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We are all of one Race, the Human Race.

Saturday, 6 March 2010

1969 - the truly honeymoon year (form 4, part3)

chariots of fire

A smiling nod of appreciation from a senior, a “well done” uttered by a revered teacher or a pat on the back from a feared HM, this was all we boys needed to spur us to greater heights in our formative years in VI.

More than that, competition was encouraged, sloth discouraged and punished. There were the Lewis, Rodger, Treacher and Nugent-Walsh Scholar Awards to aim for, Sportsman of the Year, Captaincies and Vice Captaincies, Drum Major’s Post, Assistant Scout Master, School Librarian, Chairmanship of Clubs and Societies, Temporary Prefect and of course School Prefect and even the humble Class Monitor’s and School Bell Ringer’s position.

I wrote earlier about an incident that has stuck in my mind like forever. Paramjothy
was indoctrinated into Club 21 by HM Muru following his performance in a 4x100 inter-school relay held at Stadium Merdeka. Param had picked up his dropped baton and made ground for a medal position. Nine times out of ten, the runner would have thrown his hands up in the air and given up in exasperation! I am sure that “never say die” attitude would have stood well for Param throughout his life. More importantly, many, like me, took inspiration from Param’s tour de force.

That’s all about character which was part of the equation for TOTAL EDUCATION, as was that of students taking on the challenging position of leading from the front. There is also a very subtle but perceptible change in attitude and expectations when you move from Form 3 to Form 4. In the former you are regarded a junior at 15, while a few months later when you are not quite 16 yet in the latter, you are a senior pitted against guys who are 19!!

But all this did not matter. Either you took on the challenge and grew up very quickly or fell by the wayside.

1969, despite all the political turmoil in the country, was nevertheless a year of outstanding performances for VI. We swept the Selangor senior schools’ competitions in Football, Rugby, Badminton, Cricket and Hockey There were scintillating performances in Swimming and Water Polo too. But Athletics took a back seat with the cancellation of Sports Day!

Many did indeed lead from the front. None of that general from Washington radio-broadcasting to his troops in Saigon with “I’m right behind you, Sam!!” Captain Dinabandu (of Nestle fame, now Dato) coolly slotted in a penalty late in the second half to secure a nervous win over Royal Military College (RMC) in the Khir Johari Trophy Football Final played at Merdeka Stadium. But, the role played by goalkeeper Ee Beng Yew that day cannot be understated. In the dying minutes of the game, he called the dice correctly and saved an RMC penalty by diving right and pushing the ball away from a certain goal. Of such stuff are legends and heroes made!

Wong Fay Meng, Lee Kok Pheng, Lim Shook Kong and Yap Koi Meng smashed their way to the Asian Junior Championships, the King’s Cup and more in Badminton. Cricketers like Surjeet Singh, Sarjit Singh, Balachandren and Balakrishnan made it 7-in-a-row against RMC in the Vanderholt Trophy competition.

But that thing about character, sportsmanship AND education was nowhere more apparent than in the finals of the Selangor Schools U20 Hockey Finals where we encountered yet again our nemesis, Royal Military College (RMC). This was a year we expected to lose the U20 and win the U18 title from RMC. We were the proverbial underdogs. What transpired was the reverse and it all boiled down to the leadership, skill and commitment of our Hockey Captain, Daya Singh.

The U20 team that year included, besides Daya, stalwarts like ‘Bob’ Rajendran at right wing and goalkie G.Tharmasegaran who was regarded as a veteran even though he was in Lower 6. Tharma later appeared for the Selangor State Team as well as the National Team. This U20 squad paled by comparison with that of the all conquering squad of 1968. The juniors who graduated from Form 3 to the senior squad were Raja Azlan, K.Balraj, Hiew Heng Foo, Leong Wai Kim and yours truly. The regular fifth formers in the team included speedy whiz stickworking Pritam Singh, “Thunderbolt” Eddy Chong Kong Chin, Raja Ahmad, A.Balachandren, Zainal, Haniff, Satwant Singh and K.Jayaraj.

Zainal, like many in their teen years and some other members of the hockey squad, used to 'experiment' with cigarettes and was wrongly accused by coach Lenny as a "Pheet Kaki!!". It was Zainal (also called 'hitam' (black) burnt as he was from being outdoors a lot) who encouraged me to continue playing when I felt I was a bit out of my depth in the senior squad.
Haniff, who lived in Cochrane Road (as did Zainal, brothers Balraj and Jayaraj and Eddy Chong), was a character to behold in his sixth form years as he led a personal protest due to problems at home with his dad, by only showering and changing socks and clothes once a week!! And sometimes he wore no underpants!! You can imagine the stink this threw up in class and around school wherever he went in his dirt encrusted clothes. No amount of 'disciplining' by prefects, teachers or HM could change his behaviour, which he voluntarily altered towards the end of his upper six year!! But he was loyal to the hockey squad and would turm up for all the matches without fail. Hanif had a younger brother Haris who paid his own way for trials with the Manchester United Youth Football Squad, I'm told!

Of Raja Azlan's silken skills and deceptive quietness, I have already written earlier, while his elder brother Raja Ahmad was multi-talented (School Football and Tennis captain, prefect in 1971) and was joint Sportsman of the Year in 1971 with then School Captain Yap Kian Fui, both from Shaw House!

