ROLL OF HONOUR:
Sea Games – 1973 Singapore (2nd), 1975 Bangkok (gold), 1977 Kuala Lumpur (gold), 1979 Jakarta (gold)
Asian Games – 1974 Tehran (third),
Olympics – 1976 Montreal (8th), 1980 Moscow (boycott), 1984 Los Angeles (11th)
World Cup – 1978 Buenos Aires (9th), 1982 Bombay (10th)
Lahore International Hockey tournament 1976 (4th)
Esanda World Hockey tournament 1979 (9th)
Nehru Memorial tournament New Delhi (3rd)
Inter Continental Cup KL 1981 (2nd)
Pesta Sukan Singapore 1981 (champion)
Captained the Malaysian team – 1979-1982
Voted Malaysian Hockey team Player of the year for Malaysian Sportsman of the Year Award - 1979, 1980 and 1981
Voted best player – Jakarta Sea Games, Esanda World Hockey tournament
Olympic Council of Malaysia Hall of Fame - 2013
Datuk Ow Soon Kooi, former national hockey team captain has done equally well as a businessman but his philosophy of keeping his head firmly screwed to his head, sees him give back so much to the game and remembers his friends.
The former police officer who turned 60 last October 19 has never forgotten where he came from and his generous nature is a rare commodity among those who gone on to become successful in life.
Ow, the right-inside half, who donned national hockey colours for eleven years from 1973 to 1984 and captained the team from 1979 to 1982, is tenth from a poor family of 13 in Georgetown, Penang.
But it was his love for hockey and people who cared for him, that made a difference in his life.
“I cannot forget my early days when I was struggling to make ends meet and even applied for exemption for school fees of $7.50 from the State Education department who granted me the exemption,” recalled Ow of his early days.
“I am indeed lucky to be what I am today and owe it to many people along the way. I am forever indebted to them.
“That is why, I give back to the game whatever I can and never forget my roots,” said Ow who has given employment to several hockey players including Mirnawan Nawawi.
However, Ow for all his generosity is not a publicity seeker. I have been trying to coax him to give me this interview for more than six months, and each time he has declined.
His answer to me each time I ask him: “There are so many other deserving people out there who should be interviewed.”
But this time around, I managed to finally convince him that it is about time I wrote about him and would make a good Chinese New Year story, and he reluctantly agreed.
Asked how as a Chinese boy he got hooked to hockey, he immediately retorted that there were many Chinese hockey players who have made a name for themselves.
Ow’s love for hockey started when he joined Penang Free School in 1968.
“Penang Free School was noted for its prowess in hockey and the hockey teacher N. Velu Pillay played a key role in developing me,” revealed Ow who was in Francis Light School during his primary school days.
“It all started when the Universiti Malaya (UM) team came to my school to play our school team in a friendly match in 1969. The UM team had an array of international stars and I just fell in love with the game.
“Coupled with Free School having produced players like (Tan Sri) Bashir Ahmad Abdul Majid, Dr Goh Hong Guan and Koe Chong Tin who played in the Mexico Olympics, I wanted to emulate them.”
Ow made his debut for his school as a Form Two 14-year-old student playing for the Under-15 team and there was no stopping from there on.
“I was simply crazy of the game. But being a poor student, my first stick was my elder brother’s old stick which was lying in my home.
“I still remember a hockey stick through the school cost $1.20 and were allowed to pay in instalments of 20 cents monthly, but I could not even afford that.
“But using my old hockey stick I managed to impress upon Mr Velu and was used in different positions because I was fit and fast.”
Ow went on to play for the Penang Under-23 and State team from 1970 to 1976 before making his national debut at the 1973 Sea Games in Singapore with the national ‘B’ team who lost to Singapore by a solitary goal in the final.
Ow had then played alongside K.T. Rajan, Mohinder Singh, K. Bala and Poon Fook Loke, all of who went to become regular national players for more than a decade.
