PETALING JAYA: The late football legend R. Arumugam and national coach K. Rajagopal were awarded the Panglima Jasa Negara (PJN), which carries the title Datuk, in conjunction with the Yang di-Pertuan Agong’s birthday yesterday.
The duo were among 67 recipients of the awards from Tuanku Mizan Zainal Abidin at Balairong Seri, Istana Negara.
The late Aru, popularly known as the “Spiderman”, is still fondly remembered for his heroics between the posts for Selangor and the national squad even after his passing away 23 years ago.
His greatest achievement was helping the national football team bag the bronze medal at the 1974 Asian Games in Teheran. He was also a member of the Malaysian team that qualified for the 1980 Moscow Olympics, which Malaysia boycotted.
The flamboyant Arumugam, with his exceptionally long arms and brilliant “cat-like reflex saves” earned nearly 200 caps before he died in a road accident in 1988 at the age of 35.
Datuk Soh Chin Aun, who played alongside the late Aru and Rajagopal in the early 70s beginning with PKNS, was pleased to learn that his colleagues’ sacrifices for the nation have been recognised.
“The late Aru needs no introduction. He was the main man behind me and (Datuk) Santokh (Singh) in defence when we represented the country in so many tournaments.
“Rajagopal has excelled in coaching too and I am proud of both of them,” he said.
Santokh, meanwhile, felt that the posthumous award for the late Aru was “long overdue”.
“It is good that at least they have recognised whatever services he had contributed to the state and nation. It is better late than never,” said Santokh.
Former national midfield dynamo Wong Choon Wah said “I have many fond memories of the late Aru, who was a ‘joker’.
“He may have left us a long time ago but we are still talking about his antics on and off the field. He is a happy-go-lucky man. For me he was a great goalkeeper.”
Kassim Abdullah (formerly Kasi Visvanathan) said: “Aru and I were room-mates when we played in the Deepavali Cup against Singapore back in the 70s. He was a jovial person and there was not a single day without laughter with him around. I am glad he has been recognised after all these time.”
The FA of Malaysia (FAM) exco member Datuk S. Sivasundaram and a close friend of the late Aru, said that the player was truly role model and an inspiration to all Malaysians.
He said Aru did more than to just play the game. In 1983, Aru formed his own club – Starbrite SC in Port Klang – as part of his personal contribution to the youngsters in his neighbourhood.
Aru made his debut for the FA of Selangor (FAS) when he was 18 years old in the Burnley Cup Youth Tournament in 1971. He represented Selangor in the Malaysia Cup tournament from 1972 to 1988, helping them win the Malaysia Cup eight times.
During his time with the national team, Aru helped Malaysia win the Merdeka Tournament in 1973, 1974, 1976 and 1979. He also represented Malaysia in seven SEA Games since 1973.
Rajagopal, meanwhile, has been making heads turn with his exploits as the national football coach, especially since leading the senior team to victory in the Suzuki Cup Asean Football Federation (AFF) championship last December.
He started out coaching the national Under-23 side, leading them to the SEA Games gold medal in Laos after a lapse of 20 years in 2009.
Last year, Rajagopal made everyone sit up and take notice of his potential as a coach in the Asian Games Under-23 competition in Guangzhou. That was when Malaysia qualified for the second round for the first time in 32 years.
Then came his crowning moment – leading Malaysia to victory in the Suzuki Cup after 14 years.
Rajagopal said he was deeply honoured to be awarded the Datukship by the King.
“I’m proud to be a Malaysian. I want to thank the King, Prime Minister (Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak), the president of the FA of Malaysia (Sultan Ahmad Shah) and to all Malaysians,” said Rajagopal yesterday.
“I’m truly amazed by the support given to me by the fans, who came forward to support Malaysian football.”
Former long distance ace and multiple SEA Games gold medallist M. Ramachandran and FIFA referee Subkhiddin Mohd Salleh received the Kesatria Mangku Negara (KMN).