IT all started one afternoon on June 14, 1982 when a reader of The Malay Mail, Peter Teo, voiced his idea to the afternoon daily’s popular Hotline team. The Malay Mail was then part of the New Straits Times Press (M) Berhad.

It was a simple suggestion from the man, who went by the pseudonym “Soccer Fanatic”, but one that would take the nation by storm in just a matter of days.

Teo’s suggestion was simple — since a lack of funds was the main reason Radio Televisyen Malaysia (RTM) was not able to telecast live many of the World Cup matches, it would be good if the television station opened the sponsorship of these telecasts to the public. He was confident that Malaysian football fans would not mind paying a ringgit each to help pay for the telecasts.

“I wondered whether RTM would give the chance to Malaysians to contribute a ringgit each for the ‘live’ telecast. After all, there must be millions of soccer fans in the country,” he said in an interview with The Malay Mail later.

“The then Hotline reporter, Noraini Shariff, who took Teo’s call, filed a report that was published the next day under the heading ‘How about This?’,” Chan, 60, who is himself an ardent football fan and an avid movie buff recalled.

He said Teo epitomised the frustrations of Malaysian football fans who were hungry for more live telecasts of the World Cup as up until then, RTM’s live telecasts were limited to the opening match, two semi-finals and the final.

“As a fan, it was frustrating to have to rely only on the radio or the newspapers for news on the World Cup, ” said Chan, who has been closely following the World Cup since 1974.

He said the then Malay Mail editor, Ahmad Sebi Abu Bakar (now Datuk), saw the potential in Teo’s suggestion and instructed senior reporter R. Nadeswaran to assign a reporter to find out if the then information minister (Datuk Seri) Mohd Adib Adam was open to Teo’s suggestion.

“I was with the news desk then and I guess I was just lucky that Nades gave me the assignment that day,” added Chan, who retired last year after 33 years in journalism, having served in The Malay Mail as entertainment and assistant news editor.

On June 17, Chan went to Angkasapuri and waited for the minister.

“I approached him as he was heading to his car after a meeting. I asked him about Teo’s suggestion. He said ‘yes, RTM will accept public contributions for more live telecasts but some organisations must volunteer to collect the funds’.

“The minister’s response was front-paged in The Malay Mail the following day. By then, calls had come in from the public in support of Teo’s exciting proposal.”

With the approval of the then New Straits Times (NST) group editor, (the late Tan Sri) Noordin Sopiee, the People’s Live Telecast Fund (PLTF) was launched on June 19. Within hours of the Saturday edition hitting the streets, football fans were making a beeline not only to the the Malay Mail office in Balai Berita, Bangsar, but also to NST branch offices nationwide with their donations.

“The first three to donate were Peter Teo, who donated RM10, followed by his colleague, Jesawanth Singh (RM5) and RTM staff Rahman Rahmat (RM10).

“On the first day, only RM228 was collected and the PLTF’s stated goal was to raise RM60,000 to pay for one live telecast.

“But any doubts about the viability of the fund were erased as dozens, hundreds and then thousands came to Balai Berita and our branch offices to contribute. Young and old, male and female, people of all races and professions turned up.”

Even children donated to the fund and one of them was 6-year-old Jason Lim Soo Boon, who turned up with his piggy bank and donated his savings of RM12.80!

Celebrities also joined in when the Malaysian Artistes Selection members participated in a friendly football match with The Malay Mail invitation team to raise money for the fund. Among the artistes who participated were singer Dhalan Zainuddin, comedian A.R. Badul, Dharma Harun Al-Rashid, Latiff Ibrahim and Hamid Gurkha.

The Malay Mail reporters also pooled in RM501 for the fund!

With donations pouring in by the day, the staff of the Malay Mail were on their feet the whole day, taking turns to collect the donations and issuing receipts to the donors. There were also those who donated via cheques, postal or money order.

“By the end of each day, the money collected was sent to our accounts department. I had also filed the daily reports and the names of every donor, and the amount donated was published in the next day’s papers,” said Chan.

“The PLTF collection trebled to RM730 on Sunday (June 20), jumped to RM5,000 on Monday, quadrupled to RM20,000 on Tuesday, almost doubled to RM40,000 on Wednesday, and shot past the target to RM66,116.45 on Thursday,” said Chan.

He said among the contributors were the then Yang di-Pertuan Agong Sultan Ahmad Shah of Pahang, prime minister Datuk Seri (now Tun) Dr Mahathir Mohamad and deputy prime minister Datuk (now Tun) Musa Hitam.

“As we now had the funds for one live telecast, we threw a challenge to the public to keep the contributions coming so that we could have two or even more live telecasts.”

He said the public rose to the challenge and the fund netted another RM90,000, thanks to a major RM50,000 contribution by Caltex Malaysia, bringing the total to RM156,000. On June 26, contracts for three live telecasts of the World Cup matches in Spain were signed, thanks to the PLTF.

The matches were the Group B match of England vs West Germany (June 29), Group A match of Soviet Union vs Poland (July 5) and Group C match of Italy vs Brazil (July 6). But as the amount was not enough to cover all three matches, Chan said RTM topped up the fund with a contribution of RM33,000.

The proudest moment for Malaysians was when the words “DiTaja Oleh Rakyat Malaysia” (sponsored by the people of Malaysia) beamed across the
television sets and were announced each time these matches were telecast live.

“In subsequent weeks, the PLTF reached an astounding RM300,000, which was enough to pay for a fourth match (Group B’s England vs Spain) as well as a fifth live telecast after the World Cup, which was the FIFA World All-Star charity match on Aug 7 in the United States in aid of the United Nations Children’s Fund.”

Chan said all Malaysians stood tall knowing that their generosity and unflinching support to realise one man’s idea had materialised in a matter of weeks.

“Never before had I seen Malaysians coming together for a cause like this. It was a proud moment not just for us at The Malay Mail but also for all Malaysians. It was a unique event but one that helped accomplish a mission and influence the corporate sector to come in as sponsors for future live or delayed telecasts of the World Cup from 1986 onwards.”