The game changer

Life’s album: A montage of Datuk Koe Ewe Teik’s illustrious time in Malaysian and world football.

Remembering Ewe Teik who gave football the red and yellow cards

PETALING JAYA: The name Koe Ewe Teik may not ring a bell to today’s generation but at one stage of his life, the charismatic and distinguished educationist-cum-football coach-cum-referee was hugely respected across the international football family.

Such was his stature that the late Ewe Teik not only became a trusted confidant of a Prime Minister and a FIFA president for over two decades but was also described by the international press as the most knowledgeable football figure in Asia.

While Ewe Teik enjoyed the implicit trust of Malaysia’s first Prime Minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman who was also FA of Malaysia (FAM) president from 1951 to 1974, he worked closely with FIFA president Sir Stanley Rous in drafting and codifying the framework of universally agreed football regulations.

As a member of both the FIFA Referees’ Committee and the International Football Association Board (IFAB), Ewe Teik mooted the idea of the colour card system to overcome the language barrier, later modified as yellow and red cards, and drove through the idea of penalty shootout to determine winners of a knockout match in the event of a stalemate and inspired the introduction of a number system for substitutions.

On top of becoming the first full-time Asian Football Confederation (AFC) secretary in 1966, Ewe Teik was the first non-European to be appointed as a FIFA delegate to IFAB, the highest legislative forum of football where the laws of the game are discussed and amended from time to time until today.

In his autobiography Football Worlds: A Lifetime in Sport published in 1978, Rous admitted he saw the display of numbers for substituted players at a youth tournament in Malaysia, undoubtedly courtesy of Ewe Teik’s innovation in holding up a piece of paper with the number of the player to be substituted. These days the fourth official holds the electronic substitution board.

Although the idea of the card system was credited to Rous and English referee Ken Aston, renowned academician, Professor Alan Tomlinson, in his book Sir Stanley Rous and The Growth of World Football published in 2020, offered an alternative view.

In quoting Ewe Teik’s biography, Tomlinson, a Professor of Leisure Studies (School of Humanities) at the University of Brighton, said the former “came up with” the “colour card system”, suggesting a red card for a foul and a green card for a dismissal – a traffic light model, red for stop and green for go.

“He did the committee work to float this idea and get it tested in qualifying games for the Olympic football competition, and accepted with modifications in 1966. Rous was a generous mentor, but holding the FIFA presidency allowed him to claim the credit for the success of schemes such as Teik’s (sic) colour card system.”

Ewe Teik’s biographer is none other than his own son, Dr Koe Eng Jin.

The book, published in 2018, is titled Sower and Weaver, The Life of a Man – Koe Ewe Teik. The book was made available to by former Rangkaian Hotel Seri Malaysia chairman, Datuk Badrul Hassan Mohamed Kassim, a family friend of the Koes, last year.

An impressive man by any standards who left an indelible imprint on all his wide range of vocation, Ewe Teik was a member of the elite circle who was the driving force behind Tunku Abdul Rahman’s leadership in Malaysian and Asian football. The circle included Datuk Kwok Kin Keng, FAM’s longest serving secretary (from 1952 to 1979) and Lim Kee Siong (transport tycoon and first Malaysian to be appointed into the FIFA executive committee who has a road in Seremban named after him).

Born on February 1, 1912, Ewe Teik was held in high esteem in whatever he did and wherever he was – whether as the first headmaster of the Government English School in Kluang (now Kluang High School), a football coach for his alma mater Penang Free School, a goalkeeper with Johor, or as a coach who brought Penang to the 1950 and 1952 HMS Malaya Cup finals.

In the first 40 years of his life, Ewe Teik was variously goalkeeper, tennis player, badminton enthusiast, teacher, referee, referee instructor, secretary and above all an educator. His passion in sports went beyond football.

Ewe Teik represented Penang in tennis and played badminton for Johor.


A little-known fact is that Ewe Teik was a selector for the Malayan team that bagged the inaugural Thomas Cup in 1949. Ewe Teik was a member of the selection committee headed by BA of Malaya president, Lim Chuan Geok, with Lee Guan Khye and A. S. Samuel (uncle of Edwin Dutton) the remaining members.

With his infectious enthusiasm for work, Ewe Teik achieved numerous firsts in his career, including being appointed to referee the inaugural MCFA Cup final in October 1948, elected as the first president of the Football Referees’ Association of Malaysia inaugurated in 1958 and becoming the first full-time secretary to the AFC in 1966 (appointed a year earlier while still working as registrar-bursar of the Malayan Teachers’ College (MTC) in Gelugor, Penang).

He was also the first Asian appointed as member of FIFA Referees Committee in 1962.

While Tunku Abdul Rahman initiated the Asian Youth Championship, Ewe Teik was instrumental in drafting the rules and regulations of various tournaments under AFC’s auspices. Between 1958 and 1966, he organised 18 courses in various countries throughout Asia, both at regional and national levels.

After succeeding Lee Wai Tong as the AFC general secretary in 1965, Ewe Teik made his residence at No 2, Lim Chin Guan Road, Penang, as the official secretariat and office of the confederation until he quit in 1974.

Ewe Teik spent a total of almost 17 years in the FIFA Referees’ Committee, seven of them as deputy chairman, serving both Rous and Joao Havelange before taking his final bow from the world stage in 1979.

In acknowledging Ewe Teik’s massive contribution, Dr Helmut Kaser, the then FIFA general secretary, wrote in a letter addressed to the former: “At the last meeting of the Referees’ Committee, I transmitted your greetings to the members of the committee. I am pleased to inform you that they asked me to thank you very much and to convey to you their best wishes,” said Kaser.

“They also asked me to thank you once again for the excellent work you did as a member and deputy chairman of the FIFA Referees’ Committee. Your contribution to the work of the International Football Board, has been immeasurable and greatly appreciated by all your colleagues in FIFA.”

At the zenith of his career, Ewe Teik assumed the role of a football Statesman with a jet-setting routine.

From having four Israeli Mirage jet fighters escorting the aircraft that brought him safely to Tel Aviv, being chauffeur-driven in a Rolls Royce in Australia each time he set foot Down Under, personally invited by the Shah of Iran to help modernise Iranian football, meeting the Pope in the Vatican to being handed the keys to the city of Belgrade and nicknamed Teikovic by the Mayor, Ewe Teik travelled around the world to share his intellect and in-depth knowledge in governance, refereeing and laws of the game without much fanfare.

For all his exploits and reputation as the quintessential public servant and football administrator extraordinaire, Ewe Teik was never given the proper recognition at home.

A long overdue Datukship, however, was awarded posthumously, last week. In conjunction with his 72nd birthday, the Penang Governor, Tun Datuk Seri Utama Ahmad Fuzi Abdul Razak, conferred Ewe Teik the Darjah Setia Pangkuan Negeri which carries the title Datuk, 40 years after his passing on May 11, 1981.

There is a note from Tunku Abdul Rahman to Ewe Teik in the opening page of the biography which says “I have shared many happy moments with Ewe Teik. May God preserve him.”

The most knowledgeable football figure in Asia at one time has been gone for four decades but Ewe Teik’s name will certainly never be forgotten.

His legacy is preserved as the pioneering football administrator who blazed the trail for future generations. —‑ Courtesy of the Football Association of Malaysia.

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