[This article was originally written in BM, which you can read here.]
If you asked people to name some of Malaysia’s greatest sports moments, you would probably get stories about badminton or football. Like that time in 1980 when our football team managed to qualify for the Moscow Olympics, or that time when our badminton team won the Thomas Cup. In fact, we’ve got so many badminton and football stories, world squash champion Nicol Davis probably has get in the back of the line.
But, there’s actually another sports team that we can be proud of. Recently, our national hockey team qualified for the Hockey World Cup … for the 8th time! This was because…
… they managed to come out in 4th place from the Hockey World League! 😀
And yes, the Hockey World Cup seems to be a bigger deal than the World League because you have to win the League to qualify for the Cup. (Ok fine, technically not top 4 [yet])
Wah since when Malaysia so geng one? To find out more, SOSCILI got in touch with Nabil Fiqri Mohd Moor, the midfielder of the Malaysian Hockey Tigers, our national team.
We found out that these world-class athletes are actually… part-time hockey players o_O
After a dramatic and suspenseful battle with our age old rival – India, we won with a 3-2 score and qualified for the upcoming World Cup. Nabil (seen in the picture above) told us how the team prepared to faced one of the best teams in the world.
“It was pressuring even to face them for sure, but 2 days before the match we were studying their strengths and weaknesses carefully.” – Nabil Fiqri told SOSCILI
Indeed, Nabil’s team has planned to win and qualify for the World Cup the moment they stepped onto the field. He also told us that the team had to work with video analyst, to study the videos of their previous encounter with the Indian team and how India plays against other teams.
By placing 4th, Malaysia automatically qualifies for the Hockey World Cup, because only the top 11 our of 65 teams from the Hockey World League gets in. The goal keeper, Kumar Subramaniam (S. Kumar) even won “The Best Goalkeeper” award, and people were even more impressed when they found out he works as a electric meter reader for TNB!
Actually, many of the team members have mundane day jobs. Fellow players Sukri Mutalib is a teacher, and Muhammad Razie Abd Rahim, works as a police officer, and most of them just show up to practice on kap chai motorcycles. SOSCILI was surprised to find out that even Nabil is working as a police officer! Even for this writer who’s dead inside, you can’t help but feel inspired by these players, juggling their day jobs and hockey practice to be the world’s best.
“Much like University Putra Malaysia (UPM) during my years of study, PDRM gives me their full support to attend practices despite having my police duties.” – Nabil Fiqri told SOSCILI
But besides all that, we actually have a long history with India, and it ties back to the times when Malaysia was just learning about hockey.
Our rivalry with India’s Hockey team started even before Malaysia was born
Hockey started to become formally organised game around the late 1800s in London, England. It was only 12 years later on 30th November 1898, that Malaysia played our first formal hockey match between Harris’ XI and Whitley’s XI in Kuala Lumpur. Hockey eventually swept the entire country, with associations sprouting up first in Penang, Perak, Selangor, Johor and Negeri Sembilan, then the rest of Malaysia.
Our first encounter with India’s team was also what helped Malaysian hockey “kick off the ground”. The Malayan XI team played the Olympic champions in 1932, but got their punggungs handed to them when they lost 7-0. But hey, that was like having your average badminton player compete against Datuk Lee Chong Wei.
But the Indian Olympic team was an important role model for us. They had previously won 5 Olympics golds, 1st time in the 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam and the 5th time during the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki, Finland. Then, Malaya formed the Federation of Malaya Olympic Council in 1953 with the aim of getting into the Olympics. Eventually, even before our Independence, we went to our first international outing – the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne.
Malaysia used to be pretty good in hockey, but then we faded away in history
Somewhere in 1975, Malaysia hosted the 3rd Hockey World Cup. And that was quite impressive considering that the first Hockey World Cup was hosted in Barcelona and the second was in Amstelveen, Netherlands. Even more impressive, is that we managed to defeat the defending champions with a 2-1 score, putting Malaysia in the semi finals. All that even coincidentally happened on Tun Abdul Razak’s 53rd brithday.
Sadly, our hockey team was later defeated by India at the semi-finals, but with a 2-3 score. Then in the match to decide 3rd and 4th place, we lost to West Germany with a 0-4 score. Tun Razak, a passionate hockey player himself, later hosted the players to a dinner rewarded them an Omega gold watch each.
We even have our own internationally recognised hockey tournament, called the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup, named after … Sultan Azlan Shah, who was himself a hockey player for Perak. Besides being the only person to have an international hockey competition named after him, he also set up Yayasan Hoki Malaysia, which offers scholarships and retirement benefits to hockey players.
Then in 1998, Malaysia was also the first country to host hockey in the Commonwealth game! Malaysia managed to reach the finals in that game, before being beaten by Australia, and so we settled for the silver medal instead. But from then on, hockey was played in subsequent Commonwealth games.
But after that, Malaysia’s achievements began plateauing. We hosted the 10th Hockey World Cup in 2002, but that time we didn’t qualify for the semi-finals, coming out only 3rd place in the group stage. Then began the World Cup drought, where we failed to even qualify for the 2006 and 2010 World Cups.
But now, Malaysia seems ready to take the international spotlight, again!
So essentially, our recent win is a promising sign for a COMEBACK. Malaysia’s female hockey team is following closely behind their male counterpart as well! Hanis Nadiah Onn, at only 21 years old, became the first Malaysian female player to received the award of Asia’s Most Promising Player from the Asian Hockey Federation.
SOSCILI also got in touch with Malaysian historian Professor Khoo Kay Kim, to get his opinion on the recent achievements. He told us that the Malaysian hockey team used to be one of the best during 1975, but only so-so after that.
“Now it looks like things have changed a lot, I hope that soon our team can make us proud in the Olympics.” – Professor Khoo Kay Kim told SOSCILI
Our hockey team has not qualified for the past 4 Olympics. Our last appearance was in the Sydney Olympics in year 2000. But soon, all that might change. We’re slowly getting more and more international recognition, and even the famous Argentinian striker, Lucas Villa, admits Malaysia’s chunness.
So let’s give our support to the Malaysian Hockey Tigers in the coming Hockey World Cup! And hope that we can brag about more than just badminton and football.