Legendary goalkeeper Chow Chee Keong passed away this morning at about 7 am this morning.
He would have turned 69 on Nov 26.
May his soul rest in peace and the Lord grant him eternal rest.
As a tribute reproducing an interview I did with him four years ago which appeared in The Malay Mail.
The scribe with Chee Keong (first left) eight years ago at the UKRC function. Next to Chee Keong is another legend the late Wong Choon Wah, Datuk Santokh Singh and Yip Chee Keong.
The 'Steel Gate' keeper
Monday, July 14, 2014 - 12:49CHOW CHEE KEONG (pic) is arguably the best goalkeeper Malaysia has ever produced, but today, instead of football, he is teaching golf in the Klang Valley.
A former student of St. John Institution, he had the rare distinction of playing for the national Under-20 youth team at the tender age of 13 and made his national debut as a 15-year-old! He played in five Merdeka tournaments (1965 to 1969) and was in the Malaysian team who won the title in 1968. He then turned professional in Hong Kong in 1970, where he played for a decade.
“I was very lucky to have played with some of the greats of Malaysian football like Abdul Ghani Minhat, Robert and Richard Choe, Dali Omar, Ibrahim Mydin, Abdullah Nordin, Syed Ahmad to name a few. Being only 15, I was treated like a son and they taught me many things which made me a better player,” said Chee Keong.
Chee Keong makes a save from the great Pele.Stint in England
“I did my A Levels in King's College, England and went on to pursue a physical education course from 1966 to 1969. While I was there, I wanted to stay in touch with the game and Peter Velappan helped me get in touch with then West Ham manager Ron Greenwood to ask if I could train with their junior team," said Chee Keong, who will turn 65 on November 26. “I was given a chance to train with the juniors and whenever they needed a goalkeeper to play in the lower league games, they would call me. I would play at least one match a month. It was a great experience.”
Asked why he did not opt for a permanent stint in England, Chee Keong said it was difficult to break into the system in England and he was already fortunate to have had those temporary stints.
Turning pro in Hong Kong
“Many think I am the first Malaysian to turn professional. But I am not. The first was Perak’s Wong Kong Leong, who played in Australia for a short spell,” said Chee Keong.
“It was by chance that I turned pro. At the end of my three years in England, I decided to go for a holiday in Hong Kong with another college mate. I also wanted to meet my sifu, from whom I had learnt martial arts in Malaysia,” said Chee Keong, who is an exponent in karate, taekwondo and kung fu.
“While at my sifu’s home, I met the team doctor of Jardines FC, who asked if I could play for his club, who had to get three points from their remaining three matches to avoid relegation. I agreed and helped the team draw all three games and avoid relegation.
“That was when I was offered a contract for the new season. However, Jardine folded after a season and I moved on to South China AAA before ending my stint with Hong Kong Rangers FC.”
But despite an illustrious career which included being named Best Goalkeeper from 1966 to 1970 by the Asian Football Confederation, Chee Keong has regrets and it is because of that he is now involved in golf.
“I had a golden opportunity to play football in Brazil when I was in Hong Kong. Cruzerio FC came for a friendly match and they had Emerson Leao, one of the all-time best Brazilian goalkeepers. The local newspapers started to compare me with him, but in the end he did not play. It was after the game that I was approached to join the team,” said Chee Keong, who earned the nickname "Asian Stainless Steel Gate” and "Crazy Sword". “But I didn't take it seriously and that was the end of the story.
“The next year, when I was back in Malaysia, Cruzerio toured Malaysia and I was asked to play for the national team. And after the game, the offer to play in Brazil was made again. The condition was that I had to take up Brazilian citizenship.
“This time, I was serious about taking my career to the next level and decided to take up the offer. But I wanted to return to Malaysia after my stint in Brazil and had approached the late Tunku Abdul Rahman, then president of FA of Malaysia, and officials to assist me to get back my Malaysian citizenship . But I was turned down. With that went my hope of playing in Brazil.
“Till today, I regret I was denied an opportunity to taste professional football in the land of football.”
Chee Keong said his other regret was the way he was treated when he turned professional.
“Many called me a traitor to the nation, but nobody asked why I left to become a professional.
Firstly, for any footballer to improve, he has to play in a foreign league. Secondly, I did not come from a rich family. I needed money and it was a career. But I still returned to play for Malaysia when required in invitational tournaments.
“And when I returned from my pro stint, I remember writing a four-part series in a local newspaper, underlining the ills of Malaysian football, the way to go forward with a professional setup and management. My main contention was that for a professional league, it had to be run by professionals from a different entity and not FAM. It did not go down well with FAM and I was heavily criticised, such as what gave me the right to speak of professional football after playing in Hong Kong for a few years.
