LATEST: Nazri's body is scheduled to arrive at KLIA on Friday at 3.25pm via Madrid and Amsterdam. Thanks to FAM, FIFA regional office in Kuala Lumpur, Wisma Putra, the Malaysian embassy in Madrid and the FIFA team in Canary Islands, the repatriation process was expedited without having to go through a lengthy local authorisation process which requires up to 15 days before a body is released to the next of kin. His remains will be accompanied by his brother Zaiviji Ismail Abdullah and wife, while one of FIFA's top guns, Walter Gagg, will join them from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur. Those who want to pay their final respects can do so between 5.45 and 6.10pm at his residence at 22, Jalan PJS9/14. The burial ceremony is expected to be performed before Maghrib prayers at the USJ 22 Islamic burial ground.
One of Malaysia's most respected referees, Mohd Nazri Abdullah, passed away early this morning in the Canary Islands, Spain. The 54-year old father of three from Kedah was in the island conducting an assistant referee's course ahead of the 2010 World Cup.
Apparently he collapsed at the hotel after jogging. Nazri was pronounced dead at 7.10pm Spanish time last night. A top FIFA referee instructor, