or ego and false pride
Despite all that efforts to fuse 18 raw boys into a single lean, mean, fighting and winning hockey machine, things did not always go according to plan, though the campaign was successful in the end.
Like Spartans, we were continually prepared for war, and of course, like Spartans, in-fighting was bound to abound in an atmosphere where the competitive spirit bubbled and boiled on the surface. It was not enough to merely win a GOLD medal. You had to be on centre stage on the winning day because, really, the just rewards for three months of blood, sweat, toil and tears demanded it. And that's why and where trouble brewed, in the battle and right for centre-stage and GLORY!
You may not know this about the Grecian Spartans who have always been glorified in history as the greatest soldiers, though they were massacred by the Persians in 490 BC at The Battle of Marathon.
I think it was Plato who wrote in his 'Republic' the male Spartan was brought up from young to treat his male companion as his life-long lover and his wife as his life-long friend!!
Ahem! Where were we?
In one corner were Cheah Peng Keong and Chew Yoong Fong, the stalwart full-backs of many a season's battles stretching back to 1965 in Pasar Road English School 1, Primary (PRES 1), and me. In the other corner were A.Balachandren (Billy), Eddy Chin Kwong Chin, Pritam Singh and Raja Ahmad. In between stood the school hockey captain, Surjeet Singh (Sarge).
Billy, Eddy, Pritam and Raja were technically not VI students then as they'd sat for their Form 5 Cambridge Exams the previous November/December in 1969 and were awaiting their results which would not be out till mid-March. But by tradition, they were allowed to train with the school hockey squad. They were not allowed to play in any of the official inter-school fixtures since most of our opponents would not have the benefit of the services of their Lower 6 students-in-waiting, as it were! IC's were checked by hockey umpires to ensure infringement of the rules did not take place.
The exception was any fixture against Royal Mitary College (RMC) since they fielded their Lower 6 students regardless, claiming their students were contracted to stay with them until the end of Upper 6.
Anyway, we blew away all our opponents. The last hurdle before meeting RMC in the finals was slated against Klang High School (KHS), i.e. the semi-finals. We knew from past experience that Klang High was small potatoes/easy meat. So, no one shed any sweat thinking or worrying about it. "VI no sweat, what you see is what you get!!" is how we chanted, bragged and swaggered about as we ran our practice rounds in the hockey pitch ('What you see is what you get' and 'Ooooweeee' was the calling card of hilarious black american TV comedian, Flip Wilson, who also cross-dressed on his show as the really ugly man-hunting Geraldeeenne whose face could stop a herd of bulls in full gallop dead in its tracks!).
The pretty impressive results of our undefeated season thus far were:
As we milled about in the field on the Monday evening before the Friday semi-finals, Cheah saunterd over to me and Fong and said "Hey, you heard what Eddy said?" We hadn't a clue and Cheah then briefed us he overheard Eddy, together with Billy, Pritam and Raja discussing with Surjeet about replacing us for the finals with RMC. Well, our faces fell and some four letter words were flung about indiscreetly, but deliberately on purpose, which must have reached the ears of the rest of the squad which now begun to gaze far away in any direction but ours, which pretty much confirmed these "discussions" must have been taking place earlier as well without our knowledge.
So, the three of us pretended we knew nothing about it and marched off to the showers in disgust and indignation. We decided to go for dinner in our own group of three and on returning dived straight into bed without joining in the usual team chit chat. Well, the situation became pretty clear over the next two days. We would not be in the 1st eleven for the finals. At the same time we could not be released from the squad because we were needed to guarantee triumph in the semi-finals and/or in case anyone sustained serious injuries during the week or the course of the semi-final and final games!!
But the rift in the squad was obvious and made more difficult because "on the other side" was Balraj and is brother Jairaj who were from our PRES1 era, not to mention Raja Azlan (really the unsung star/hero of our team as opposed to Pritam Singh who was the sung star/hero) from our Form 1 days and Pedro Hariharan who, being a junior and brother of our classmate Ramachandran, found our company more amenable.
Yet, there was no open discussion between the two groups about what was obviously a difficult and untenable situation, having come this far together. The more the seniors avoided it, the more incensed we became. So, on Thurday evening as the team was being briefied about preparations for our trip to Klang, we dropped a clanger!
We coolly informed Surjeet we would be making our way to KHS in the supporters' bus which would be leaving a half hour later than the team bus.
When Surjeet baulked, we threw in a second clanger. We would first be heading for the 1 o'clock 'Romeo & Juliet' matinee at Odeon Cinema Theatre in Batu Road (now Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman). Odeon still stands at the junction of Jalan TAR and Jalan Dang Wangi (then Campbell Road) diagonally across the road from Sogo, though it's been converted into some kind of depot or warehouse!!
