IF Malaysia had a brawn of a regional striker in Mokhtar Dahari, Singapore’s befitting answer in the 1970s was Arshad Khamis, with the awesome nickname of “Malcolm MacDonald” (after the legendary England striker).
Arshad was a rip-roaring football icon of the 1970s & 80s, of “Kallang Roar” fame, just like Malaysia’s iconic (the late) Mokhtar, Soh Chin Aun, Ali Bakar, Wong Choon Wah, M. Chandran and Santokh Singh.
At 68 years, he passed on in British Columbia, Canada, Friday morning (Singapore time) in the nostalgic town of Chilliwack, where he migrated in 1992 because he wanted a better quality of life. He retired just six months ago after working for NCR Corporation as a Trainer Technician.
His grieving wife, Mil Khamis, in a tear-jerking long-distance telephone conversation with me at 7.30am Friday, said Arshad’s death came as a “massive surprise” as he was looking forward to a Singapore homecoming next week to announce to family and friends of his daughter’s upcoming wedding here.
“We returned home in the afternoon and he said he was hungry and tired, so I quickly heated up some of his favourite food,” Mil recounts. “But when I tried to wake him up from a short rest, there was no movement. We called a neighbour and later an ambulance arrived but we couldn’t revive him. It’s just so shocking and so unexpected.”
Former Malaysia Cup skipper Samad Allapitchay of the 1977 Malaysia Cup-winning team says: “I’m just lost for words. I met him earlier this year when he was in Singapore after his retirement and he looked in good health. Arshad ranks as one of the most dynamic Lions of the 1970s, who could match the region’s best strikers. He always gave more than 100 per cent in the field of play.”
Like the older “Kallang Roar” generation, Arshad always felt mighty proud wearing the sacred Singapore jersey and playing before sell-out 60,000 crowds at Kallang. He played for Singapore’s best two local coaches – the late “Uncle” Choo Seng Quee (who brought Malaysia Cup victory in 1977) and Jita Singh (who sparked the 1980 Cup triumph).
Like his nickname “Malcolm MacDonald” (the Newcastle and England striker) Arshad was simply “big, strong and friendly”. I remember like Mokhtar Dahari, he had a reputation as a long-range shooting-striker but not always accurate, as he candidly says! But his bigger physical frame always helped him to hold the ball and to ward off tough-tackling defenders.
Rather quietly, without the media limelight, he migrated to Chilliwack in British Columbia, Canada in 1992 at 42. Canadian-styled life has sometimes unpredictable seasons, according to the weather, he told me in a recebt interview.
“During spring and summer season for three months for each season, after work, I do gardening (mostly with my wife) fishing, crabbing, jogging, walking, trailing, visiting, camping and BBQ. This season is busy because of the school holidays in summer we have lots of outside activities,” he says.
Chilliwack, where he lives, is in British Columbia. It is largely an agricultural community, with a population of 160,000 people. This city is surrounded by mountains and recreational areas and located 102 km south-east of Vancouver.
BEST SINGAPORE MEMORIES
There are many outdoor activities in the area. Arshad’s favourites include hiking, horseback riding, camping, fishing and golf. Chilliwack is most popular for its spring water from the mountain and corns.
His best memories of Singapore were in the 1960s and 70s, at the height of football career, when he played for clubs like Singapore Armed Forces (SAFSA), International Contract Specialists, Geylang and Singapore Malays.
Award-winning coach Jita Singh, who won the Malaysia Cup in 1980, says: “Arshad was that super batch of amateurs when football then was at a frenzy and footballers worshipped like idols. Almost all the players has a iconic nickname to which the fans could instantly identify them.”
As much as Arshad was known as “Malcolm Macdonald”, there were many with funny nicknames like “The Camel” (defender S. Rajagopal), “Crazy Horse” (the late striker Nasir Jalil), “Gelek King” (the late striker Dollah Kassim), “Mercurial Speed Demon” (striker Quah Kim Song), “Alan Clarke” (striker Mohd Noh) and “The Tank” (defender Robert Sim).