“That’s when I decided that I had enough with football. I turned to golf, not to just play but make it my career. I was a two-handicapper at one stage, but I was more interested in attending golf coaching and management courses and eventually started coaching in Hong Kong and China for 10 years be fore returning to coach here."
Married to Christina Kwok, the daughter of former FAM secretary, the late Datuk Kwok Kin Keng (1951-1980), Chee Keong has a 30-year-old son, who is a national ice-hockey goalkeeper and avid paint-ball player.
“Despite some disappointments in life, I am still a very happy and contented person doing what I love with a happy family.”
Chee Keong makes a save off an attempt by the great Pele.
Icons from the Past – CHOW CHEE KEONG (PART 2)
By TONY MARIADASS
Telling as it is
Chow Chee Keong is a rare breed among Malaysian sportsmen, but there is not much records of his career. Last week, in an exclusive interview granted to MM Sport, he revealed many things not known about him and set many records straight.
The 64-year-old Chee Keong who rarely speaks to the media, opened up this time around and had so much to say that it was decided that a second-part the interview was fitting to make his story complete.
In this second-part Chee Keong, talks about local players, football administration and local fans.
IT was an era where goalkeepers were many and extremely talented, but Chow Chee Keong still emerged the top custodian.
There was Lim Fung Kee, Wong Kam Fook, the late R. Arumugam and Ong Yu Tiang and Rashid Hassan who came to the scene a little later, but Chee Keong remains the best goalkeeper ever to grace for Malaysia.
Not only was he voted Best Goalkeeper from 1966 to 1970 by the Asian Football Confederation, but he was sought by top Brazilian club Cruzerio FC. Pele whom Chee Keong played against on numerous occasions when he was plying his professional trade in Hong Kong, who became his good friend, had many kind words of his performances.
Other Malaysian follow suit
Chee Keong was instrumental in many other Malaysians who followed suit to play in Hong Kong which included Fung Kee, Kam Fook, the late Wong Choon Wah and Yip Chee Keong.
“These players approached me to help them find clubs in Hong Kong and I did. But sadly, many of them blamed me in bringing them to Hong Kong when they ran into difficulties coping with the local conditions,” revealed Chee Keong.
“Naturally the local players were not happy with us Malaysians playing in Hong Kong. They made it difficult for us, and became their target in matches. It was no different for me when I first went to Hong Kong, where I had to use my martial arts skills in goalkeeping to prevent myself frm getting injured.
“I also had to be mentally strong and determined to make a name for myself.”
Chee Keong said some of the Malaysian players who came to Hong Kong were not mentally strong and soon went into depressions and wanted out.
“Yip Chee Keong was an exception. He adapted himself well and was a hit with South China FC.”
Chee Keong said that Malaysian players should strive to play overseas because all over the world the better players play in leagues outside their home country.
“That is the only way to improve one’s game and all the challenges they are faced with, will only make them better players.
“It is sad that I hear that many Malaysian players who have had the opportunity to go overseas have returned sighting weather conditions, food, language, missing home and not being able to stand the tough training or blending with the team.
“As long as this continues, Malaysian players are not going to improve and reach high standards just playing at home,” stressed Chee Keong.
He took a dig at present day athletes who take things for granted and are pampered lot and who do not know what sacrifice is all about.
“I cannot believe that present day sportsmen and woman and lack ambition to improve themselves and reach for the highest level of performance.
“They are so easily contended and get into the comfort zone. They do not push themselves and shun hardwork.”
Malaysian football, in fact he hopes all sports are administered by sportsmen and women rather than politicians and ones who do not have a clue of the sport.
“It is sad that many sports associations are run by people who do not have a clue of the sports or are not sportingly orientated,” said Chee Keong.
“Many helm the sports for their own personally gain or just to be popular and enjoy the benefits.
“We need officials who are passionate of the sports and want to take their sports to the highest level possible
He also took a dig at present day athletes who take things for granted and are pampered lot who do not know what sacrifice is and do not have ambitions to improve themselves.
“Malaysia is very lucky to have loyal fans who pack the stadium week in and week out despite the poor quality of football dished out,” said Chee Keong.
“It is about time that something is done for the fans so that they get their money’s worth.
“Right now they are being cheated as the football is of poor quality.
“The governing body, the coaches and players have an obligation to treat the fans to better quality games.
“These people have to remember that the day the fans despite to walkout on them, they will be playing to empty stadiums and the football will fall flat in country.
“I hope they do not take the fans for granted.”