When Surjeet arched his eyebrows, I don't know what possessed me. I lied poker-faced that it was compusory for our Cambridge Exams and so we could not miss it. I mumbled something about Mrs. Yiap and the HM having arranged it. Curiously no one challenged us (why now?) or asked Balraj and Azlan (who were also in Form 5 like us) why they were not included for an exam-worthy movie. The truth was we were doing 'Julius Caesar' that year, but wanted Surjeet, Eddy & Co to squirm a little, no actually, a lot, since there wasn't much they could do about it. We were not obliged to travel with them and were not threatening to not turn up for the semi-finals either.
We'd also heard from "our deep throats" (Pedro Hariharan and Balraj) there was speculative talk we were prepared to throw the KHS game out of spite. Our insiders had done a good job in spreading misinformation and got them seriously worried. This only inflamed us even more. We could not believe our loyalty was in doubt after five long years of service to VI!!
Anyway, we stuck to our guns that Friday and defiantly headed for Franco Zeffirelli's 1968 made 'Romeo and Juliet.' The truth also was that other classmates who'd watched the movie earlier had oohed and aahed about Juliet's (young Olivia Hussey) superb pectorals and how from a certain angle you could see right through her transplucent blouse at the oh, so vital biological information!! This defied common sense and belief, but nevertheless we felt obliged to check it out. But, with so much swirling in my mind, I couldn't concentrate on Juliets' vital statistics or full breasts. As for Romeo, I didn't give a damn, wherefore are not!
At sharp three, Cheah, Fong and I bolted before the movie ended and doubled-timed it back to school to collect our playing gear just in time to board the supporters' bus for Klang.
The game commenced at 4.30 p.m. and we began in our usual fashion with wave upon wave of attack. Then horrors of horrors, KHS took a 1-0 lead from a break-away on the left. I was patrolling at left half and Cheah at left back. We were both beaten in the blink of an eye! Eight from the VI team were staring at us with knives in their eyes as the KHS players whooped and celebrated and their fans ran riot!
That was it! That was the precise moment I vowed no KHS forward would best me again and set about with such a fierce demeanour and action, they never did! I also had a quick word with Cheah and Fong. My message was short, sharp, and pointed (like Juliet's tits) - 'Thou shall not be passed again!!' Soon we pulled back three goals and at half-time Pedro Hariharan playing at left wing walked up to me, laughed and said, " Brother, have some pity on the KHS boys! Looks like everyone of them is avoiding coming within a mile of you." I was frustrated, angry and plain boiling. Every tackle I made was a crunching (but legal) one which explained why the opposition avoided me like the bubonic plague!!
In the end we thrashed KHS 6-1. My contribution included fine support to Pedro and a couple of good assists to Raja Azlan who bagged a brace, while Surjeet, Pedro, centre forward Leong Wai Kin and Michael Chew shared the remaining goals! It was a consummate performance from a team that would not be defeated, The leadership qualities of Sarge and Tharma shone like a beacon of light in a fog-filled dark night!
And as planned, the three of us did not play in the finals against RMC. The honours in the finals were shared 1-1 which meant we retained the title we had won outright the previous year defeating RMC 3-2!!
But the wounds of NOT playing in the 1970 Tun Razak Shield Finals festered in me for a long, long time.
The double whammy came the next year!!
When we were waiting for our Form 5 MCE results, and expecting to take on RMC at the TPCA Stadium in Princess Road (now Jalan Puteri) ) in the 1971 U 20 finals, the umpire absolutely refused to permit us to play, saying the MSSM forbade it! My anger was even greater than in 1970 - two time losers!! Shit!
Well, if I make it sound like it was akin to the 'Gunfight at the OK Corral' it wasn't quite! A bit of melodramam never hurt anyone. But we felt betrayed, frustrated and angry. Oh yes, deep, deep in our heart of hearts we knew all the cliches were true:
No player is bigger than the TEAM.
Lose the BATTLE, win the WAR.
All for 1, one for all.
Ask not what your country can do for you, ask.....
But right that time in 1970, there was the bitter taste of ash in our mouths! We hated Sarge, we hated Billy, we hated Eddy, we hated Pritam, we hated Raja Ahmad and we hated the Universe. When the victory was announced the following Monday at Assembly in the school hall in front of the HM, teachers, prefects and a thousand students who were waiting to cheer us unreservedly for retaining the Tun Razak Shield, and who knew nothing about the fracture in the team, we still could not bring ourselves to forgive them.
