to find the goal.

He, too, turned professional in Hong Kong, playing for South China Athletic Association in 1973.

More importantly, he left a style of play that was distinctly Malaysian, that saw the rise of other greats like Soh Chin Aun, Shukor Salleh and Ahmad Yusof.

Two Chinese New Years. Two reasons to mourn. And two almost forgotten legends.

There was another big name death this Chinese New Year.

Indian movie star Sridevi died on Sunday, Feb 24, three days after Chee Keong.

She was another legend. For many, she was the child god Muruga, having started her career at four, portraying that role.

She was a child star, a pitiable lass, a vamp, a classy girl and a comedic woman on the big screen.

She also was the first Indian female superstar, the lady who broke the glass ceiling and a woman torn between romance and tragedy in real life.

And she was a legend. When she died, all of India cried – from southern Tamil Nadu where she was born and started her career – to northern Delhi and Mumbai where she found fame and fortune.

She left in all her glory, beautiful as ever in her elaborate make-up.

Thousands lined the streets of Mumbai as the flower-adorned carriage rolled with her body to the funeral pyre.

In recognition of her status as a legend of India, her body was draped in the Indian flag. It was a fitting farewell.

It was a far, far cry from the farewell accorded to the legends of Malaysia. That, too me, was the saddest part of all.

The writer, who can be reached at, believes the men and women who bring glory to the country, should be given the accolades they deserve, in life and in their passing.

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