April 18, 2018
By Haresh Deol
THE task was simple – to drive Datuk Hishamuddin Aun to Concorde Hotel Kuala Lumpur, say hello to several ‘sifus’ and head home to spend what was left of Vaisakhi with my family.
Instead, it turned out to be a humbling night.
Hours earlier, I was getting ready to go on air on Astro Arena’s Analisis Nadi in conjunction with the Commonwealth Games, when Hishamuddin, Astro Arena’s digital magazine managing editor, mentioned he was going to take a Grab to town.
I asked what the occasion was and he replied: “Just a bunch of us old sports fellows getting together.”
I volunteered to be his ‘driver’. After all, it had been a while since I saw the likes of Datuk Lazarus Rokk, George Das, Tony Francis and Datuk Fauzi Omar.
Throughout the journey, all I had in mind was it would just be a group of former sportswriters meeting up at the coffee house. That’s it.
As I walked into the hotel’s lobby, I realised it was far from a casual meeting session. It was the 6th Sports Flame – an annual gathering of athletes and sports writers of the yesteryear. The aim of the gathering is to ensure those in the sporting fraternity keep in touch.
I stepped into the Concorde V hall star struck. I told myself to say hello to as many people as possible and then leave. Instead, George told me to stay put.
“You’ll thank me for it,” George added.
I sat at a table. Around me were legendary footballer Datuk M. Chandran, former Singapore football coach Jita Singh, and Asian Football Confederation (AFC) general secretary Datuk Windsor John.
Seated behind were former discus thrower Nerinder Kaur and the families of two heroes – footballer Chow Chee Keong and hurdler Ishtiaq Mubarak. Other stars included Hisham Rahman (rugby), Tan Aik Huang (badminton), Datuk R. Yogeswaran, Datuk N. Shri Shanmuganathan (hockey) and Semret Singh, the man who followed the footsteps of his hammer throwing father Ghenda Singh.
Rokk was the master of ceremony and he kept the crowd in stitches. It was slightly after 9pm, but I knew this was not an ordinary get-together.
The lights were dimmed and there was a video presentation. It was a moving four minutes to me.
The video introduced a book compiled and contributed by some of the nation’s finest sports writers. The book ‘Sports Flame: Stories Never Told Before’ sees personal accounts of our great athletes who brought honour to the nation in the eyes of the journalists.
Several former athletes also contributed while the wives of six stars – Christina Kwok (Chee Keong), Kristine Paul (former AFC and Football Association of Malaysia general secretary Datuk Seri Paul Mony Samuel), R. Selvarani (Ishtiaq), Maria Selvie Arumugam (national goalkeeper R. Arumugam), Datin Tengku Zarina Tengku Ibrahim (footballer Datuk Mokhtar Dahari) and Datin Vijeyakumari (former shuttler and administrator Datuk P. Punch Gunalan) – built up the courage to pen their thoughts, revealing interesting facts about their other halves.
Tengku Zarina wrote that Mokhtar “particularly enjoyed certain chores like mopping and cleaning the bathrooms”.
“But he would jokingly (or seriously) tell me that he would never hang out the clothes because then our neighbours would make conclusions that he was being queen-controlled,” she wrote.
Selvarani recalled how Ishtiaq once took her out to a diner when he stood on his chair and announced that he loved her. Maria Selvie and Arumugam’s love story would certainly make a good romantic movie.
The idea of compiling the memories and producing a book was mooted by Velu and George with Rokk and Fauzi helping out. The book was given out for free to all who attended that night.
There are no plans to sell the amazing collection of stories but George said the books will be given to libraries, universities and colleges.
Armed with the book and a pen, I obtained as many signatures I could that night. I was met by friendly faces, who were continuously flashing smiles. These were ones the celebrated heroes of the country who dominated the back pages almost daily.
I felt so small that night. I was in a hall filled with legends.
Sadly, they seem to be forgotten, especially by the younger generation.
I wish these heroes would be invited to schools, colleges and universities – to inspire our young ones and remind them of our great exploits.
This is a generation who were not paid to compete but a generation who participated out of pure passion and love of sports. A generation filled with charisma and character. A generation that truly inspired.
The annual get together is a commendable feat. The idea of producing the book was excellent and the strong bond between the former athletes and sportswriters is soul-stirring.
No words can further describe what I felt that night. I must thank Hishamuddin for allowing me to be his ‘driver’ that night and George for holding me back.
It was a Vaisakhi night I will never, ever forget.
To our heroes – both on the fields (or courts) and behind the typewriters – I salute you.
Haresh Deol is a multi-award winning journalist. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @HareshDeol
The book ‘Sports Flame: Stories Never Told Before’ is a must-read for sports fans.