AT a time when football was touted as a game “for the boys”, one woman dared to disagree.
While fans were shouting the names of Abdul Ghani Minhat, M. Chandran, Syed Ahmad and Robert Choe in the 60s, V. Parameswary Thambirajah was paving the way for women’s participation in the game.
In 1961, she founded Negri Sembilan Soccer (Ladies) Team. Their first game was against the Eurasian Club, Kuala Lumpur, in her hometown of Seremban.
And it all started with a joking comment.
Now 84, the former kindergarten teacher said the idea of an all-women football match had never come to her mind until she spoke to some scouts officials in her state.
“I was having a drink in a restaurant, and the boys scouts told me that they wanted to raise money for the association, ” she said.
“They were tired of the usual carnivals, fun fairs and jumble sales. We needed some colour those days, and I jokingly told them maybe we should have a ladies football game. “They pounced on the idea, which was actually a joke and told me to find two teams. I could not find any in Seremban because, at that time, ladies were not playing the game.”
It was indeed a struggle to put together a team, but she somehow managed to persuade some of her friends. They had to raise their own funds for the match as no sponsors were available to back the ladies. She then invited the ladies in the Eurasian community in Kuala Lumpur to play the game.
The Eurasian KL team was headed by Mrs V. Marsh.
At first, they too were not keen to play as they did not have the experience. But when told it was for charity, they agreed as it was for a good cause and the prospect of being part of history was certainly enticing.
“It was actually taboo for women to play football then as nobody wanted to play. But the first match ignited interest. Now, look at how women’s football has grown around the world, ” said Parameswary.
The first match was undoubtedly historical. Thousands flocked the National Field in Seremban and was officiated by Tunku Ampuan Durah Almarhum Tunku Besar Burhanuddin, the wife of the former Yang di-Pertuan Agong, the late Tuanku Jaafar Almarhum Tuanku Abdul Rahman.
“People from all over Malaysia came for the game. There were 8,000 of them. The game was also screened live in Cathay cinema theatres all over Malaysia by Filem Negara Malaysia. Attention was on us because it was the first all-women game in the country.
But the game was not without its weird moments.
“Spectators roared with laughter as our goalkeeper Maria saved a shot – and kicked it back into our own goal, giving the opponents a goal. It was hilarious, ” she said.
“It was a fun match because we did not have proper training and the aim was just to raise funds for charity. After that game, women’s football became a hit, and we continued to organise tournaments and also inter-state matches.
“The game was exciting, especially for the men seeing ladies take over the field. There were lots of interest, and lots of clubs formed after that. After the first match, my team was officially named the “NS Belles”, and we travelled to states like Melaka, Johor, Perak and Selangor.”
Melaka hosted the second match where the NS Belles played against Malacca Jaycees.
In the same year, 1961, Parameswary organised six charity matches and encouraged many women to get involved. At first, it was for charity, but when clubs started sprouting, there were competitive matches in mini-tournaments.
Women around the country wrote her letters, saying that they would love to play the game. She has seen states like Melaka, Selangor and Terengganu sending clubs for events or competitions.
“I am very grateful and would like to emphasise that without the support and courage from the players, the ladies football would not have kicked off.
“It was very touching to see all the races come forward together as a team for a good cause without any second thoughts. It was all done in good faith with no expectation or any monetary rewards.
“Another memorable charity fund-raising event I organised was at the Merdeka in Stadium Kuala Lumpur. It was for the “Congo Cheer Fund” under the patronage of the late Tunku Abdul Rahman’s wife, the late Tun Sharifah Rodziah Syed Alwi Barakbah.
“The NS Belles played against the Selangor team. It was heartening to see the overwhelming support. The ladies played the game and at the same time, we contributed to society.
“I was very actively involved and immersed myself in the committee as the lady’s football was gaining momentum. However, due to pressure from home, I had to resign from the committee.”
She left the game in 1964 after getting married and worked on building the family instead.
“Many of us came from conservative families, and football among women was unheard of. In fact, I remember being denied employment when I told them I was involved in ladies football.
“Families were against it, but we broke that barrier. At that time, the community was always concerned and thought about children’s welfare and safety. Any parent would want the best for their children, and we cannot fault them.
“You know what made me happy – seeing young women enjoy the game without being judged.
“Society around us, in a way, shaped us. But being the path breaker certainly felt good. Once I left the game for good, I saw our team going overseas, and I felt good about it. At least I started something that keeps growing.”
Parameswary said even though the clubs formed in the 60s and 70s are no more, she is happy to see academies mushrooming in Malaysia, and the country being represented in international tournaments.
“I know the Eurasian Club, the Jaycees are no more. Most of the players should now be in their 70s and 80s. It was a long, long time ago. I am also in my 80s now. Until today, if anyone from that era sees me, they would call me “football aunty” or “football mami”!
“Children these days are active, and they have all the facilities needed for the game. Today’s children are well prepared and provided for, ” said Parameswary, who has eight grandchildren, five girls and three boys.
“One of the two most treasured moments in my life is receiving a letter from the first Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman’s department, appreciating my efforts in fund-raising and channelling it to the needy. Some of those that benefited from the charity funds include Templer Hospital, needy students of Malacca and Gurney Boys Club Seremban. The second is being recognised in “Who’s Who in Sports in Malaysia and Singapore in 1975.”
The mother of four gave up the game for her family but she does not regret it one bit. Her priority then switched to taking care of her own family and making sure that her children got the necessary education and are well brought up.
For Mother’s Day, Parameswary is happy to see her four children – T. Devendra, T. Gokula Jothi, T. Gowry and T. Sivakugan – doing well in their lives and they too are inspired by her works in the past.
“I am happy with how my life has panned out. Even though my time in football was short, but it is something that will last a lifetime”.
She is glad as she has seen many young women step forward and being part of the game, and she wants to be remembered for that legacy.
“It’s something that I would cherish for a lifetime, ” said the woman who may well be the mother of Malaysian football.
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