"Joe, apasal lambat?!"
I did not hide my annoyance. The Malay Mail, my favourite afternoon paper, was late yet again.
The victim of my, err, let's say verbal abuse, was my vendor Joe.
"Latest news lah. Stop press," he replied as if I knew exactly what he meant.
This was circa 1984. The family was staying somewhere at Jalan Semarak and we had shifted a number of occasions around the Keramat area. Joe the vendor stayed loyal to us for more than a decade.
Malay Mail was a must read those days. I never missed the Thursday edition because MM was the only avenue for me to get the latest European Cup (now we know it as the Champions League) results.
This was during the pre-Internet, Astro, mobile phone era. There was no live matches, mind you. In the glorious days of yore, TV1 was the only source of entertainment and sports. 1984 was also the year TV3 was born, with its logo modelled after the LA Olympics logo, if you noticed.
RTM only showed the final, nothing else. If not for the MM, I would have been starved of my diet of current football news. Shoot, Match, Roy of the Rovers and Tiger used to be transported to KL a month or two months later, long after the magazines were either thrown into a dustbin somewhere in High Wycombe or had turned yellow.
Oh yes I'm that old. I used to keep cuttings of MM, especially when it featured pics of French footballers, Jean Tigana, Alain Giresse and the like, when French football was known for its cavalier approach (still is)...let me see if I can find any of the old cuttings in the store, let's hope the better half has not taken the liberty to tear them into shreds...
New Straits Times would only carry the reports on European matches a day later, on Fridays. Not suprisingly they were similar, word by word.
Local football too was at its best. Soh Chin Aun, Mokhtar Dahari (from PKNS, Kwong Yik Bank to Selangor and Malaysia), Santokh Singh, Reduan Abdullah, R. Arumugam...
MM carried the Keegan column and famous bylines such as Joe Carlos, Leon Lim, Johnny Yew, Randhir Singh graced the tabloid.
My reading pleasure was of course not restricted to the sports pages. The entertainment pages and news-breaking stuff on Pg 1, ah, it was really worth buying.
Naturally when I was invited by P Chandra Segar and Husin Rahman to join the MM, I was excited.
I was then at the news desk in Berita Harian, shadowing seniors like Saodi Mat Atar, Mohd Shah Abdullah, covering politics, Parliament and foreign ministers.
I even covered the present Prime Minister when he was heading the foreign portfolio.
But I was not entirely happy. After almost five years at the Berita Harian sports desk, the bosses decided to transfer me to the news desk.
Haniff Hadi, the then Assistant Group Editor, told me:
"We want you to bring your flair for writing to the news desk."
Jan 1996, a month after covering the Chiangmai SEA Games in Thailand with Hishamuddin Aun (now Datuk and the Group Editor in Chief of NSTP) and Lukman Salleh, I rejoined the news desk.
Husin, widely considered as the best writer in NST and MM then, had this habit of always bumping into me at the corridor. We share one thing in common - the two of us were Frenchman Claude Le Roy's favourite Pressmen.
One day he asked me, "Eh Rizal, you tak nak join ke Malay Mail? Think about it. Toksah risau lah, I'm sure you can write in English. Bukan susah sangat, yang lain pun bukan diaorang tulis, orang lain subbed."
Weeks later Husin brought Chandra to see me. "Are you interested?". "Maybe la, I'm not too confident la."
"Don't worry, I will help you. I give you three months. What is important is that you write honestly," these were the words uttered by Husin.
Chandra said his job was to convince Fauzi (Omar) the then MM editor that I was interested.