Sunday, August 15, 2010

Saluting a great Malaysian referee - Koh Guan Kiat

The passing away of former Malaysian FIFA referee and Football Association of Selangor Referees Board Chairman Koh Guan Kiat, is indeed a great loss to Malaysian soccer.

The man in black (or least until a few years ago when referees starting wearing colourful uniforms) were always least acknowledged in the game of soccer, More often than not, referees are highlighted by the media or are the talking point, for all the wrong reasons.
Seldom are they given a pat on the back or praised.
But Guan Kiat was an exemption. Everytime some one spoke about Guan Kiat, they only had nice things to say about him.
However, during this refereeing days, he was a feared man on the pitch because he was a stern official and nothing misses his eyes.
But at the end of each game, players and officials more often than not only had praise for his handling of the game.
I have had the opportunity to play in matches refereed by Guan Kiat when the New Straits Times played in the Selangor Business and Government House League in the late 70s and early 80s.
There was no messing around with him on the field with him as he was hawked eyed and caught every dirty trick in the game. He hardly makes a mistake in his decisions and was very fair. I personally never had a single reason to complain about his refereeing even when we lost our matches.
In the later years, I got even closer with Guan Kiat as I covered the Malaysia Cup matches and he always had time for reporters unlike most referees who will make a quick exit whenever they see a reporter heading their way.
But Guan Kiat never did that. Many a time I have asked him why he had made some decisions in a match and he would take time to explain but politely requested that he cannot be quoted in the newspapers as it was against the rules. I did not mind that one bit and respected his decision, but it helped me understand his decisions better and helped me a great way when filing in my report.After he retired, I still used to bump into him as he then become a referees' accessor  and many times I have sat next to him while covering matches and had many interesting chats about current referees and the standard.
And yes, the number times we would meet at the former Selangor Chinese Recreation Club (SCRC) at Pudu where he would spend his time in the evenings when he was free or after refereeing Selangor League matches. 
One conversation we had and is still crystal clear in my mind till now is when I asked him why has the referees' standard deteriorated in recent years and his reply was: "Tony, in those years when I refereed, we used to referee leagues matches in Selangor at least twice a week before doing Malaysia Cup matches.
"And let me tell you that the Selangor league matches are more difficult to referee than the Malaysia Cup matches. We are quality players and teams in the League those days and the matches were very competitive. (All the State players played in the League for their clubs). And the players used to give us referees all sorts of problems from "dirty play", vulgar words, faking injuries and fighting against opponents. We had to be on our toes and very alert, composed and make the right decisions. It was a training ground for us referees.
"It was not only Selangor who had very competitive leagues, but States like Johor, Malacca, Perak, Penang and even in Kelantan too, they had very competitive leagues and national referees used to officiate in these leagues.
"Having gone through the mill, it was breeze for these referees when it came officiating Malaysia Cup matches, as teams at the highest level played more organised games and the players were also of higher quality.
"These days national referees get to officiate the highest level of competition in Malaysia after just officiating in the Razak Cup or President Cup for short periods. They do not officiate local leagues and in anycase some states have very low quality leagues," Guan Kiat has said not too long ago.
In the 90s and early 2000, I still met Guan Kiat, but this time in a different capacity - as the coach of the Malay Mail FC. I had many complaints of the match officials and in matches where Guan Kiat was the referees' assessor or match inspector, I would discuss my grievances with him after the match and each time I came off satisfied with his explanations or advice. He always made sense.
I last saw Guan Kiat a few years ago and chatted with him over the good old times we used to enjoy together.
Guan Kiat was definitely among the few referees who would talk to a sports journalist and for me, he was my 'Sifu' as far as refereeing was concerned. There were few more referees like S. Karthrivale, Steven Ovinis, late Nazri Abdullah, Datuk George Joseph and Nik Ahmad Yaakub who were friendly to sports journalists and were teachers like Guan Kiat.
But these days, they are hard to come by!
Goodbye my friend Guan Kiat! You were a legend in your own rights as a referee. You will be missed very much!
Guan Kiat's body lies in wake at the Nirvana  Memorial Center Parlour 15 (Orchid), No 1, Jalan 1/116A, Off Jalan Sungai Besi. Cortege leaves Parlour tomorrow (Tuesday) at 10am for cremation at Cheras DBKL Crematorium.

1 comment:

Andrew said...

Rest in Peace Sir.
Your contribution to sports will be always appreciated.