But it was not smooth sailing all the way for Ow.
Ow failed to pass his Malaysian Certificate of Education (MCE and now SPM) and had to find work immediately after school and started off as a waiter at a hotel in Penang.
But he was sacked after a while as he was taking too much time-off for hockey.
It was then that Osman Kamal, hockey convenor of Penang Port Commission PPC), who was the PPC’s security chief, who saw Ow play and was impressed.
“Osman found out that I was jobless and was from a poor family and decided to offer me a job as a fireman in 1974.
“Osman continue look over me and asked me to re-sit for my MCE, which I did privately and passed. He then promoted me to a security clerk. He was my ‘godfather’. If not for him spotting me and encouraging me to re-sit for my MCE, I will not be what I am today.”
Ow then applied to join the Police Force which Osman assisted again and was recruited as Probationary Inspector in 1976.
But in the end, Ow left as a disillusioned officer when he opted out for retirement at the age of 40 as Chief Inspector.
“I was over looked for promotion because they felt that I neglected my duties as a police officer because of my involvement in hockey for the nation. The officer told me to get out of the room saying that the promotion should go to the officers who did my job while I was away on national duty. They were also upset that I received an AMN award for my hockey prowess in 1982,” said Ow with a tinge of sadness.
“I was asked to for promotion interviews five times after that and I refused because it was the same officer who was leading the interview.”
Ow then joined the Waz Lian Group of companies headed by Tan Sri Ta Kin Yan.
“Tan Sri was the team manager of the hockey team I played for – Chui Lok – when I first came to Kuala Lumpur in 1976 and when I left the police force, he roped me in.”
Ow is currently the chairman and director of Waz Lian Hotel Management Sdn Berhad who manages the Olympic Sports Hotel and director of several other companies.
Ow stayed away from hockey for 18 years to concentrate on his job before he was appointed as a member of the Malaysian Hockey Federation (now Malaysian Hockey Confederation - MHC) disciplinary board from 2008 to 2009 before being appointed as Independent Council member from 2010 to 2012.
Ow was asked to be president of Penang State Hockey Association in 2011 which was vacant then, and then elected in as president in 2012. He then relinquished his independent post and became MHC Council member by virtue of president of PHA.
“I am back in the game because it is my passion and in my blood. The game gave me so much and it is only logical that I return to the game and give back whatever I can.”
Ow who is married to Christine Lim and has three sons, Sean (an accountant), Dr Darren (based in Melbourne) and Julian (second year medical student) said that all his three sons played hockey, but stopped to concentrate on their studies.
“I did not want them to go through the tough life I had and wanted them to have a career,” said Ow.
However, his passion for hockey development is undying. In Penang, he had built and donated the first indoor hockey pitch to his alma mater and named it in memory of Master Velu.
Under the PHA, a development programme for kids from 12 years-old to 18 under three centres – Penang Free School, Mutiara Impian and Bertam – have been set up and 150 kids are involved.
Ow has recruited former international M. Mahendran to assist in the programme together with Bob Rajendran and Leo Vinai (women hockey).
Due to lack of artificial turfs in Penang, the teams travel to Sungei Petani on weekends for training and Ow has donated a van for the programme to transport the players. A clubhouse with gym equipment has also been setup in Kampong Kovil in Bertam.
There is speculations that Ow could be nominated for MHC’s vice-president post in the coming elections, but he is non-committal.
“I am suffering from cervical spondylosis and it is affecting me. I do not know if I can execute my job to the fullest if I go for one of the vice-presidents post. I will wait and see.”
Question: Most memorable
Ow: The 1976 Montreal Olympics (finished eighth). We could have finished higher if we did not lose to Spain narrowly (2-1).
Q: Best team
Ow: Moscow Olympics 1980 team. We had a young, fit and talented team and after two years of training we missed the Games because of the boycott. I believed we would have done well.
Q: Most disappointing
The 1984 Olympics squad. It had tremendous potential but finished eleventh.