‘HARRY Kane scored his first World Cup hat-trick recently!’ My friend, a diehard England supporter, blurts out happily when our paths unintentionally cross in town recently.
He was extremely pleased that Tottenham Hotspur’s top striker had managed to join an elite group with Gary Lineker and Geoff Hurst as the only Three Lions players to ever score three goals in a single match at the World Cup.
Standing right in front of an electrical appliance shop with huge LCD screens showing replays of the previous day’s matches, fate couldn’t have chosen a better location for us to meet.
The sight of professional players in action fired my friend’s enthusiasm even further. Eyes shining, he heaped praises on England coach Gareth Southgate for plotting his team’s success over Panama instyle, something not seen since England’s only World Cup glory in 1966.
“With Southgate’s talismanic player leading the golden boot race on five goals after just two games, chances are that my favourite team will go the distance and win the trophy this year,“ he added before bidding farewell to return to his office at the end of the street.
As I walked towards Alor Star’s historic quarter for my weekly dose of nasi kandar, I began to recall the heroics of a former Malaysian footballer — someone, who during the peak of his career, was probably at par or even better than Kane.
A LEGEND IS BORN
A legend in Malaysian football, Mohd Mohktar Dahari or just Mokhtar Dahari to his fans, was a household name in the 1970s. For more than a decade, Mokhtar was considered one of the greatest footballers in Asia. His superior playing skills coupled with a seemingly boundless strength and uncanny ability to score an endless string of goals spurred his legion of adoring fans to nickname him “Supermokh”.
Born on Nov 13, 1953 in Setapak (a districtin Kuala Lumpur today), Mokhtar was the second of five siblings, two boys and three girls. As their father, Dahari Abeng was often away working as a lorry driver, the children grew up under the watchful eye of their mother, Aminah Sharikan.
Mokhtar began showing interest insports when he was 10. He represented his school, Sekolah Rendah Jalan Kuantan (Sekolah Kebangsaan Jalan Kuantan now) in badminton, football, table tennis and sepak takraw.
Following his family to Kampung Pandan in 1964, Mokhtar remained steadfast in his quest for sports excellence. Each afternoon, he joined his peers at the Pandan Dalam field and played football until 5pm when they had to give way to the older boys.
A year later, he attended secondary school at Kuala Lumpur’s Victoria Institution. The new school presented Mokhtar with a change in environment and exposed him to a different social circle comprising inspiring educators and supportive friends.
FOCUS ON FOOTBALL
The conducive atmosphere spurred Mokhtar to focus primarily on football. He felt that there was too much competition among badminton and table tennis players and that he’d probably have a better chance with football. Within a matter of months, he made the school team and played in the Selangor under-15 inter-school football competition.
Mokhtar rose to prominence for the first time in his life when he played a major role in helping his school emerge champion in 1968. His team defeated La Salle Sentul 2-1 and Mokhtar netted the winning goal. Noticing Mokhtar‘s promising talent, Dahari used a portion of his modest salary to buy his son a pair of football boots after the Lower Certificate Examinations ended in November 1968.
Mokhtar used the modest footwear to rise above his peers and draw level with previous national football heroes like Ghani Minhat and Arthur Koh.
STINT FOR SELANGOR
After leaving school in 1971, Mokhtar was successfully courted by the coach of Selangor’s Darul Afiah Football Club, Hussein Hashim. At that time, the club was in Selangor’s Division Two league.
Under Hussein’s tutelage, Mokhtar’s dribbling skills improved by leaps and bounds. He became an integral part of Hussein’s team and contributed significantly to its success at various state level meets.
Mokhtar’s capabilities on the field soon caught the attention of officials from the Selangor Football Association. Mokhtar joined the team that represented Selangor in the Burnley Cup (Razak Cup now) football tournament in Kuching, Sarawak.
That event was especially important as it marked his first appearance in Selangor colours. Despite being just 16, Mokhtar brimmed with confidence and took to the field in style. Together with teammates like Abdullah Noordin, Redhuan Abdullah and Jamaluddin Norbit, Mokhtar helped Selangor win the coveted trophy by scoring a total of four goals.
PLAYING FOR PASSION
Unlike professional footballers today who enjoy high monthly remuneration and lucrative match bonuses, I cannot help but feel a deep sense of respect for players back in the 1970s who played passionately despite receiving little in terms of financial returns.
To make ends meet, most footballers played on a part time basis. In the early part of his career, Mokhtar worked as a bank clerk during the day and turned up for training in the evenings. He lived a modest life and depended on his motorcycle for transportation.
An incident involving the loss of his only means of transport affected Mokhtar so badly that he nearly quit football. Fortunately, a motorcycle manufacturing company intervened and gave him a new motorbike. That generous gesture steeled Mokhtar’s determination to train harder and reach the pinnacle of football excellence.
