TRIBUTE TO WONG CHOON WAH
Football legend Choon Wah leaves memories to be cherished
By TONY MARIADASS
DESPITE his status as the best midfielder Malaysia has produced thus far, Wong Choon Wah, fondly known to his close friends as Ah Tuck, lived a simple life. And he passed away on Friday, the first day of Chinese New Year, a simple man.
I grew up idolising Choon Wah and never in my wildest dream did I think that he would one day be a good friend of mine.
I bonded with him as a rookie reporter in the late 1970s, when I used to cover the local league in the Klang Valley. I met Choon Wah when he was playing for the Selangor Chinese Recreation Club (SCRC) in the Selangor League.
It was Kuala Lumpur FA treasurer Goh Ah Chai who introduced me to Choon Wah at the SCRC building in Jalan Pudu, where the club played their league matches.
I could not believe I was meeting Choon Wah, a legend and one whom I had admired all those years.
Being the unassuming man he was, he welcomed me warmly and immediately offered me beer. When I told him that I was working and that I did not drink, he said: “My friend, if you want to cover sports and be a journalist, you had better learn to have a few, especially with friends.”
I obliged, and we became friends. It was there too that I met another football well-known, a referee – the late Koh Guan Kit.
Every time I dropped by SCRC, I made sure I paid my respects to Choon Wah. But it was in the last 10 years that I became very close to the man as he was an ambassador for club football and youth development programmes and was actively involved actively with the Ex-Internationals Football Association.
He never missed any event organised by the Ulu Kelang Recreation Club (UKRC), International Football Club (IFC) and Royal Selangor Club where he would join the other ex-internationals to add glamour to the event and inspire the younger players.
At the Ex-Internationals Soccer 9s organised by the association two years ago, Choon Wah, although he did not play, was a hit as almost everyone wanted to take a photograph with him.
He was also involved with IFC – a club for ex-internationals – with former international Ho Hon Seong being among those who keep the club alive and active. It was at IFC that I got to know Choon Wah better as we met regularly.
I last met Choon Wah on Jan 25 at the Sports Flame dinner and appreciation night organised by four former sports journalists (George Das, R. Velu, Fauzi Omar and Lazarus Rokk) to recapture the sports fraternity’s golden moments in the 1970s and 1980s and to show their appreciation for the athletes of that era who have been mostly forgotten.
A smartly dressed Choon Wah walked in during cocktails and I called him over and introduced him to a few who did not know him.
He then left to mingle with the rest. But at the end of the dinner, he came up to me to say that he was leaving. It was only 10pm, and I invited him to have a drink, remembering the time he first offered me one.
Sadly, he turned it down, saying that he had to meet some people elsewhere. Next time then, I told him, but that is not to be.
Accolades are being heaped on Choon Wah, including from the prime minister, who has expressed shock at his demise. But I wish this midfield maestro had been given some recognition when he was still alive.
While many of his teammates and even footballers who came long after him have been honoured with titles from various heads of state, Choon Wah was bestowed none.
He lived a quiet life and probably that’s the way he wanted it to be.
To recap, Choon Wah was the first player to venture into professional football in Hong Kong with South China Athletics Association from 1972 to 1974 before the likes of Lim Fung Kee, Chow Chee Keong and Yip Chee Keong followed suit.
|ONE FOR THE MEMORY: The scribe with (from left) Chow Chee Keong ,Choon Wah, Santokh Singh and Yip Chee Keong at a UKRC function.|
His teammates included Wong Kam Fook, Fung Kee, Othman Abdullah, Namat Abdullah, M. Chandran, Khoo Huan Khen, Hamzah Hussain, Sharuddin Abdullah, Wan Zawawi, V. Krishnasamy, Ibrahim Salleh, Harun Jusoh, Ali Bakar, Mohamad Bakar, Looi Loon Teik, Rahim Abdullah and Bahwandi Hiraral.
Choon Wah, who would have turned 67 on March 31, made his Malaysia Cup debut in 1968, playing for Selangor. The state never lost a Malaysia Cup final when Choon Wah was in the team, winning in 1968, 1969, 1971, 1975 and 1976. He also turned out for MCIS in the local league and FAM Cup.Known for his precision, defence-splitting passes and total control of the engine room, Malaysia has not seen another player of his calibre since.
It is somewhat fitting that this great footballer galloped out on the first day of the Year of the Horse.
Rest in peace, my dear Ah Tuck. You will always be remembered and talked about at every football function from now on. You may be gone, but your memories will definitely live on.
Quotes from former players Datuk Santokh Singh
HE was fantastic midfielder. I have lost a good friend. We got together and had a good time whenever there were functions. I will miss that. I only have fond memories of him, especially the bronze he helped us win at the Teheran Asian Games in 1974.
Datuk K. Rajagobal
He was from a legendary era. I was sad when I heard the news. He contributed a lot to the country and I am honoured to have played with him towards the end of his career. He was a midfield maestro that was never afraid to play the ball.
Soh Chin Aun
We were like brothers. I came to KL in 1971 and stayed at his house till 1979. I will miss my big brother. He doesn't like to compare himself with others but he was the best in the business.
He was a great player. I was on the left flank while he was in the middle of the park and was very skillful. He was always very jovial and easy to get along with, both on and off the pitch. My best football memories are the Malaysia Cup final in 1968 for Selangor and several editions of the SEA Games. He was a council member ex State and ex National Footballers Association and we were planning an AGM, which always begun with players from north of Malaysia going against southern counterparts. He was appointed as coach for the south team. I've lost a very good friend.
Ho Hon Seong
We were both working in MCIS in the 1970s. He was very humble person and rarely lost his anger. He was always there to guide us. He treated everyone the same. We used to get togehter often for ex-international meet-ups or meetings and he wished me Happy Chinese New Year the morning he passed away. It's very sad that he went after that. Thought it was a joke when I heard it. We were planning a trip to New York last year but we could not make it and we were hoping it would be this year. We lost a legend, I lost a friend.
To lose a great friend is always a great loss. He was a no nonsense guy and football was everything. Until today there has been no one like him with brains in the middle of the field. He was a midfield general, the best Malaysia had seen. In his company, things were never dull. I will miss him a lot. There are a few of us who remained close over the years, he was one. Practically every month we met. Everyone was equal to him. He had no air about himself.
Datuk M. Karathu
We played in the 1968 Merdeka Tournament, where we were champions. It was fantastic playing alongside him. He was a left footer and with so much of creativity. Only last Saturday I met him, and fellow ex interntonals at a function honouring us. We always met at functions, more recently at Royal Selangor Club tournaments. He was dedicated to football, very quiet but works hard on the field. He also trained very hard to get on the starting line-up.
Datuk Khaidir Buyong
He was very friendly and down to earth. He was very hardworking and the best midfielder by far.
We got close during the Sultan Selangor Cup in 2001 where he managed the ex-Selangor side. He was always easy to communicate with. I will miss him dearly