The Malaysian stars, too, were hailed as “The Towkay” (former defender-skipper Soh Chin Aun) and “The Spiderman” (the late goalkeeper G. Arumugam, who reputedly had arms that reached below his knees).
Former Malaysia skipper Santokh Singh, in a SMS to me, says: “Please offer my heartfelt condolences to the Khamis family. Arshad was one of the deadliest strikers we feared during the Malaysia Cup years of the 1970s. He was so unpredictable with the ball, had wonderful European-size build to shield from defenders and power-packed shooting skills that only Mokhtar Dahari could come close to. We’ve lost a legend of a home-grown striker.”
ADVICE TO YOUNGER PLAYERS
Arshad, who closely followed the Lions and the S-League in recent years, declined to compare playing standards with the new-look Lions, now under Fandi Ahmad.
He told me in an earlier interview: “My advice to younger footballers who are keen to turn professional, is to start from young, perhaps nine or 10 years, with a strong discipline and mental power to keep learning and improving ball-skills, in order to be the best you can be. We should encourage more home-bred heroes like Fandi Ahmad and V. Sundramoorthy.”
Arshad’s favourite player is Brazilian star striker Pele, widely regarded as the most successful league goal scorer in the world, with 541 league goals. In total, he scored 1,281 goals in 1,363 games. Arsenal (England) and Real Madrid (Spain) continue to be my best football clubs.
After his retirement, Arshad says “at this winter stage of my life, I feel I’m blessed”. He adds: “I look forward to be healthy and have the energy to give my best shot every day. I enjoy my hobbies like fishing, jogging, hiking, trailing, camping and cooking, such luxuries which may be hard to best in Singapore.
“But sometimes when I think of the “Kallang Roar”, the magical cries from football fans of the 1970s, there’s a glimmer of wonder in my eyes and I look back to the best Singapore memories more passionately.”
Former Singapore defender John Fernandez says: “There is a saying, ‘do not fear getting old, it is a privilege denied to so many’. Arshad was perfectly one of those, an exemplary striker with an extraordinary work-rate who can always be counted on as a super team-player and, off the field, as an outstanding friend.”
LTC (Retired) Chris Wong, the past Tampines Rovers Vice President, remembers Arshad as an “all-weather striker who took the cheers and jeers in his stride”. He explains: “I remember him in the mid 1970s when I was a kid. In all of the 1975 Malaysia Cup season, he scored only one goal and got thebig stick from the fans.
“Then in 1976, in the first home match in Kallang against Kedah, he opens the season with two outstanding goals and goes on to score many more that year to be one of the ‘Roar’ favourites. He’s one of the most unselfish players and always willing to assist rather than score goals.”
Arshad was known as a “gentleman player with a smile and very polite,” recalls former FAS general secretary Steven Tan. He says: “He was easily one of my favourite players in South-east Asia, when football was at a glorious height with 60,000 fans consistently streaming to the Kallang National Stadium.
“I admired his character off the field as he endeared to thousands of fans for his humility. He was a gentleman player with a smile and always very polite. Will always remember his gentleness but a tenacious sticker when he enters the field of play.”
The FAS (Football Association of Singapore) says it is “saddened by the passing of the Singapore football icon” who was a “prolific striker in his heyday, playing alongside the late Dollah Kassim and Samad Allapitchay, and inspired generations of footballers”
“Our thoughts are with Arshad’s family in this difficult time,” says FAS general secretary Yazeen Buhari, who confirmed that a formal one-minute silence will be observed before Friday’s international friendly between Singapore and Mongolia at the Bishan Stadium.
‘Big, strong and friendly’.
It’s a rarity these days for a Singapore-bred striker to have regional-class aura to earn comparisons to Malcolm MacDonald (the Newcastle and England striker).
The Lions of today simply lack long-range shooting-strikers with bigger physical frame that can match them to Asean and/or Asian standards. Hopefully, Arshad Khamis’s passing away, just before next month’s Suzuki Cup, will prove to be a heart-warming inspiration to Fandi Ahmad’s new-look Lions. – BY SURESH NAIR
- Suresh Nair is a Singapore-based journalist who knows the Khamis family over three decades and has kept in touch with Arshad and Mil when they moved to British Columbia, Canada.