By Suresh Nair
FRIDAY, September 16, will be a very proud Malaysia Day. More spirited power will also be on the air as the inspirational story of Malaysia’s national football team during the 1980s, will be exclusively shown by Astro.
The special landmark documentary, skippered by Astro consultant Basir Siswo (above) will bring to the television screen the very strong spirited Made-in-Malaysia players who overcame a multitude of challenges on their way towards the Moscow Olympic Games in 1980.
This is the first time in 36 years that a special team was put together to recreate a 36-year-old iconic football moment in order to inspire the younger generation, says Astro Malaysia Holdings Bhd Group Chief Executive Officer, Datuk Rohana Rozhan.
“The story is based on facts, it’s real…it’s a human story that happened 36 years ago where the players are where they are now because of what they learnt throughout their journey, and the importance of friendships, and the bond that pulls them together.”
For the documentary producer Basir Siswo, it’s the fruit of four months of “blood, sweat and tears” with prolonged research and fact-checking, both in Malaysia and South Korea, to come out with a potential-winning documentary formula.
“In this documentary, there are tears, there are funny stories, and there are frustrations and sadness,” says Basir, who is Consultant Factual Programming at Astro. “It’s all real stories from people who actually went through the experience.”
He saluted the “camaraderie and national pride” of the players and officials from the FAM (Football Association of Malaysia) in playing their respective roles to recreate an “important part of Malaysian football history”.
HEROES OF 1980
Among the heroes of 1980 were Soh Chin Aun, Hassan Sani, James Wong, Santokh Singh, Abdullah Ali, R. Arumugam, Khalid Ali, Shukor Salleh, Bakri Ibni, Jamal Nasir, Kamaruddin Abdullah, Shaharuddin Abdullah, Wong Fook Chuan, N. Thanabalan, Zulkifli Norbit and Abdullah Nordin.
I, too, played my definitive role in assisting in the research and writing of the documentary as we also interviewed in Kuala Lumpur, former Asian Football Confederation (AFC) general secretary 81-year-old Datuk Peter Velappan and retired celebrity sports journalists Lazarus Rokk from The New Straits Times and The Star’s award-winning George Das.
Communications and Multimedia Minister, Datuk Seri Salleh Said Keruak also hailed that “Harimau Malaya 1980” will prove that sports has the ability to unite the multi-racial community.
“We must learn from this ‘Dream Team’. Forget our differences and just prioritise on being a Malaysian. The younger generation, in particular, should emulate the patriotic spirit and understanding displayed by the national football squad of 1980’s.”
He adds: “We have to learn from them as it is not easy to build a team, each individual in the squad having their respective roles. From their diverse backgrounds, they could build on their capabilities as a team and succeed.
“The story of this documentary reminds us that the responsibility to foster unity among Malaysians of various cultures, ethnics and languages is a joint effort by all.”
PRIDE IN WEARING JERSEY
Former “Harimau Malaya” coach Karl-Heinz Weigang said younger Malaysian players must always be impressed of the pride in wearing the national jersey and they must always put the country first.
“Playing for the country is an honour and you only will be selected when you excel at club level. To represent the country should be the dream of every player,” says the 82-year-old German-born tactician, who continues to coach in Perak.
Weigang coached the Malaysian team from 1979 to 1982. Malaysia qualified for the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow, but joined the United States-led boycott of the Games following the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan.
“I had the pleasure to be in the Malaysian 1972 Olympics team as a liaison officer and 1980 as a coach. We had the opportunity to look around the whole country to find players and try to get the best team,” he says.
“I’m very proud of this team because I have pointed out many times to them that it is not easy to survive coaching under Weigang. Every player was always reminded on what they wanted and so they accepted hard work and they also needed to sacrifice in life and football.”
Former “Harimau Malaya” captain Datuk Soh Chin Aun stressed that although the style of football is constantly changing but as a team, they should overcome it with their spirit of togetherness and have the mentality to fight for the country.
“We became successful during that time (1980) because of unity, this is something we cannot forget and must always be remembered. I hope the current players can learn something from what we did,” he says.
“In 1972 and 1980 the scenarios were different, football in 1980 was different compared to 1972 because the style of playing was faster but what made us successful was that all members were united.”
REAL FAMILY SPIRIT
Former national striker James Wong, the scorer of the 2-1 winning goal for “Harimau Malaya” when they were up against South Korea in the deciding match at the Merdeka Stadium, praised the “espirit de corps among players which was like a real family in order to produce good results”.
“Unlike today where sportsmen are paid handsomely, in those days we were not paid much. Sometimes, we got an allowance of RM5 or RM50. Or, there were times when we won a match and got RM100,” says James, who was 26 when he played in the crucial qualifier.
“We didn’t have good facilities to train, but I guess, it was determination and the collaboration as a team that made us good footballers. Plus, we too, like in the movie, refused to give up.”
Take note again: “Harimau Malaya 1980” will premiere on Malaysia Day on Friday, September 16 at 9.00pm on two channels, Astro Arena and Astro Supersport. Repeat telecasts will be aired on Channel 801 or 802 HD or SuperSport 810 (831 HD) and Astro on the Go at 9pm.
- Suresh Nair is a Singapore-based journalist who was involved in the Basir Siswo-produced Astro documentary “Harimau Malaya 1980”