ICON: MARY SOO
By TONY MARIADASS
Negligence by former national hockey goalkeeper Mary Soo and team officials has brought about anguish to her, but she has no regrets or bears grudges with anyone all because of the love of the game.
The 67-year-old love for the game is so strong that she was even prepared to change her name to make excel in the game.
Mary’s maiden name is Lim but because there was another Mary Lim in the team in the 70s, forward Mary from Malacca – from the famous Lim family who produced a string of footballers Seng Khoon, Kim Choon, Teong, Chuan Chin, Hong Guan and Teong Kim – and there was confusion on was scoring the goals and who was saving or letting in the goals, Mary decided to use her husband’s surname Soo Poh Seng.
But it was what happened in 1976 in Hong Kong when Mary was playing in a tournament and the ball hit her head that has wrecked her life now.
It did not trouble her then and only experienced occasional pains now and then.
Neither Mary nor the team officials found it necessary to get a full medical check-up when team returned from Hong Kong and paid huge price when in 2000 – 24 years later – she suffered a stroke due to a blood clot in her head.
Further examinations revealed that it was from an old injury which has been deteriorating over the years.
“I never thought of going for an examination then or when I had occasional headaches. I never thought much if it, until I got the stroke and was told that it was an old injury which finally saw the blood clot,” explained Mary.
“As an afterthought, I wished I had gone for an examination when I returned from Hong Kong, or the officials forced me to go for an examination.
“But I am not blaming anyone. I just take it that I was fated to suffer the stroke,” said Mary who is partially paralysed on the right side.
“Those days we did not wear any protective masks or body guards.”
It was only after another Malaysian goalkeeper, Zulkifli Abbas, suffered a hairline skull fracture at the 1976 Bombay World Cup in the match against Englad and was in ICU for 76 hours, that FIH studies the reports and made it mandatory for goalkeepers to wear helmets.
But fate has indeed been cruel to Mary because her husband too had suffered a stroke and has been doing for dialysis three time a week since 1990.
Mary takes him for his dialysis treatment by taxi. (Update: He passed away last month)
But Mary’s woes are from over.
A fortnight ago, her husband had some complications and has been warded.
Mary goes to the hospital three days a day on her motorcycle and when met for the interview at her home, she had just returned home after her afternoon visit and looked stressed and tired.
With her hindered movement, it was indeed sight which saddened the scribe who has known Mary for 35 years and had covered many matches she had featured in.
But Mary was still her affable self, inviting me and the cameraman into the house and making us comfortable.
“Life is full of challenges and one has to work around it. It is pointless brooding over it because it will not get you anywhere but only more misery.
“It is tough on me and wished things were rosier, but life has to go on and I plod on,” said Mary who receives a pension from the Police Force and medicine expense from the National Athletes Welfare Foundation (YAKEB).
Mary who hails from Gagah Berang in Malacca indeed has decorated sporting career having started to play from her schooldays for Methodist Girls School as a 13-year-old as a defender.
It was one day when the goalkeeper failed to turn up and she was asked to keep goal by her teacher and it has been her forte.
She remained on top for 19 years from 1966 to 1985 and retired at the age of 37 having competed in the 1983 Inter-Continental tournament, 1982 Sea Games, 1982 New Delhi Asian Games, World Cup, Asian championships, invitational and friendly internationals.
Mary competed in era where representing the nation was all about pride and talk about money was taboo.
“If there was a benefit representing the nation, it helped in my career. I was recruited into the police force because of my hockey and have to thank former Selangor Police chief Tan Sri P. Alagendra for getting me into the force.”
Mary retired as sub-inspector.
Mary also said that it was difficult breaking into the national team and once one makes the squad, they fight hard and stay in the team for as long as they can.
“The competitiveness made it challenging and rewarding when we achieved making it to the national team.”
Mary Soo played alongside some famous women hockey players of that time – like Daphne Boudeville, Rani Kaur, the only woman hockey player to have won the national sportswoman award (in 1972); K. Maheswari, Christina Chin and Mary Lim, of course.
Mary said she had faced her disappointment before making the cut when she was dropped for a playing tour of Australia 1965. She had to make the ‘B’ squad before making the senior team in 1966.
She said she was lucky to have come under the guidance two of the most respected coaches of that era – the van Huizen brothers of Lawrence and late Peter.
She captained the national team in the 1983 SEA Games in Singapore and a year earlier, the team won the bronze medal at the 1982 New Delhi Asian Games.
Mary said that she has learned to enjoy every moment in the game – both in victories an defeat.
“Of course, we want to win all the time. But it does not happen that way. It is important that in losses we pick up the positive aspects of the game and look forward to the next game to make amends.”
Mary, upon retirement continued to serve the sport when she was appointed team manager of the national team for two years where she also doubled up as the goalkeeper coach.
But these days, Mary spends all her time caring for her husband, while trying to stay a healthy as possible to be able to carry out her wifely duties and spends time with her two grandchildren when she can.
Mary has a son and daughter who are married and have their lives of their own.