Hiew Heng Foo (second goalkeeper) was another "character." He was the equivalent of GI Joe in VI lore, a real tough guy whose specialty was Rugby. Once in a friendly hockey match, he was struck by the ball flush in the middle of the forehead from a short corner taken by our opponents. He was stunned for a second, no more, and then rubbed his forehead, laughed out loud and carried on where a brahma bull might have been done for a nice BBQ!!

Anothe player who blossomed overnight in form four was K.Balraj (ex-MAS Aircraft Maintenance Engineer, now based in Dubai). He shot up to six foot that year. Balraj was also a middle distance athlete, in especially the 800m, who started with me from standard 1 in Pasar Road English School 1. And in the 440 yards (2 round of the tracks) final in 1965 (standard six), he stunningly and unexpectedly snatched the trophy from all the favourites. It was a race in which I was eliminated ( I was not the favourite to win) when I fell after the start in the jostling to cut into the inner lane!
Balraj's determination and talent in athletics could also be seen when he (Shaw House V.Captain) took up Pole Vault in 1972 and won a medal as runner up for Shaw House, the winner being his close buddy, School V.Captain, Swimming Captain, Water Polo player, ASM and Shaw House Captain, Yap Chee Keong (Engineer). Balraj would go on to captain (at centre half) the VI hockey team in 1972 and play for the Selangor Schools hockey squad as well. It's extraordinary that Yap Chee Keong, who was not known as an athlete, could pick up Pole Vault just like that AND win the Gold. Yet it was not wholly unexpected. These were the only 2 guys who could be seen training evening after evening before Sports Day 1972, for that discipline which you either had a talent for or not!

Balraj's elder brother Jayaraj (JR) who played at right half, was a very quiet and reserved individual who was nonetheless quoted throughout his VI years for his extraordinary outburst of "Don't play the fool, that's Ginger Baker, you know!" which stunned his father (and us) when he ordered him to "shut the noise" as he lay on the living room sofa for his noon siesta. JR had then been enthralled, blasting his latest 'Cream" album. He also had a collection of all the rock albums of that era ranging from Led Zep to Deep Purple, Grand Funk, Hendrix and many more.

The team progressed smoothly to the finals, coached by Lenny De Vries. The training sessions were more rigorous and demanding than some of the friendlies and inter-school matches!!

But RMC was another kettle of fish! And watching the finals from the sidelines at the TPCA Stadium in Princess Road was very, very painful and agonising for me as I did not make it to the final eleven for that game!!
RMC attacked in waves from the word ‘go’. Their players, though not superior in stickwork, more than made up for it with speed and by attacking in numbers. Our strategy had always been to let the 3 forwards and two wingers do the goal scoring, while the midfield primarily supported defence and worked in Lenny's famous "triangles" in attack. Rarely would our forwards back up in defence or the fulbacks join the forwards in attack. The RMC marauders never let the VI players settle down. Overwhelmed would have been an understatement and RMC seemed to have won the match, leading 1-0 at half time and then went 2-0 up soon after the second half commenced.

That’s when the fight back began. Captain Daya Singh marshalled the defence superbly and at times seemed to be in two places at one time, repulsing every RMC attack in the midfield to thwart them from gaining any momentum. Daya also moved up with the forwards to attack in breakaways. He was like the Scarlet Pimpernel.Here’s here, here’s there, he’s everywhere!

Soon enough VI pulled one back and then equalised with a typical unstoppable thunderbolt to the roof of the goal net, unleashed by right full-back short corner specialist Kong Chin, from a perfectly executed short corner.

Pandemonium broke out as the RMC players protested ‘cut’ to umpire Kathiravale, meaning they felt Eddy Chong Kong Chin had illegally undercut the ball, which would have constituted dangerous and foul play! “Fiddlesticks!” retorted Kathiravale as he pointed to the centre circle. 2-2 it was as the VI voices now reached fever pitch with “Daya! Daya! Daya!” From that point on, RMC seemed to wilt.

With about 10 minutes left, Daya then produced a bit of magic with his stick and sent centre forward Leong Wai Kin (a staunch Christian) into the RMC ‘D’ with a perfect defence-splitting through pass. Now Leong was one with whom I competed for a place in the team. We did not get along too well as I regarded him a selfish non-team player. But this one time, I cheered and cheered as he sped through, took control of the ball, cared a damn about passing the ball to anyone else and flicked the ball into the net, past the onrushing RMC goalkeeper!

VI 3, RMC 2 was the final score of an epic match that deep in our hearts we never expected to win. But we produced that extra something that day, that RMC, perhaps overconfident as well that evening, could not. And we also had Daya Singh!
Kathiravale, always in all black referee’s uniform, was someone who knew me from refereeing football as well as hockey matches way back from primary school days. After he blew the final whistle he spotted me on the sidelines, winked at me and said smilingly, “You know, that was a magic clean hit. Nine times out of 10, the short corner specialist would have undercut the ball. Your Eddy got lucky that time!

Lucky? Hell! It takes weeks and months and hours and hours of practice on the field under a burning sun to be able to get “lucky” when it matters most!

As the game ended a group of RMC supporters from among those rushing to board their special buses back to Sg. Besi surrounded me, demanding to know why I had insultingly shouted "Dayak, Dayak!" at the RMC team!! Fortunately, they accepted my panicked (but true) explanation that I had been cheering Daya Singh, our hockey captain and not insulting our aborigine brethren or the RMC players!

A week later, we lost 1-0 to RMC in the U18 finals played at the same TPCA Stadium in Princess Road. But that was not half as exciting as the U20 finals and strangely we did not feel despondent at all in losing the U18 finals.

- to be continued