"You tak faham erti perjuangan di sini," bentak Haniff Hadi.
Dia bos No 2 Berita Harian ketika itu. Very powerful. Datuk Ahmad Nazri Abdullah's right hand man.
I made it a point to read his column Mesin Taip Buruk those days. He began his short and concise column with Alkisahnya.
"Kenapa you nak tinggalkan Berita Harian? You nak masuk paper kecik buat apa? Kita ada plan untuk you Rizal, sebab tu kita tarik you dari sports desk. Sports desk tu skop kecik."
"Saya nak buat sukan, Encik Haniff. Saya rasa Malay Mail boleh jadi tiket kepada saya untuk meninggalkan kesan dan juga platform bagi saya ke peringkat antarabangsa. Saya nak buat networking antarabangsa," I told him.
But after given an earful for almost 45 minutes, I virtually gave up any hope of rekindling my sports journalism career at MM.
"I tak tau, you boleh jumpa Datuk Nazri. Kalau dia tak lepas you stay dekat news desk!" was Haniff's strong message to me.
Although my late Ayah preferred me to stay at BH, he was supportive of my decision to do what I like. He knew I was always inclined towards sports for Ayah and Emak were the ones who sowed the seeds of my interest by buying me books particularly on football whenever they travelled to the Old Continent.
My first book was the History of the European Cup 1955-1980, co-authored by John Motson and John Rowlinson. It was heavy stuff for a 10-year old but it captured my imagination. I was hooked.
The book, for me, became a window to the world. A combo of pictures of capturing the moments leading to Kenny Dalglish's only goal in the 1978 final, the Munich disaster in 1958 and the Mitropa Cup, L'Equipe, Gabriel Hanot - ah, it still gives me great pleasure just to reminisce.
I had a bad habit. I used to collect all the magazines and books and spent most of the time in my room, drawing sketches. My favourite past time then was to draw pictures of any footballer in full flow.
Pat Nevin, Trevor Francis, Kevin Keegan, Trevor Brooking, Michel Platini, Kerry Dixon were my sources of inspiration then.
On my artistic tendencies, well let's just say Acis, Sheila Majid's hubby, and I were known as the class artists hahahaha.
Back to my transfer from BH to MM, I worked up the courage to seek Datuk Nazri's approval. Ayah told me to recite a few verses of the Quran, "doa pelembut hati".
With Haniff's lecture still taxing my brains, I knocked on Datuk Nazri's door, knowing that if he said No, I would be condemned to a lifetime of covering Umno, Semangat 46 and Parliament. Which was not bad, actually.
Imagine to my surprise, he was very accommodating. "Must be the Quranic verses," I thought to myself.
"Hang nak masuk Malay Mail? Hang boleh tulis English kah?"
"Boleh la sikit-sikit Datuk, lagipun boleh belajar lagi."
"Ha baguih baguih," in his thick Kedah accent.
He signed the letter approving my transfer request. The meeting lasted less than two minutes. I spent a longer time brushing my teeth that morning.
Oh, it came as a huge relief. Now it was up to Datuk Ahmad Talib to slot me into the MM team. It was a mere formality.
After a slight delay, I was on MM's payroll effective as of September 1, 1996, joining a reporting team comprising Johnson Fernandez, Tony Mariadass, Mustapha Kamaruddin, Asmady Ahmad and Fariq Rahman. The head honcho (re: sports editor) then was Chandra Segar Pillai.
My feeling was that I had finally joined the Paper that cares, the paper I grew up with, the paper the Average Ahmad, Ah Chong and Samy can relate to.
To work under Fauzi Omar (later Datuk), the renowned sports critic, WOW. Interestingly I came on board just a few months before the paper turned 100!
Little did I realise joining MM would be hazardous to my health! Shortly after that, I was on MC. For almost a month!