Thursday, April 1, 2010

This is no April Fool Joke!

Today being April Fool's Day, as I was browsing through the papers for a April Fool's story, my mind rushed back to 25 years ago.
It was about a story I did on March 31 and appeared in The Malay Mail edition on April 1st.
The story was that the then national coach Frank Lord, an Englishman, after Malaysia's final first leg Group 3A match against Nepal in the pre-world tournament at the Merdeka Stadium which Malaysia won 5-0, will leave before his contract ended.
The return leg Group match was in Seoul, and I broke the story that Frank will not be around for the second leg against Korea and Nepal, because his contract was not renewed before the second leg.
After having steered the Malaysian team to beat Korea by a solitary goal, Frank decided to play poker and try his luck to have his contract renewed before the second leg.
Malaysia only needed to beat Nepal again and draw with Korea in the return leg to move to the next round of qualifiers.
The late Datuk Bakar Daud was the national team manager called for a meeting before the match against Nepal on March 31 to decide whether Frank's demand was to be met, or just let him go.
Frank's argument was that a decision by FA of Malaysia on his fate after the return leg decided not to renew his contract, he would have little chance securing a job back in England, as the English League was starting in August.
Frank was obviously confident that FA of Malaysia will hire him as they wanted the team to do well and move close to the dreams of playing in the World Cup
But he was mistaken, as FA of Malaysia had other ideas and decided to let him go and appointed Mohamad Bakar as the new coach. Obvioulsy, the powers to be were confident that they would do well in the return leg with or without Frank.
They also recalled the late Mokhtar Dahari out of retirement.
So when the story was published exclusively by The Malay Mail on April Fool's Day, everyone thought that it was the tabloid's way playing prank.
None of the newspapers followed by the story on April 2 and only went to town on April 3 when they realised that it was no April Fool's joke.
It was Joe Kinnear, who was coaching Nepal who had tipped me on Frank's predicament on March 31 afternoon at the Federal Hotel swimming pool where I was interviewing for a Sunday Mail story.
When I confirmed it with Frank after the match against Nepal, he said he could not say more until he got the official letter from FA of Malaysia.
In the meantime, Frank had gone into hiding and could not be contacted on April 2.

It was only close to midnight that I managed to get Frank at his home in Kuantan where he coached Pahang since 1983 when he led them to their first-ever Malaysia Cup the same year.
Although rookie reporter then, I had managed to win Frank's confidence from time he step on the shore of Malaysia and he would confide many things with me about Malaysia soccer - many were published, while some were said in confidence.
I asked him one more favour.  I told him that I was leaving for Kuantan immediately after the call and asked him for exclusivity for an in-depth interview of time in Malaysia and Malaysian soccer.
He said: "You are buying the beers!" and I knew I had the story in the bag!
April 3rd early morning I was in Kuantan after a drive along the old road to Kuantan in my second-hand Mazda 808 (first first car after using the kapchai for five years).
I checked-in at Merlin Hotel and Frank promised to meet me there in the afternoon.
He came as promised and confirmed that he had received the letter for him to leave immediately even before his contract expired, as FA of Malaysia had decided to compensate him with his full term of the paid contract.
We chatted for more than an hour about his experience in Malaysia for my exclusive. I called the Sports desk back and told them that I had the follow-up story.
I did not file the story immediately fearing that the story on the system in the office would be picked up by NST or BH who were all using the same Atex system and had excess to the Malay Mail queue.
I sent the story past midnight and on April 4 The Malay Mail had another exclusive story with the interview with Frank.
It was a great moment for me as a young reporter.
However, what happened at the end of the month, was something I will remember forever.
My former sports editor who was then the Editor of Malay Mail, Maurice Khoo (a former Kelantan footballer) named my story as the story of the month for the paper.
This note (below) by Maurice was put up on the noticeboard on The Malay Mail floor.
Little wonder that I went on serve the paper for 27 years because it was moments like these that kept me striving for more, motivated and love my job.


rizal hashim said...

Moments like these are precious, Tony, because they are unique and experienced exclusively by the writer.

Those who grew up when the Malay Mail was riding high could appreciate this. Exclusive stories by the Malay Mail were the reasons we subscribed the paper.

Good that you share this with us. More of this, please. Tell us more of Elyas Omar and Venglos and also Kevin Keegan.

BTW, where's Lord now?

TonyMariadass said...

Thanks Rizal.
I think Frank is in Cape Town.
If I start writing about the rest, then we will have people saying that I am blowing my own trumpet.
This April Foot piece just came up as I was looking for a prank in the newspapers and did not find any. Then my thought rushed nack to how a true story I did 25 years ago was assumed as a April Fool's joke!
In London yesterday, flying car mechanics, flavoured newspaper pages and Labour Party election posters depicting the prime minister as a thug were April Fool's Day jokes that appeared in the Daily Mail and Sun.
Looks like Malaysian newspapers are no longer humorous these days.

rizal hashim said...

hahahah yes even as recent as the 90s we looked forward to april fool, pulling people's legs was a reason for being...

it's not a case of blowing your trumpet, it's about sharing a piece of history. as journalists we were part of history, we chronicled history, so i look forward to postings of this nature. we need to tell today's generation of the days when we had to rely on personal touch, real knowledge and genuine interest in pursuing a story. we were not dependant on internet, google, wikipedia or facebook to write stories hahahahahah

Anonymous said...

Yes Tony, please tell more. I gre up in that era and would love to know more.

Many, many, many years ago I had the privy of meeting the M'sian hockey team in NJ - they lost to Ireland but I had a great time chatting with the journalist covering the team at that time - can't remember his name now but he had a lot of good stories. I think the coach at that time was Ramalingam (not sure) but he was a very, very good man and shared some of the past experience. We had a great time listening to old stories - you should consider writing some of the old stories. In the interim, thanks for the memories.