By Tony Mariadass
Pictures by: Azneal Ishak
M. Mahendran is 68-years-old but he is actively involved in the game of hockey all his life.
Infact, Mahendran is the only player from the famed 1975 World Cup squad who reached the semi-finals when Malaysia hosted the tournament, who is still active in the game.
The truth of the matter is that Mahendran has been involved in the game since he was introduced to the sport as a seven year-old by his cousins in Penang.
“The irony was that my cousins were all ladies. They were from the famous hockey family of Balram – sisters Sankuntala, Sulochena and Molly – who were all national players then, took me to their training session and introduced me to the game,” recalled Mahendran of how he got involved in the sport.
And Mahendran who comes a family of 10 – six boys and four girls – also saw his brothers Davendran, Subramaniam, Surendran, Suriaprakash and nephew Edwin Lambert – all represent the nation.
“I started to play for my school – Francis Light School in Datuk Keramat in Penang – from the age of seven.
“And I am still at it because of the passion for the game. I really do not know what I will do without hockey,” said Mahendran who hails from Kedah.
Having represented his school and state at the national schools tournament, Mahendran made his debut with the senior team when he moved back to Kedah as a 16-year-old.
From Kedah he came to Selangor and was representing Police when he was recruited by Tan Sri P. Alagendra as clerk. He played for Police for four years before turning out for Selangor.
Mahendran made his national team in 1967 when he played in the Pre-Olympics tournament but did not make the Mexico Olympics as he was injured.
But the disappointment only saw him double his efforts to make up for the setback and went on to play in two Olympics – Munich 1972 and Montreal 1976.
The 1972 and 1976 Games can be seen as a tale of two eras. The 1972 hockey competition marked the end of the game played on grass while 1976 was the start of the artificial age. And Malaysia’s eighth place finish in both editions ranks as their best in the Olympics.
For Mahendran, the mercurial forward, the Munich 1972 will also be best remembered for two other reasons. Firstly, he ended up as the top scorer for the first, and only, time in the Olympics. And secondly, that performance earned hockey its first and only Sportsman of the Year award.
Mahendran also said his most memorable at the Munich Games was the opening match where he scored all three goals in the 3-1 win over Uganda.
“I scored a total of eight goals and was the top scorer of the tournament. I’m proud of the feat as no other Malaysian has been able to match it. The Munich Games were full of incident and I’m lucky to have been part of history. Of course the icing on the cake was the sportsman award the following year.
“It was a tremendous boost for the whole team and I’m proud that we finished in the top eight in the two Olympics I played in,” he said.
Munich was full of drama and tragedy as several Israeli athletes were taken hostage and killed by the Palestinian group Black September.
Mahendran was also a member of the World Cup squads in 1973 Amsterdam, 1975 in Kuala Lumpur – Malaysia’s best ever performance in international hockey and 1978 in Buenos Aires.
Mahendran also represented the nation in two Asian Games – 1970 Bangkok and 1974 Teheran.
1974 Tehran Asian Games bronze medal winning team:
Standing from left:Zainal, Ramakrishnan, late Sultan Azlan Shah, Mohd Azraai, Sri Shan, KT Rajan, K. Balasingam, Padmarajahthan, Mohd Sidek, Tan Sri Anwar, Palanisamy
Seated from left: Choon Hin, Ow, Len Oliverio, Brian, Mahendran, Palanisamy, Savinder
He has played in numerous Seap/Sea Games from 1967 and his final appearance in the 1989 Games in Kuala Lumpur.
He has distinction of having capped 179 times for the nation, when earning a cap meant playing a full game and when the game did not have rolling substitutions.
“It has been a long road in the game, but my love for the game is still the same as when I first took up the game,” said Mahendran who also played football and cricket when in school.
After his playing days, Mahendran continued his ties with hockey as a coach having coached the national juniors (1994/1995), Malaysian B team (1987/88) and national team from 1989-1991.
Mahendran also had ventured out of Malaysia to coach where he had coached the Indonesian national team for Sea Games from 1987 to 1997 and Thailand for the Asian Games in 1998.
He also coached Sarawak from 2009 to 2004 before he returned to Penang, thanks to Datuk Ow Soon Kooi, who was the president of Penang Hockey Association then.
“Ow and I go a long way back. When he came to the national team, I was his big brother and guided him.”
Ow a former national skipper had the opportunity to play with some of the elite players like Khairuddin Zainal, N. Sri Shanmuganathan, A. Francis, S. Balasingam, Mahendran, Wong Choon Hin, R. Ramakrishnan, R. Pathmarajah, Poon Fook Loke, N. Palanisamy and Mohamed Azraai Zain, who were household names after their fourth place finish at the 1975 World Cup.
“Ow is equally passionate for the game and wanted to give back to the game and asked me to return to Penang and play a role in the development of the game in Penang.
“It is the best thing that happened because working with the young kids has the utmost satisfaction,” said Mahendran who has seen many players make their grade under him over the years.
Currently he is the 1MAS development programme coach in Penang and also handles a team of Indian boys from Kampung Kuil in Bertam.
Ow was instrumental in Mahendran to coach these young kids three times a week which has a group of 60 of them.
Owing to the poor state of artificial turf at the Bertam Sports Complex where pleas to rectify it has fallen on deaf ears for many years and is still in a deplorable state, Mahendran trains the boys on a concrete court on Tuesdays and Thursdays and take them to train at the Sungei Petani artificial turf on Sunday.
Ow had donated a van which Mahendran uses to ferry the players from Bertam to Sungei Petani – having to make two trips (half an hour each trip from Bertam – and the assistance of teachers and parents who also ferry the players in their cars.
Ow had also set up a clubhouse where it is used as a gym and also for players to come and study and get tuition.
“I hope I will be able to see a few players from this Group make the national team soon. Kampung Kuil is known as a notorious area, but the involvement of the youth from here in the hockey programme has seen kept them out of trouble and built good character for a brighter future. Some players from his programme have even found places in colleges and universities.”
Mahendran is a man of multi-talent. He used to commentate on hockey games with Astro during the Junior World Cup tournament when Malaysia hosted in 1989.
Mahendran said he hoped that more ex-internationals are roped in to assist in development, especially with schools.
“The Malaysian Hockey Confederation (MHC) and State Associations must make an earnest effort to get the ex-internationals involved in the game and probably give them some remunerations to cover their petrol and pocket money. Many of them are waiting to assist in development, but have not been approached,” said Mahendran who is currently playing in 2015 Grand Masters Hockey Asia Cup tournament at the Pantai Hockey Stadium which ends tomorrow (Sunday).
Besides Mahendran among the 1975 World Cup players playing in the tournament, are Datuk Poon Fook Loke and R. Pathmarajah.
The biennial masters tournament hosted by the Sultan Ahmad Shah Veteran Hockey Association involves players age of 60 years and has defending champion Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea and Malaysia fighting for honours.
Beside the tournament, the 29th Pacific Rim International Masters Hockey, involving six teams — Australia A and B, Scotland, England, Europe-based team Alliance International Hockey Club and newcomers Egypt is ongoing at the Ministry of Education’s Hockey pitch.
For the record, Malaysia won the first edition of the Grand Masters Hockey Asia Cup Tournament in Singapore in 2011 before Japan emerged champion in Hong Kong, two years later.
Mahendran was indeed a delight to watch in this tournament and despite his age, he is fit and his deft touches has not deserted him.
Indeed Mahendran has hockey in his blood and salutations are in order for his long standing association and contribution to the game.