HISTORY will be made Saturday evening with an unprecedented 45-year reunion of Singapore hockey greats to bid final farewell to ‘The Don’ of Singapore hockey.
Major (Retired) Gangadharan Surajan, an elite fullback of the 1973 SEAP Games gold-medal winning team, passed on Tuesday, due to prolonged illness, and he is expected to be given a rousing send-off before he is cremated at Mandai Crematorium.
At least 10 members of the surviving team, including skipper Vear Singh and vice-skipper Arul Subramaniam, have rounded up their iconic colleagues to offer a hockey-sticks “guard of honour” as the ultimate salute.
Surajan’s mates from the Republic of Singapore (RSN) are also expected to play the tear-jerking “The Last Post”, an eerie and evocative bugle-tune which is the most distinctive sounds in the world for a military-hero.
Out of the 18-member winning team, majority now in their late 60s, set to come with their antique hockey sticks will be Vear Singh, Arul Subramaniam, Gerard De Cruz, Keith Kleinman, Farleigh Clarke, Lim Ah Swan, Shariff Amiran, Ng Hoi Kah, V.K. Chelvan and M. Jeevanathan in an unparalleled get-together to offer the absolute reverence to one of the greatest post-war fullbacks.
The other members of the heroic team, not in town, are Lam Yin Koi, T. Lachumanan, Nantha Kumar, Abdul Karim Ali, Joseph Anthony, Bhupinder Singh and Naginder Singh.
‘GUARD OF HONOUR’
“The hockey ‘guard of honour’ salute is the most outstanding sporting way, with hockey sticks rightly raised in the air, as a heroic final salute, to let Surajan and his family know that he will always be remembered for his spirited sportsmanship and as a special hockey hero and human,” says skipper Vear Singh, who counts on the 1973 SEAP Games gold-medal as the “greatest regional hockey success for my team-mates and me”.
Surajan, who turned 70 last month, a former Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) retired Major. was a true-blue sporting role-model, revered for his awesome personality as he commanded instant respect with his overall professional and personal mannerism.
The reunion of the hockey greats is significant because 45 years ago was the first and only time Singapore beat Malaysia 2-0 to win the SEAP Games gold medal at Jalan Besar Stadium, a nostalgic moment midfielder Arul Subramaniam can never forget.
Subramaniam, also a former SAF senior officer, says: “Surajan’s presence just fires you. I remember the final match in the SEAP Games when we stunned the world-class Malaysians, where I scored the first goal through a penalty-flick.
“When I was about to take the penalty-flick, I was nervous but Surajan calmed me down tremendously when he told me to simply focus on where I should flick the ball, just as I did during daily practices. I followed his quick advice and when I scored, he ran and hugged me. The team was in tears at the opening goal and we went on to win 2-0. Surajan was an outstanding inspiration to our team.”
Colonel (Retired) Gurcharan Singh, a former Vice President of the-then Singapore Hockey Association (SHA), salutes Surajan as a hockey mega-star. He says: “I knew him as a schoolboy and later we were in the uniformed services together. He was, in a nutshell, a very close-to-perfect officer and gentleman with remarkable leadership qualities. I’m very saddened at his sudden loss.”
Former swashbuckler striker T. Nantha Kumar, who also played in the 1973 SEAP Games team and now residing in Mooroolbark, Melbourne, sent me this SMS: “He’s in a better place now. May Surajan rest in peace. I will always cherish how funny, intelligent and an absolute leader he was from the 1973 SEAP Games and the following years I played with him as a teenager. He was a natural inspiration. In my mind, he’ll die for you, on and off the field. I will really miss his friendship.”
Award-winning football coach Jita Singh (the SNOC ‘Coach of the Year’ 1981) remembers Surajan from Serangoon English School (SES) days in the mid-1960s when they played in the same hockey team.
He says: “We were the powerhouses of schools hockey as majority of the players were experienced teenagers from Jansenites. Surajan was like a ‘Don’, from the famous ‘The Godfather’ movie-sequels, very assertive in leadership, outstanding team player and, most importantly, very unassuming, off the field. He garnered tremendous respect from everyone with his gentleman mannerism.”
