KUALA LUMPUR – Forty years have passed but the 1975 Malaysian hockey national team still stands with pride at having accomplished fourth placing in the Hockey World Cup, a record that remains unbeaten till now.
In recalling that feat, former national striker Datuk Poon Fook Loke said the emphasis on unity of the National Day 2015 theme ‘Sehati Sejiwa’ (One Heart, One Soul) brought back fond memories of how the whole country stood as one and put all their differences aside to cheer the national hockey team during the World Cup ’75 in Kuala Lumpur.
“The home crowd support was so electrifying and astounding that our hockey team then had no fear of our opponents and this was evident when we eventually beat the World Cup defending Champions then, Holland, to enter the semi-finals.
“It was indeed an experience of a lifetime to play in front of some 50 to 60 thousand spectators at the Merdeka Stadium. It was simply unbelievable and admittedly the home crowd support contributed greatly to our successful outing,” he told Bernama.
Poon said even though he has had the privilege of playing in two Olympic Games, three World Cups, the Asian Games, SEA Games, Asian All Stars (1974) and the World XI (1982), he regard the World Cup ’75 as the pinnacle of his hockey career.
Poon said the greatest and most memorable moments of the World Cup ’75 was match against Holland when Malaysia beat the defending champions 2-1 on March 10, that year.
“That match was in the morning of March 10 and it coincided with the 53rd birthday of the late Tun Abdul Razak, Malaysia’s prime minister then. It was reported the next day that the PM said ‘It was the best Birthday present he had received from the Hockey Boys’.
“The second glorious moment was the semi-final match with India at the packed Merdeka Stadium. At that time, Malaysians from all walks of life, races and religions, young and old came out in full force with a united objective to support and cheer the team on,” he said.
Poon said the team had strong characteristics like ‘hunger for success’ and they were united, lived like a family and team spirit was exceptionally high.
For him, every player then was a master of his position and they feared no one with help of the coaches, Datuk R. Yogeswaran, the late Datuk Ho Koh Chye, the late Mohamed Sidek Othman who were excellent in preparing and planning the game strategies.
As a former national team player, Poon said it is great to know that even till today when he meets people, they still talk about the magnificent World Cup ’75.
Looking back, he said, from 1956 to 2002, hockey has always been the ‘cream of sports’ in the country, admired by all including the royalty, politicians and top government servants.
He said hockey had recognition and esteem by virtue of Malaysia’s high world standing and supported by the fact that hockey had a regular place in the prestigious Olympic Games and World Cup, which is the dream of every sportsman to compete in.
Malaysia’s first Olympics appearance was in 1956 in Melbourne and the illustrious trend continued right up until 2000 in Sydney.
Sadly, Malaysia did not qualify for the subsequent three Olympics and very likely will miss the upcoming 2016 Olympic in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil after the national team performed poorly at the Hockey World League in Belgium this year.
“I am pessimistic that we will have the potential to be world beaters again and this will not change until and unless we start accepting our shortcomings in our training methodology and learn from our ‘former students’, the Europeans.
“Back then, Asia ruled with India and Pakistan in the forefront but the tables are turned now and we cannot deny the fact that the Europeans, especially Germany, Holland and Belgium are playing a different level of hockey,” Poon said.
Poon added if that Australia and New Zealand can be in hockey’s elite group, there is still hope for Malaysia to play catch up.
In ended the interview, Poon once again said the 1975 hockey team was truly a reflection of 1Malaysia with the team comprising of multi-racial players embodying Bapa Malaysia’s (Malaysia’s first prime minister the late Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj) concept of unity in diversity.