The three of us refused to get up and go on stage, shake hands with the HM and take possession of our medals. I clearly remember mgf Tan Kai Chah turning to me puzzled and querying "Whaat, you trying to be funny or what?" But he could not have known or understood the seething cauldron of anger that was boiling inside us. So, that's one gold medal I never had among my collection of a few!
So, who was right and who was wrong? Wyatt Earp, Virgil Earp and Doc Holliday or Jesse James and his brothers in that famous shoot-out at the OK Corral?
No one, really! And I hate it when we can't apportion blame.
Oh yes, Sarge and Tharma, the two senior-most players, captain and vice-captain, should have called for a meeting of the protagonists and explained the situation; made subtle pretence of asking us for our consent, maybe even pleaded (though grovelling would have been nice). That's somewhere in Zig Ziglar's motivation theory if not actually a cornerstone of Six Sigma management technique. Cheah, Fong and I deserved that respect because we had paid our dues, many times over. We might have griped about it then and for a short while afterwards, but would have come around. Because when you are asked nicely, you can't really say no, especially when you know what the score really is! So, we'd baulked, moped and played hard ball.
As for us, we clearly showed our immaturity. We knew the medal was ours anyway and should have gracefully surrendered our places instead of making Billy, Eddy, Raja and Pritam feel small, awkward and guilty. After all, the final decision was always in the hands of the team captain.
Sound familiar? You ever had to handle a similar awkward situation at your workplace when you were the CEO? The crime of course is that you made the same mistake again knowing full well what happened in 1970 and yet walked all over someone's feelings?
Ego and false pride, two very baaad, nasty mothers!
Feeling guilty and remorseful? Yeah, I'm begging ain't I?
I'm writing about it and spilling my guts out here, ain't I?
Not beyond redemption. Ha, ha, ha!
But for all that, this 1970 and 1971 squads were the ones I enjoyed being in the most in all my seven years in VI. Our behaviour in handling tough management and people issues was pathetic; but par for the course for most (99.99%) schoolboys. If we'd handled it any better, that woud have been against the laws of nature. In the real world, you'd be lucky to find a really good manager, GM or CEO younger than age 40! And I've seen some real 50+year old dogs!! You can't run before you walk.
And whenever I think about Pedro Hariharan, Sitsa, Old Turkey Buzzard and Coconut Woman, Slippery /Twinkle Toes Sarge, Tharma and his endless stream of jokes not to mention Billy's stories, Rattat, Hockee Speakee and more, and the warm and long friendships of Cheah, Fong, Pedro and Balraj, I can't help bursting out in laughter and joy.
And guess who drove us home in his car and dropped us off one by one, after the 1971 hockey season was over? None other than Eddy Chong accompanied by Pritam Singh and Billy Balachandren in a jam-packed buggy!! Even as I was alighting from the car, we were Hockee Speeaking and laughing our heads off!! Such was the carmaderie and team spirit we enjoyed despite the ups and downs in the hockey squad.
The next morning (circa late March 1971), much to my amazement Eddy Chong and Billy Bala dropped by my house. Eddy, like Billy, was a prefect. He had a very serious look on his face and informed me I had to report the next day to the hockey master, Mr.Oh Kong Lum. An audit of the stores at the school's Sports Pavilion had apparently revealed a serious shortage of Karachi King Super hockey sticks. My face paled! I distinctly remember handing my pair of hockey sticks back to Eddy as we broke off from centralised training. Before I could protest, they departed, leaving me with a big headache.
Later that day, I bicycled over to team mate Balraj's house in Lorong Cheong Yoke Choy off Cochrane Road to ask him if he'd heard or knew anything about the missing hockey sticks. To my 2nd surprise of the day, Balraj revealed he too had been paid a visit by Eddy Chong and Billy and ordered to report to Mr. Oh!!
As we sat on the sofa in Balraj's living room trying to figure out what the fish/hell was going on, in came ogf Indran, a school footballer, and later 1972 School and Football Captain. He had an even more worried look on his face as he blurted out that Eddy Chong and Billy had dropped by his house that same morning to order him to report to Cikgu Othman the next day about some missing footballs and soccer gear from the stores at the Sports Pavilion!
The three of us then sat around talking about this curious business of theft from the Sports Pavilion. There was no question of not reporting to the respective teachers the next day; we were too indoctrinated into the VI system to defy a direct or indirect order from any teacher, especially the Assistant Principal!
Well, that story of what followed will feature in another blog!!
Till then, ciao!!