Surajan, as I recollect, was never afraid to speak his mind, as he took on politicians and sports administrators in recent years to discuss ways to lift the dwindling standards of grassroots hockey and how to get more fiery support among the younger generation.
Believe me, he talks from sheer experience. A former founder leader at Jansenites, one of the oldest hockey “kampong” clubs, ‘The Don’ rose, academically, from Serangoon English School (SES) and Raffles Institution (RI), where he was an all-rounder schoolboy legend.
The past decade had been the “toughest periods in his life”, says younger brother G. Prakash, as Surajan battled a prolonged period of severe illness and even went for a kidney transplant. He kept his medical setbacks very private, only known to closest family members.
But even in declining health, Surajan never forgot his hockey mates and in June last year, during the annual nostalgic get-together of past and present hockey stalwarts, organised at Indian Association, he sought special doctor’s permission to come in a wheelchair and inspiringly fraternised with his mates.
Former national rugby coach Natahar Bava (SNOC ‘Coach of the Year’ 1978) recalls Surajan from Raffles Institution days as a “remarkably influential sports personality who could almost single-handedly fire up the team”.
“His presence on the hockey field was legendary, everyone looked up to him with his 100 per cent discipline, character and commitment. His performances were simply awe-amazing, especially as a power-blasting short-corner specialist, whose shots usually won the big matches.”
Professionally, after retiring from the RSN as a decorated sea-faring major, Surajan started Major’s Pest Management Services, always setting the highest standards towards pest-control industry-improvement.
In the 18 years as President of Pest Control Association (Singapore) the membership grew to 75 members. He personally led in the upgrading of the industry and conducted In-house courses, even a few International Pest Management Conferences which attracted more than 500 participants each time from some 24 countries.
PEST CONTROL SPECIALIST
Surajan’s younger brother Prakash says: “He performs pest control with the same military precision he used as a naval officer. He built Major’s Pest Management to be the best for bed bug control services in Singapore. At Major’s, no pest problem is too small or too large. He led his employees to deliver their best in every assignment.”
Nostalgically, and in a most tear-jerking manner, Prakash recounts that Surajan’s last message to his hockey mates, on the eve of Tuesday’s death, never got off his mobile.
Surajan’s draft message read: “Dear buddies, some of you were aware that I was breathless since Saturday. It got worse late last night and I had to sit up all night. I was under the impression that I had taken in too much fluid after my last dialysis on Friday.
“My scheduled time for dialysis today (Monday) was 12.30 pm. I took a chance and called the dialysis centre at about 6.00 am and requested if I could get to the dialysis centre at 7.00 am as I was breathless. Unfortunately there were no spare slots and I was told to come in at 12.30pm as scheduled earlier.
“Whist the dialysis was going on, my pulse rate continued to drop till 33 when the dialysis was completed. The BP (blood pressure) was erratic and hovered around 199/103. This finally dropped to 154/93 but heart rate did not go down. It was then that they realised that I actually was not water-logged at all. There was no swelling seen on both feet.
“They then diagnosed the situation to be a heart problem. I really sank in my chair. They wanted me to be immediately warded. I refused to go to NUH (National University Hospital) after my last unforgettable experience.”
Wijay Kumar, 70, a former international midfielder and close family friend, was in tears as he read the draft of Surajan’s last words. He says: “If the proper care had been given by the hospital, Surajan would still be around. Very, very sad…”
In my mind, Singapore lost a gem of a Made-in-Singapore sports personality, who deserves the biggest salutes for holding the spirit of sportsmanship and gentlemanship.
Saturday evening’s special 45-year reunion of Singapore hockey greats will be the best befitting farewell to ‘The Don’ of Singapore hockey with the hockey-sticks “guard of honour” and “The Last Post” bugle tune as the decisive final-curtain salute.
There will never be another Gangadharan Surajan.
An officer. A gentleman. A sportsman.
RIP the ‘Don’ of Singapore hockey. – BY SURESH NAIR
- Suresh Nair was a teenager when Surajan’s 1973 SEAP Games team upset the form books to beat world-class Malaysia 2-0 to win the historic hockey gold medal. He maintained a close revered friendship with him over four decades.