By Nuradzimmah Daim (New Straits Times)
KUALA LUMPUR: He was a winger who used to strike fear into the hearts of
the opposing defence on the battlefields of the country's toughest
football competition - the Malaysia Cup.
He won many honours, playing alongside legends like the late Mokhtar
Dahari and R. Arumugam; Datuk Soh Chin Aun, Santokh Singh and Reduan
Abdullah in the 1980s.
Many of his illustrious teammates in the Selangor team have faded away,
but K. Kanagarajah, 51, loves football too much to walk away from it.
Kanagarajah, who grew up in a rough neighbourhood, lives in a Sri Sabah
flat, a City Hall housing project. For 20 years he has provided free
coaching for children.
Since retiring from competitive football in 1987, Kanagarajah has been
conducting free coaching clinics for youngsters from low-income families.
It's not easy as at times Kanagarajah, who works in a construction
company, has to dig deep into his own pocket to finance the clinics.
For Kanagarajah, who is also a talent scout for the Pemuda Cheras club,
the satisfaction for his sacrifices comes when his proteges make it to
state teams for the MSL.
Q & A K. Kanagarajah
Q: Tell us about your life as a boy and your early involvement in
A: I was raised in Bukit Bintang before my family moved to Jalan San
Peng, and later to the City Hall quarters in Cheras.
I used to play football with my friends, and then I was spotted by
coach Chow Kwai Lam and started playing for Cheras United.
Q: You had played for Selangor and the national team. Did you dream of
that when you were a kid?
A: No, I only wanted to play football.
Q: What was it like, playing with legends like Mokhtar Dahari, who was
known as "Super Mokh"?
A: He was a very nice man, and a superhuman. He had the right attitude
and a strong fighting spirit, which is very rare among the present
When I joined Selangor, I was 19 and he was 23. He accepted new players
like me with open arms and was more than willing to teach us a thing or
two to improve our skills. This is what I want to instill in young
I joined the national team two years later while I was still playing
for Selangor. Poor health forced me to retire from the Selangor team in
Q: For 20 years, you have been coaching children for free. Where are
they from and what drives you?
A: Most of the children come from low-income families and can't afford
coaching fees. The 120 children that I coach are between five and 17
years old. They live in City Hall flats, including Sri Sabah and
Cochrane, Pandan Indah, Loke Yew and a few from Bandar Sri Permaisuri.
We organise the training in public fields around City Hall flats like
It's better for them to play sports than to loiter around and get
hooked on drugs. Some of the kids are school dropouts, and it's important
for us to guide them into using their free time well. I can relate to
them because I also came from a rough neighbourhood.
Q: But aren't there football academies around for kids?
A: That's the thing. These children can't afford to pay training fees
I'm just doing my small part as an ex-footballer and passing my
knowledge on to them. So maybe with the early exposure they, too, can
become professional footballers.
Q: How much do you spend on the training sessions?
A: It costs at least RM300 per session as we also provide food, drinks
and bus fare for those living in Ampang.
The Under-12 boys train once a week, and the over16 train three times.
We have about 120 boys training with us.
I'm thankful my family and friends fully support me in this project.
Datuk Vyran Raj of Vyran Holdings, who used to play with us, has been
very helpful by sponsoring our junior players.
Q: It costs you money and time in giving free coaching. Why do you do
A: I get a lot of satisfaction from training these children. I see
potential in every one of them.