I spotted my former Malay Mail FC defender, A. Muralitharan, last week in Bangsar driving a fancy car.
He too saw me, and immediately pulled over. As he wound down his window, I congratulated him on having done well and driving such a nice car.
A little embarrassed, he said: "No coach, this is not my car. This is my boss' car. I am the driver."
I was now left embarrassed and apologized profusely for my assumption. I invited him for a cup coffee - the least I could do to make up for jumping to conclusions.
When had parked his car and joined me for the coffee, I sheepishly asked him what had happened to his soccer career and the money he had earned.
Just a little history before I relate what Murali told me.
Murali, was a very talented player who played for Kuala Lumpur as a teenager with the President's Cup team for two years.
When he was overage and had to be promoted to the senior team, he failed to get a place.
That was when I picked up Murali to play for The Malay Mail in our debut season in the M-League Premier Two Division in 2000.
Basically, the Malay Mail team took in players who had the desire to play in the M-League but failed to make the cut and young players who were seeking experience. It was half way house for these players to gain experience, get noticed and move on.
While many Malay Mail players had moved on to play for other teams including national senior and youth teams, Murali, despite dishing exceptional performances for the newspaper team, never got the break. He stayed with Malay Mail for three years.
On the third year, Murali got his break when Malay Mail failed to qualify for the Malaysia Cup, and Public Bank who had qualified, requested him on loan. I readily released him,
He went on to play for Pubic Bank for three seasons before moving on to Malacca in 2006.
All was well at the beginning of the season, but at the tail-end because of management change, his woes began.
"Although I was not paid salary towards the end of the salary, I was given a new contract," said Murali as he began his story.
In the end Malacca FA owed him seven months of salary - Oct-Nov in 2006 and May-Sept 2007) totaling to RM21,000.
Not big money for many, but for Murali who does not come from a very well-do family and who is married with a child, it meant lot.
"The times we did not get our salary, we just eat bread and drank plain water. Sometimes, friends treated us. It was really difficult, but I stayed with the hope that I would eventually be paid" said Murali with sadness written all over his face.
"I was not the only player. There were eight players, all of whom who were from outstation.
"Until we left the team, we were not paid. Then we followed up with phone calls to the Malacca FA on numerous occasions which went unheeded and finally we decided to write to the FA of Malaysia Players' Status Committee for assistance."
Till today Murali has not received his salaries, although some of the eight players have been paid.
Murali said that he could have continued playing in the Malaysian League for another year or two as he was only 32-years-old.
Murali is known for his superb fitness and discipline in training and still cuts the fit-figure.
But he decided against it after his experience with Malacca and decided to look for a job.
He now drives for the daughter of a corporate figure with a basic of RM1,500 and in a good month, working overtime, he can take home about RM3,000.
"I am not complaining about the job. But with the money from Malacca FA, I could have started a small business," said Murali who is also a talented singer who used to sing with a Tamil Band.
While Murali has ended up as a chauffeur, his teammate, 38-year-old A. Ganeson, a former international, who is also owed seven months of salary, is a security guard in Singapore.
Ganeson, who hails from Penang and who is known as the football nomad having played eight different teams in the Malaysian Super League. He had started a small food business but had to close it because he was cash-strapped.
His owed salary would have certainly eased his burden.
FA of Malaysia normally pays the owed salaries from the States subsidies, but Malacca FA has a minus account with the national body.
Numerous stories have been written in the sports pages especially my friend Eric Samuel of The Star (refer to these stories 1, 2, 3, 4) on the plight of these two players, but Malacca FA has turned a deaf ear.
Maybe, it is time for the Malacca Sports Council or even the Malacca Government, to look into their plea because it is certainly bad publicity for the historical city who have earned the heritage city status.
The fact that the AMF World Cup Bowling championship will be held in Malacca in November and the Malaysia Games (SUKMA) next year, where a great deal of money is going to be spent, it would be embarrassing if they cannot settle dues of sportsmen who have donned their colours and done them proud.
These two cases are just among the many in the Malaysian League. The situation has to be addressed because otherwise it will not speak well of our Malaysian League and our soccer administrators.
As we finished our coffee, I promised Murali that I will write about in the blog. I know that if the newspapers reports cannot make a difference, what will a piece in the blog do?
But I wanted to share this with those who follow my blog and probably the word will be passed around of the state of our ex-Malaysian League players all because of poor management.
I bade Murali farewell and I hope things will only get better for him and he will eventually get his money owed.He is a great lad and does not deserve to be treated in this manner.