Recently I was talking to someone, who I suppose you could describe as a bit of an old time, la. Somehow we happen to get on the topic of sports and specifically football. So he started telling me about the good old days when we had, at least compared to these days, a respectable national football team. “We had Soh Chin Aun, man! He was amazing – the taukay; that was his nickname. And with him, we had the incredible Mokhtar (Dahari) and the amazing Spiderman (who happened to be the national goalkeeper, R. Arumugam).
“Look at us now?” he said. “We’re terrible and we’ve been terrible for so long now, I can’t see us getting back to the level we used to be.” Well, of course this somewhat go me wondering. So how then did this decline of the sport exactly come about? Obviously, there seems to have been a longstanding passion for football and in fact in the ‘glory days’ that this friend was recalling, we obviously were known for having individuals who could perform and were evidently representing the country because they were good. I came across names like Namat Abdullah, Shaharuddin Abdullah, Wong Fook Chuan, Santokh Singh, Shukor Salleh, and others.
What a time that must have been. But what happened? Why did we go from being internationally respectable in Asia to being so dismal? Has this been so in other areas of national endeavour? I wondered. Did it have to do with creeping cronyism, mismanagement, and incompetence? Did it have to do with the encroachment of political considerations? Might these factors also have been the underlying cause for the decline of other facets of Malaysian society?
Did we go down the road of devaluing the importance of recognising and rewarding excellence? Did we put too much emphasis on factors extraneous to what really mattered?
Could it be true that we’d still be producing new Mokhtar Daharis and Soh Chin Auns had we done things the way they ought to be done, rather than the way they ended up being done?
Would we ever again be able to learn from our mistakes?