ICON: FRANCO LOUIS D’CRUZ
By Tony Mariadass
Inside-forward Franco Louis D’Cruz was not only an unsung hero of the 1975 World Cup hockey team who finished fourth in Kuala Lumpur, but had to adhere to unkind remarks from a radio commentator.
But, Franco who turned 68 on Nov 22, was the unruffled by the adverse comments nor being a low key player.
Recalled from Australia to where he had left for in 1973, Franco was only too happy to have been an opportunity to ply in the World Cup on home soil and was determined to make an impact.
The other player recalled from overseas was A. Francis from Germany.
While he was welcomed by his own players, he however had to bear with unfair comments from the radio commentator who said that he was pulling his weight when playing against European teams.
Malaysia were grouped together with New Zealand whom they drew 0-0, Spain (0-0), beat Poland (3-1), lost to Pakistan (3-1) and beat defending champions Holland (2-1) to qualify for the semifinals to play India.
“When I was told by my teammates that this commentator was taking me to task for not giving my best against European teams, I was very hurt because I gave everything in every game,” recalled Franco.
“It is my nature that when I step onto the pitch, I give nothing short of my best.
“But I told myself that I am not going to be disturbed by a commentator’s opinion which he was entitled although unfair. I just told myself that I will let my performance on the field speak for itself,” said Franco who started in the XI in all matches Malaysia played.
“In the end, I had the last laugh, as Malaysia qualified for the semifinals.”
Franco said it would have been even greater if Malaysia had qualified for the final which was only minutes when India equalised with even minutes to go and beat us in extratime 2-1.
“I sincerely believed that we had the material to beat India and make the final, but it was not to be.
“We had a fantastic team who were well prepared especially having gone for the month long European tour prior to the World Cup.
“It was indeed devastating to have lost to India and their players and officials themselves admitted it.”
Franco recalled the morning after the semifinals when one of the Indian players walked up to him and said that he had just come back from the temple thanking God for being kind to them in beating us.
Franco singled out goalkeeper Khairuddin Zainal as the unsung hero of the team.
“Khairuddin had only one job to do – keep his slate clean – and he did it well to help us qualify for the semifinals. He indeed did a tremendous job,” said Franco in paying tribute to Khairuudin.
“Khairuudin was totally shattered when we lost to India and took it very badly. Infact, I thought he was not in the right frame mind to play in the placing match for third and fourth placing against Germany whom we lost 4-0 to.”
On his most memorable moment in his hockey career, Franco without hesitation said it was when Malaysia beat Holland to qualify for the semifinals.
“For that match we played like possessed men. I can still remember how we prepared for the match. We were in total concentration, each one preparing and psyching ourselves for the match. Nobody spoke to each other from the time we got up in the morning for the match. We did not utter word at breakfast or even in the bus on the way to the Kilat pitch.
“We said nothing in the dressing room as we got prepared for the match and even when we warmed up. The only we said anything was when the team got around to form a circle before the start of the match for the battle cry. When the match started, that was when we started communicating, urging each other and playing as if there is no tomorrow. And we were rewarded.”
On his biggest disappointment he said it was losing to India in the semifinals and then to Germany.
“We could have finished second. In fact, if we had qualified for the final, I believe that we could have even given Pakistan a run for the money.
“At worst we should have finished third, but we were spent force and several players were injured.”
Franco was in Malaysia recently to attend the 40 years anniversary get-together of the 1975 World Cup team. He now resides in London where he moved in 1989 on job transfer from Melbourne but has since retired.
On his move to Sydney in 1973, Franco said he has no regrets.
“Looking back, I do not know if I would have achieved in life what I had by moving to Sydney. The move gave me a career in finance,” said Franco.
“As far as the game is concerned, I missed out on the 1976 Montreal Olympics as I had secured job after my return from the 1975 World Cup and my employers were not prepared to give me time-off to return to Malaysia.
“By me staying back in Melbourne, it saw me further my studies to attain an accounting degree.”
But Franco consoled himself by saying that he had tasted Olympics in Munich in 1972 after being dropped from the 1968 Mexico Olympics.
Franco first earned his national call-up in 1966 for the Bangkok Asian Games but did not make the squad.
He has been with the national squad since 969 and played in the 1970 Asian Games in Bangkok, the 1973 World Cup in Holland.
Franco passion for hockey started at a very young age when he was given a hockey stick as a present when he was six. He broke the stick the very first day and had to settle for a hockey stick made from the ‘jambu tree’ for a while before he got another.
He owes his prowess to the game to former national player and coach Lawrence van Huizen who was coaching at St Paul’s Institution.
“We grew up in Seremban admiring players from Seremban like M. Joseph, Lawrence, Peter van Huizen and Henry sta Maria to name a few.
“And to have Lawrence coaching us was like a dream come true. He was my mentor and it was the discipline he instilled in me that took me high up in the game.
“My passion and determination to do well was burning in me and I am glad that I realised my childhood dreams.”
Fanco besides playing for his alma mater, represented the top club in Seremban those days – Rangers – coached by Lawrence too, went on to play for the State before donning national colours.
In 1967 he joined the Police force as a civilian administration clerk and played for them before moving to Australia in 1973.
Police at that time had seven players from the team playing for the national team.
When he was in Australia, he played for club teams like Moorbank Liverpool, then the New South Wales state team, and as the only Asian player with Powerhouse in the Victorian League who were champions for four consecutive years.
Currently, Franco plays with the veterans in London, but spends most of his time with his five grandchildren and his four daughters Cherylanne, Tracyanne, Leanne and Nastasha.
On the current set of players in Malaysia he said that although he does not know much, but he sees them as a talented lot and with passion, determination and discipline, he believes Malaysia hockey is destined for better times.