THE NATIONAL SQUAD
The year 1972 marked many significant milestones in Mokhtar’s footballing career. He was called up for centralised training with the Selangor state team and saw action in various tournaments including the Football Association Malaysia (FAM) Cup and Sultans‘ Gold Cup.
In April 1972, Mokhtar took part in his first Malaysia Cup final and helped Selangor dispose of Perak by a 3-0 score line. That same month also saw Mokhtar making his inaugural foray into the international scene.
Mokhtar represented Malaysia in the Asian Youth Championship and scored four goals. That success in Bangkok eventually led to his inclusion in the national squad for the first time. Although the Malaysian team took part in back to back competitions, the Jakartaraya Cup Championship and the Merdeka Cup competition in August 1972, Mokhtar wasn’t fielded as he still lacked international exposure.
Mokhtar eventually cemented his position in the national team’s first 11 when he scored the solitary goal in the King’s Cup final in Bangkok, Thailand on Nov 28, 1972. The win was Malaysia’s first successful bid for the King’s Cup. It also sparked the beginning of an almost decade-long golden era for Malaysian football, led by Mokhtar.
In July 1973, Mokhtar played for the first time in the Merdeka Cup. Malaysia won 3-1 in the final against Kuwait with two goals coming from Mokhtar, the undisputed star striker. Mokhtar’s legendary dribbling skills coupled with his speed and pin point accuracy often caused chaos among his opponents.
His fans idolised him and greeted his moves on the field with thunderous roars of “Supermokh”. One of the most memorable moments in Mokhtar’s career occurred in 1975 when he scored a brace when playing against English club Arsenal in a friendly match that ended in a 2-0 score. Soon after, rumours began spreading about foreign interests in Malaysia’s prolific goalscorer. Mokhtar moved quickly to quell the gossip by pledging his loyalty to the Selangor team, saying that he’d live and die for Selangor alone.
It’s already peak lunch hour by the time I reach my destination. As usual, the place is packed with customers and I know it’ll be some time before I get to order. My place at the end of the long snaking queue offers a great view of a nearby sports equipment shop.
My heart skips a beat when I suddenly gaze upon a partially exposed poster near the entrance. Although badly faded with age, it’s still recognisable as the one produced to commemorate Mokhtar’s 1976 Sportsman of the Year award, the first for a footballer since the award’s inception a decade earlier.
The award was given in recognition of Mokhtar’s long list of successes achieved in 1976. He was the top scorer in the Merdeka football tournament where Malaysia became champion.
Mokhtar, who was at that time a Selangor State Development Corporation (PKNS) technician, also topped the list of goal scorers when he steered Selangor to Malaysia Cup glory. World Star Soccer magazine named him “Footballer of the Year”.
The years that followed saw Mokhtar bringing more success to Malaysia. His finest moment came when he scored an amazing goal for Malaysia from the halfway line. His incredible shot beat Joe Corrigan, the England B goalkeeper soundly.
Although the match ended in a 1-1 draw, Mokhtar showed that he was a cut above the rest by dribbling past half of the team coached by the legendary Bobby Robson. Mokhtar’s heroics in that historic 1978 match didn’t go unnoticed. Gordon Hill heaped praises on him and called him Hero Dahari in his column in Shoot! Magazine, a highly respected UK-based football periodical.
END OF AN ERA
In November 1979, Mokhtar’s surprise decision to retire from international duty sent shock waves through almost every segment of Malaysian society. Within days, Selangor coach R. Ramalingam came forward to confirm that the player was still with the state team but even that couldn’t placate Mokhtar’s fans. Fortunately, the player rescinded his retirement plans soon after that.
Failure to get past Kuwait during World Cup qualifications in April 1981 once again brought back talk of retirement. Four years later, Malaysia’s 2-0 loss to South Korea prompted a frustrated Mokhtar to finally call time on all international competitions.
In May 1986, Mokhtar once again led Selangor to Malaysia Cup success. Before handing over his No.10 jersey to the Raja Muda of Selangor at the end of the match, the player announced his complete retirement from football.
Two years later, Malaysia was awash with rumours about Mokhtar suffering from a rare disease. It began with a persistent throat problem which was later diagnosed by a specialist as a type of motor neurone disease.
In 1989, Mokhtar left for London with his wife in an attempt to cure his ailment only to return a few months later without any signs of improvement. His situation continued to deteriorate while all possible avenues were explored to acquire an effective remedy. Finally, after battling the disease for three years, Mokhtar passed away at the Subang Jaya Medical Centre on July 11, 1991. His body was laid to rest at the Taman Keramat Permai Muslim Cemetery in Taman Keramat, Ampang, Selangor. Mokhtar’s life story and the cause of his demise was revealed in a documentary, The Untold Truth About Supermokh, aired on the National Geographic Channel on Aug 30, 2010.
I heave a sigh of relief as the last customer in front of me walks away happily with his lunch. While stepping up to have my order taken, I begin to wonder if Malaysia will ever find a worthy successor to Supermokh.