M. Chandran (arm raised, second from left) as coach and player had a good rapport with teammates and wards. FILE PIC

Lazarus Rokk

I WAS not privileged to have written about him as a player, as M. Chandran had quit competitive football in 1974, a year before I embarked on my exciting journey into sportswriting.

And my early “forays” into the Selangor training ground where Chandran held sway as coach was anything but pleasant.

Imagine this scenario: A rookie sportswriter up against a Malaysian icon with the stern face of Nick Fury (of Avengers fame) and the disposition of a bear with a sore tooth to match the look.

That was in 1978, and as it turned out, I left with a “no comment” quote, and telling myself that I hoped his parents would find him a bride when he was ready for on his own, with that look and disposition, he would only get as far as Malaysian football in the World Cup — knocked out in the preliminary rounds.

But as it turned out, he did quite well on his own, with a pretty bride in A. Puspalatha in 1980 whom I hope had better luck than us with him. And as it turned out too, our professional relationship improved.

He had punctuated that stern look with a smile from time to time, and it appeared that he had fixed that “sore tooth”.

The lesson I learnt from Chandran, Chan as we know him to be, was that it didn’t matter if you were an Indian like him or whether you came from the same “kampung”, Brickfields.

He never judged you by those inconsequential elements. All that mattered to him were being honest to the profession and being passionate about it.

Which is why Chandran died loving Malaysia and having never put this beloved country up for sale. Well done, my friend. You are a true Malaysian to the core.

GEORGE DAS, who probably knows him more warmly than the rest of us, described him as a football statesman. And he has his reasons.

Said Das: “It was only a couple of months ago he opened up and spoke about it. I tried broaching the subject a couple of years ago, but Chandran just brushed it aside.

“You see, Chandran was very loyal to the core... He was very loyal to his family, friends, his teammates and to the country.

“In the 1969 Merdeka Football tournament, he was asked by the team manager Datuk Harun Idris to let his teammate Abdullah Nordin don the captain’s armband as it was Abdullah’s farewell appearance with the national team. Chandran obliged without a fuss.

“He never spoke about this wonderful gesture that he was willing to do for his teammate. When asked, he said: There’s nothing to it. It’s just an armband. We all play for the team.

“That’s Chandran for you. A true Malaysian, and a team player. He was highly disciplined and his attitude towards the sport showed in his performance throughout his career not only as a player, but also as a coach.

“Two years later, he again captained the team to the 1974 Asian Games in Teheran where Malaysia won the football bronze medal for the first and only time.

“And you never hear him speak of all these achievements. A man of few words, Chandran was the absolute ‘Football Statesman’.”

FAUZI OMAR describes him as a silent achiever, a man of few words, and trying to get a quote from him was like getting blood from a stone.

Said Fauzi: “He was never one to seek publicity. He always minded his own business and did his job both as player and coach quietly but very effectively.

“I still remember one incident in the late seventies when he was coach for the Selangor team.

“After one training session at Padang Merbok, Chandran just refused to talk to the reporters and walked straight to his car to leave.

“Stunned, we all looked at each other not knowing what to do. Until today, I still don’t know what made me do it, but I ran after Chandran, opened the car door and plonked myself in the passenger seat next to him.

“I still remember saying this to him: ‘Please drive, Chandran. I just want to talk to you. When we reach your house, I'll take a cab back.’

“I was expecting him to chase me out of the car.

“But being the gentleman that he was, Chandran just glared at me, switched on the ignition and drove on.

“Believe it or not, we actually had a pleasant conversation. I not only got my story, but I also got to know him better after that.

“For all his quiet demeanour, Chandran did all his talking on the field. Boy, did he talk on the field.

“Those crunching tackles, astute reading of the game and the leadership he provided to the team made him the legend that he is today.

“For all the victories and glories that he brought, Malaysia owes this man a lot.

“I have nothing but deep respect for Chandran. Rest in peace, my dear friend...”

HISHAMUDDIN AUN was enamoured of Chandran’s unpredictability and the mind games he used to play with sportswriters.

With him, it was like never knowing what to expect.

