Friday, September 4, 2015

Grand Lady Merdeka Stadium mirrors current sporting state


By Tony Mariadass

The 58 year-old Merdeka Stadium is iconic as it grew together with Malaysian sports and its achievements.
But as the grand lady of sports today, she is also a reflection of the current state of sports.
What used to be a majestic stadium for schoolboys to national and international sportsmen and women, today she is reduced to just another stadium in the country.
Today there are over 500 football stadium (main/mini/sports complexes) in the country while about 50 have been authorised by FA of Malaysia where football matches can be played.
We have stadiums with capacities ranging from as little as 650 (UPM Stadium) to the National Stadium in Bukit Jalil which has a capacity of 90,000 and rated among the world’s top ten biggest stadiums.
Penang’s City Stadium in Georgetown remains the oldest stadium in use in Malaysia. It was built in 1956 by the British government.
But none of these stadiums have the history or the achievements on their grounds like the Merdeka Stadium.
It was indeed sad when at one stage the Merdeka Stadium was almost pulled down in the name of development.
The stadium and its land were given to a private company - United Engineers Malaysia Berhad - which had intended to redevelop the land into a RM 1 billion entertainment and office complex. In exchange, the company was required to build seven other stadiums in other locations. However, the company did not proceed with the redevelopment due to public outcry and the company's financial difficulties due to the late 1990s Asian economic crisis.
Thanks to Permodalan Nasional Berhad who had taken over from United Engineers Malaysia Berhad and their chairman Tan Sri Ahmad Sarji Abdul Hamid’s concerted effort was made to conserve and preserve the stadium, it is still standing.
In February 2003, Stadium Merdeka together with Stadium Negara (indoor Stadium a stone’s throw away) were named national heritage buildings.
In 2007, Merdeka Stadium underwent restoration to its original 1957 condition. The 45,000-capacity stadium has been reduced to 20,000, where several of the upper terrace blocks built over the years had been demolished. The renovations were part of Malaysia’s 50th anniversary plans to relive the moment when Tunku Abdul Rahman proclaimed independence there. The restoration was completed by December 2009.
To rewind, Stadium Merdeka was constructed in a record time from 25 September 1956 to 21 August 1957.
On Sept 18, 1955, Tunku Abdul Rahman, then Chief Minister of Malaya, announced that arrangements were being made for the construction of a million-dollar sports stadium in Kuala Lumpur's Coronation Park area. 

The Park stood on a site on top of what was once called Petaling Hill where a 9-hole golf course existed even earlier. It was constructed by the Selangor Golf Club, founded in 1893, before the club shifted to its present site along the old Circular Road (now Jalan Tun Abdul Razak).
The Merdeka Stadium ground is scared as on the morning of Aug 31st 1957 at the newly completed stadium that Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj read his country’s Proclamation of Independence and formally announce Malaya’s independence from Great Britain.
Even the skies opened up earlier crying for Malaya’s independence that the ceremony had to be postponed for an hour and it was just before eight that the ceremony began.
Earlier on another sporting ground – The Selangor Padang (now Dataran Merdeka) - at midnight on the 31 August, 1957 the Union flag was lowered for the last time (signifying an end to British rule and 446 years of colonisation and the flag of the Federation of Malaya was raised for the first time.
Merdeka achieved, it was time for festivities to mark the great event with sport playing a leading part in the celebrations.
The late Norman Siebel, the Sports Editor of Straits Times had wrote: “During the next week, 700 representatives from 18 countries, from our next door neighbours Siam (Thailand) to distant Fiji and New Zealand, will take part on 12 different sporting events, and so varied is the programme that it has bears comparison with the Asian Games.”
It was the Merdeka Games and football, badminton, athletics, basketball, cricket, hockey, cycling and tennis were the major events but weightlifting, shooting, golf, swimming and water polo were too organised.
Football was the draw card held at the Merdeka Stadium where Hong Kong were the inaugural winners before Malaya won the next year in 1958.
The Merdeka stadium has been the venue for two Seap and two Sea Games (1965, 1971, 1977 and 1989), Merdeka tournaments (from 1957 to 1995), 1975 World Cup hockey semifinals and final, international athletics meets and venue for international concerts including the Michael Jackson concert in 1996 (other international artistes performing here included Celine Dion, Mariah Carey, Justine Bieber, Jennifer Lopez and Avril Lavigne to name few).
It was FA of Selangor’s venue for their League and Malaysia Cup campaign from 1957 to 1994.
The likes of Edward Dutton, Lourdes Sexton, Abdul Ghani Minhat, S. Thanabalan, Looi Loon Teik, Wong Kam Fook, Chow Chee Keong, Lim Fung Kee, Soh Chin Aun, Mokhtar Dahari, M. Chandran, Santokh Singh, Wong Choon Wah, James Wong, Shaharuddin Abdullah, Mani Jegathesan, M. Rajamani, Abdul Rahim Ahmad, T. Krishnan, Nashatar Singh, Ishtiaq Mobarak, Sri Shanmuganathan, A. Francis, Wong Choon Hin, Khairuddin Zainal , Poon Fook Loke and M. Mahendran to name a few all made the names and have fond memories at the Merdeka Stadium.

