Athletics and football’s loss is hockey gain and centre-half Wong Choon Hin is glad that he made the right decision.
As a ten-year-old in 1960 at St Francis Institution in Malacca, Choon Hin first excelled in athletics before he ventured into cricket, table tennis, badminton, football and hockey.
Choon Hin was the school champion in 100 metres, 200m, 400 and 800m and athletics was his first love.
Switch to football and hockey
“It was my sports teacher K. Macap who saw my prowess in athletics and decided that I will be an asset in the football and hockey team,” recalled the Choon Hin who will be turning 65 on March 19.
“Then there was a football clinic conducted by the famous Choo Seng Quee at St David’s High School. I was spotted by uncle Choo who wanted me to pursue football.
“But I was carrying an ankle injury then and after much thought I decided that I wanted to take up a sport which had the opportunity to play in the Olympic and World Cup as opposed to football which was then Asian standard.
“I certainly made the right decision and have no regrets that I forgo football as I went to play in two Olympics (1972 and 1974), two World Cups (1973 and 1975) and two Asian Games 1970 and 1974.”
At the 6th Asian Games in Bangkok in 1970 Malaysia finished fourth and at the 7th in Tehran, Malaysia won the bronze medal. At both the Olympics, 1972 in Munich and 1974 Montreal Malaysia finished eighth.
The highlight of Choon Hin’s career was when Malaysia finished fourth in the 1975 World Cup in Kuala Lumpur after earlier in the 1973 World Cup in Holland where Malaysia had finished fourth.
Choon Hin went on to captain the Malaysian team for two years from 1976 taking over from Datuk Sri Shanmugathan.
Having collected more than 80 international caps, Choon Hin was the first choice centrehalf for a span of seven years from 1970.
In 1976 he was named the Selangor Sportsman of the Year pipping the late Mokhtar Dahari by a couple of votes.
Principles of success
Choon Hin owed his stronghold in the game to Pakistan coach Ghafur Khan.
“I attended a coaching clinic conducted by him as a teenager in Kuala Lumpur. Just like uncle Choo, he called me after the session and said that he liked the way I played my centrehalf position and saw potential in me,” related Choon Hin.
“He told me that he seldom shared his secret of staying on top of the game as a centrehalf, but said that he saw something special and believed that I will do even better if I followed his principles.
“I followed it to the dot and I was surprise as the way I was playing and that I could keep my first XI position for seven years.”
Choon Hin shared Ghafur’s principle:
1. As a centrehalf you only supporting role
2. Zone of play is left inside and right inside and left and right side penalty push out
3. W formation – support and defend
4. As a centrehalf you are the mother of five forwards to feed to them as quickly as possible
5. Release the ball early, when in trouble release the ball to left or right and support
6. Access the opponent – if the opponent is strong, limit yourself to a more defensive play ad do not cross the half line. If the opponents are weak, you may move up to the opponents 35 yards
7. Don’t just rely on attacks from moves on the ground. Use the overhead flick to get the opponents back pedalling.
8. The less mistakes you make, the more intelligent you look on the field.
Architect on and off the field
“I strictly adhered to his principles and it made my game so easy and enjoyable,” said Choon Hin.
Indeed, Choon Chin was the heart and soul of the engine room in the national team.
And it is no surprise from being the key builder of the team, he had chosen a career in the construction industry.
Choon Hin has been a senior supervisor, project manager and construction manager with several companies including IJM Construction Sdn Bhd. His work included the construction of the Podium Block of The Garden Hotel, semi-detached houses in Penang, construction of underground water tank, oil tank and sub-station at the Tuanku Jaafar Power station in Port Dickson, construction of condominiums in Cheras, Megamall Mid Valley City Development Development Phase 1 and the construction of the Colmar Village Hotel in Bukit Tinggi among others.
He is still involved in the industry as a project manager with A & M Realty Berhad.
Malacca a roost for hockey players
Choon Hin is also proud that he comes from Malacca a state which has a long history for hockey players, especially Chinese players.
Among the Chinese players from Malacca who have done the nation proud include the likes of Koh Hock Seng, Yang Siow Meng, Robin Goh, Leong Whye Piew, Tam Chiew Seng, Tam Kam Seng, Wallace Tan, Chin Boon Ngee, the late Chua Boon Huat, Michael Chiew, Lim Chiow Chuan and even a women’s hockey player in Mary Lim.
Other players from Malacca who had donned national colours include Yusop Mydin, Sulaiman Saibot, K. Embaraj, K. Dharmaraj, Sayed Samat , Glenn Sinappa and MP Haridas to name a few.
Indeed Malacca has a proud tradition for producing hockey players but the trend somewhat seems to have slowed downed in recent years.
Hall of Fame
Choon Hin’s icing to his illustrious hockey contribution must surely being him inducted to the Olympic Council of Malaysia Hall of Fame a member of the 1975 World Cup team in 2004.
“It has been almost 40 years since I donned national colours, but it is an honour to be still remembered and honoured,” said Choon Hin a father of two daughters, Liang Jin and Liang Fang.
Another fond memory Choon Hin has about the 1975 World Cup is that it was then that he met his wife – Sia Eng.
“Sia Eng was the flag bearer of the Indian team and my teammates teased me to get to know her,” said Choon Hin with a smile.
“Three years down the road after our meeting at the World Cup, we got married!”
Choon Hin is still active with the game as a member of the Malaysian Hockey Confederation management sub-committee for the last two years.
His love for the game is undying and makes it a point to attend all hockey functions and international matches played here.
His wish for Malaysian hockey: “To see Malaysia become the top playing hockey nation. It is a tall order but not an impossible one. If there is will, there is always a way. But nothing can be achieved by just talking about it. We have to work very hard and have a proper system place with long term goals.”
Wise words indeed from a master tactician. Can the present generation of hockey players fulfil this Malaysian hockey dream?