Said Hishamuddin: “A cold stare today and a warm handshake or friendly pat on the back the following day — that is how best I will remember Chandran when he was coaching Selangor in 1982 — the year they beat Terengganu 1-0 in extratime in the Malaysia Cup final, courtesy of an Abdul Muin Rahim goal at the Merdeka Stadium.

“Never a man for his own limelight, Chan would prefer his boys do the talking on the pitch than providing juicy quotes to the media.

“But what irked him most was the media trying to play smart by speculating on his probable 11 on match days — something he has always regarded as giving their opponent an advantage.

“But Selangor being Selangor, such information would probably restrict their winning margin more than a win which was almost a given those days. And after every win, Chan would sarcastically tell reporters that their ‘plot’ didn’t work again.

“Needless to say, he too became smarter by putting up a decoy probable 11 in the presence of reporters just to fool them. In the end, when reflecting on such ‘tactics’, we would all laugh while Selangor celebrated another success in the Malaysia Cup.

“Chan, being the dour-faced coach to the reporters then, has always remained a friend and a gentleman.”

YONG SOO HEONG attests to this, in that Chandran was a master tactician, not just as a coach, but also as captain of the national and Selangor teams.

JOHNSON FERNANDEZ, another sportswriter who ran smack into the Chandran Wall, was taken up by his good nature.

Said Fernandez: “I was only privileged to watch M. Chandran play in my teens, that too during the many Merdeka tournaments when matches were telecast live.

“I had relatives who’d drive to KL from the estates just to watch these matches, especially if India was also involved.

“1973... I will remember that year when India had a mercurial winger named N. Ulaganathan. Against Malaysia, Ulaganathan broke a shin bone in a tackle that ruled him out of international football.

“Chandran was blamed for it.

“More than a decade later after I had become a sports journalist, the Kelana Jaya field where Selangor trained would become my daily haunt.

“One day, I asked Chandran about Ulaganathan, and it upset him.

“He said he didn’t know why he was blamed and harassed that time. He said he was nowhere near Ulaganathan. He said it was someone else who had taken him down.

“We, the regular journalists, who covered Selangor had an easy relationship with Chandran, but, mind you, he was as good a defender when confronted with questions about the team.

“But he had a way of turning you down nicely. With me he will hold my chin and tell me to ask the manager (Datuk Mazlan Harun). Sometimes, that was a clue, that the manager had a story to tell.

“But after that, in the years that went by, every time I ran into him, he would never fail to ask me how my children were. That’s the nature of the man.”

CHRISTOPHER RAJ, who knew him from his days as a media officer with the Football Association of Malaysia, still grimaces every time he recalls their first meeting.

Said Raj: “I met Chandran in 1995, and it was an awkward encounter. I was out of my office and upon my return to my room, I noticed a tall gentleman, smartly dressed, looking sharp, reading a newspaper in my room.

“I asked him who he was and who he was looking for. He said who he was and he was looking for Windsor (John). I told him Windsor was out for lunch and should be back soon.

“I then told him that he could wait for Windsor in the waiting area outside, which he duly did, clutching a newspaper.

“A few minutes later, Windsor called me and asked me if I knew who that gentleman was. I said he looked familiar.

“I was only 19 years old, I couldn’t figure it out. Windsor said, ‘This is the great M. Chandran, our former national skipper.’ My feet and hands were trembling. I thought I was dead for asking the legend to read the papers outside my office. I shook his hands and I apologised.

“But he said I was right asking him to do that. From then we became close friends.”

DELL AKBAR KHAN, Chandran’s international teammate in the 1972 Munich Olympics, recalls two moments that have immortalised the latter.

Said Dell: “It was sometime in 1971, in a friendly match between Selangor and PDRM. I was a police officer then, and I vividly remember a very nasty tackle I had on Chandran that badly injured his ankle.

“And he had to be carried out and substituted by my own brother, the late Sadar Khan.

“What transpired after that was baffling. Sadar was after me the whole match as if seeking revenge. That showed the level of loyalty to the team, which went beyond family ties.

“But having said that, Chandran was never upset with me over that, there was no bad blood between us. He was such a good sport and a good person.

“The second time was during the Olympic qualification in Seoul in 1971 enroute to qualifying for the 1972 Munich Olympics — Malaysia’s first.