Today Merdeka Stadium has become a forgotten lady which is like being put in an old folk’s home.
Since the last time the Stadium was used for the Malaysia Cup final in 1999 where Brunei beat Sarawak 2-1 in the final, it was in hibernation for 15 years before it was again used by Kuala Lumpur FA this year and occasional events like the Mariah Carey and A.R. Rahman concerts.
At the football matches, the atmosphere is gone as the city team hardly garners 1,000 spectators for its matches.
Gone were the days when crowds were locked out the stadium and the stadium spilling to its brim.
I personally have fond memories of the Merdeka Stadium and it very close to my heart.
My association with the Grand Lady of stadium dates back to 1959 when I had my first birthday party thrown by my late parents at the canteen of the Stadium.
I stumbled on to this fact in my teens when I recognised those black-and-white photographs taken then.
During my schooldays with St John’s Institution, I used to run on the bitumen tracks during our school’s sports day and played in the 1975 Selangor Schools football final against La Salle Petaling Jaya and won the title.
And how can I forget the 1975 World Cup semifinals and final which I watched from the terraces as a schoolboy.
And from the early 80s, the Merdeka Stadium was my second home as I covered numerous football, athletics championships, including the 1989 Sea Games football final which Malaysia won after 12 years beating Singapore 3-1 with Lim Teong Kim and Dollah Salleh scoring after Borhan Abu Samah had scored an own goal as early as the eighth minute. Fandi Ahmad levelled for Singapore for halftime score before Malaysia went to triumph under English coach Trevor Hartley.
I still remember the ‘Fish Head restaurant’ at the Merdeka Stadium, which was a must stop before covering any football match.
I have seen and shared the triumphs and defeats, the joys and tears and the elation and disappointments of Malaysian sports at this historical venue.
To see what it has become now saddens me.
Yes, we have ultra-modern stadiums and have to move with times, but none of the present stadiums have rich tradition nor the character or atmosphere of the Merdeka Stadium.
The Merdeka Stadium was the soul and character of Malaysian sports.
In its twilight years, as development goes on surrounding it with the Warisan Merdeka in progress, there is further concern whether the Merdeka Stadium and Stadium Negara would erode the heritage value of these two landmarks. However, authorities claim that the 118-storey building which will come equipped with shopping facilities, offices and apartments once completed to become the tallest building in Kuala Lumpur, we will continue reminding tourists that it is situated next to Merdeka Stadium and retain its aesthetic value.
The state of the Merdeka Stadium actually reflects our current Malaysian sports standards because instead of having become matured, being experienced, progressing with all the ultra-modern facilities and the money available for sports, the general trend has been on a downward trend.
Just look at the standings of football and athletics these days, and it is suffice to say all the early achievements have gone to nought.
It is hoped that as we celebrate our 58th year of independence today, we do some serious reflections and take a hard look at the Merdeka Stadium and at least for its sake, bring back sports to the level it gained respect in the past.
As an afterthought, maybe for the 60th independence celebrations, we should reenact the morning of Aug 31 and invite all those who have in one way or other been involved with the Stadium as an athlete, official, fan or worker to be present and showcase to the present generation the rich tradition, history and achievements the mother of Malaysian stadiums has seen.
Happy Merdeka Day! 

1 comment:

Scott said...

Tony, it was great playing at Merdeka, even if KLFA didn't attract many supporters back in 1994. I often pay it a visit when I am in KL. Would be great to see KL playing back in the top League at Merdeka.