Sunday, June 20, 2010

Malaysian 80s Football Scene Minus The Rose Glasses

With the coming of this year's FIFA World Cup Tournament, we Malaysians can see billboards and TV adverts featuring the greats of the 80s Malaysian football team such as 'King' James Wong, Hassan 'Lipas Kudung' Sani, 'Tauke' Soh Chin Aun, Santokh Singh and the late Mokhtar 'Supermokh' Dahari and 'Spiderman' R. Arumugam (the last two mentioned were featured only in billboards only, alright?)

Yes, the 80s (and also the 70s and 60s for those who witnessed them) were the Golden years of Malaysian football. Heck even the adverts bring tears to my eyes especially when they show the winning goal during the final qualifying game for the 1980 Olympics (which we qualify but didn't actually send the team to Moscow because of the boycott by countries opposing the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan). And I remember the jokes that when we use the service of 'bomoh hujan' it is in order to bring rain rather than stopping it since we are the 'masters' of slippery and soaked football field! And the players played to their hearts' content and are very proud of the Malaysian flag on their shirts.

Yes, many of us fondly remembers the 80s team as the greatest Malaysian football team to date...which indeed they are but as the saying goes, we look at the past with rose-tinted glasses. Take away the rose-glasses and some unsightly truth are raised....

1. Many cites the performance of our team in the Merdeka Tournament, being champions for quite a number of times.
- Yes we did but despite its prestige, the Merdeka Tournament is just that, an invitational tournament. Teams compete upon invitation rather than upon qualification. So it was never the true stick to measure our uh, greatness then.

2. We used to thrash the now Asian powerhouse such as Japan and South Korea.
- I know some people alleged this but if I recall correctly our record with South Korea is roughly 50/50 with the game results usually have a goal difference of only one., so no thrashing then. Also the record against Japan is even more unflattering. And one other we never really mastered the West Asian / Middle East teams who were the true powerhouses of Asian football then.

3. We qualify for the Olympics twice in 1972 and 1980.
Indeed these were the best achievements of Malaysian football. The Olympics is a well respected and highly rated sports event but alas ever since its modern inception in 1896, the focus is more towards track and field events and also pool events. Sure winning an Olympics medal is special and allows one to be called an Olympian but even if the country won the Gold Medal in football, do the world sports scene give a particularly special attention?

4. We never qualify for the FIFA World Cup
Since we never were the true football masters of Asia, then the Finals of the FIFA World Cup were never within our reach. The team that won qualification to Moscow in 1980 failed rather miserably in the year after that, losing 4-0 to Kuwait, 2-1 to S. korea and drew 2-2 with Thailand. Someone mentioned that we failed to qualify in the 80s because the Asian Football Federation were only allocated two berths instead of four as of today. If four were allocated then, we might qualify for Spain 1982 or Mexico 1986. The sad truth is that we have never even reached the second qualifying round - all our efforts were stranded at the first it was totally irrelevant whether AFC were granted two, four, even ten berths! And with hindsight, it seems that we tend to glorify the past by citing the Olympic qualifications and the bronze Medal at Asia Games 1976 - noted achievements yes, but the wrong stage. I mean we played well in tournaments where football is just another event but failed rather miserably where it counts - FIFA World Cup at the Asian Cup (which is AFC's equivalent to the European Football Championship)

Now having said that, this entry was not meant to belittle the heroes of yesteryear. These former bank clerks and officers, local council employers and factory workers played to their hearts' content and even if they were beaten, they can always put their chins up. They are proud to wear the yellow-black jersey of the national team and (most of the time) they never let the fans down.

Now, where is my padded hockey goalie's suit.......

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