“But before that, we had to play Japan, Chinese Taipei, South Korea and the Philippines. We had beaten Japan and Chinese Taipei. Korea then as hosts were the toughest hurdle to cross.

“We took them on and Syed Ahmad scored a goal in the first half through a cross from the left by Looi Loon Tiek.

“We knew then that we had to defend this lead or we would be beaten. That was when Chan’s leadership qualities were put to the test. But he held the fort, by holding the team together.

“For the next hour, the Koreans tried everything to break through, but Chandran marshalled the defence. If not for his discipline and determination, we would have collapsed. At the end of the 90 minutes, it was sweet victory and the rest was history.

“This was all due to Chandran’s leadership qualities which were so effective in our game.”

LIM FUNG KEE, the second-choice keeper in the 1972 Munich Olympics, remembers Chandran as a caring captain, and also reveals the truth about the injury on the Indian right winger, Ulaganathan.

Said Lim: “Chandran was my first captain when I joined both Selangor and the national team in 1969. He took care of us off and on the field. We all respected him.

“My most memorable incident was the match between Malaysia and India at Merdeka Stadium in 1973 when one of the Indian players was carried off the field involving three of us inside the penalty area.

“The Indian fans accused him of injuring Ulaganathan, and later that evening, his house in Puchong was stoned by the fans.

“Chandran told me, ‘Fung Kee, you must be the one who injured Ulaganathan. The fans are blaming me.’

“This is what happened that night. Ulaganathan, a very fast winger had shot past Chandran. As he worked his way into the penalty box, Chandran was behind him.

“Like all goalkeepers, I dived with both feet forward and in the air. As I grabbed the ball, we crashed and Chandran tumbled over both of us.

“Chandran is a very clean player and I’ve never seen him in any untoward incidents. And ever since that day, whenever we met, he would always mention that incident and we would laugh about it.”

N. THANABALAN, who grew up with Chandran in Jalan Chan Ah Tong in Brickfields, has been a close friend of his for 65 years.

“We have always been very close. He was always protective of me even when we were schoolboys. When both of us made it to the Selangor and national teams, Chandran would make sure that no one hurt me.

“Being small sized, and playing in attack, opponents would always try to bring me down physically. This is when Chandran would step in and be robust with opposing players while protecting me from any injury,” he said.

M. KARATHU described Chandran as a very patriotic Malaysian and a highly disciplined player, who always played to win.

“Chandran was special in that for him, defeat wasn’t an option. We were roommates in the national team and we worked well together.

“He was highly respected by Asian teams in the 60s and early 70s,” said Karathu.

MAZLAN HARUN had a different relationship with Chandran.

Said Mazlan: “Ours was a unique relationship. We played together for Selangor in the early 70s.

“Chandran was the centreback whose long penetrating passes gave me the opportunities to score.

“On our retirement as players, we began a new partnership. Chandran became the coach and I, the manager of the Selangor team.

“I have always had great admiration for Chandran, whose character was par excellence.”

JITA SINGH, former Singapore international and coach, regrets not coming up against Chandran as a player.

Said Jita: “I did not have any opportunity to play against Chandran, a legend whom I revered since my rookie playing days with my national team.

“The Malaysian team then had so many illustrious players, yet I idolised Chandran for his astute leadership of the team and as an outstanding defender.

“After his playing days, he went on to coach Selangor just like I did in Singapore. My only regret was not getting a chance to compete with this great legend. Anyway, the nuggets and pointers that I picked up from him as a player and coach helped me immensely. Rest in peace, sir.”

RAHIM ABDULLAH, a former Munich Olympic teammate, is saddened by his demise and so respectful of the legend.

“Chandran was a true captain on and off the field. He was commanding and full of fighting qualities. He didn’t tolerate lacklustre performances whether in a match or training.

“He was disliked by teammates who cheated in training as Chandran would tip off the coach.

“Basically, he’s a shy person and does not speak ill of others.”

As stars fade here on earth, some will keep shining in our lives, in our mind, and elsewhere in their next journey.

Thank you, Datuk M. Chandran, for being a shining star in Malaysia.

Journey well friend, we will miss you.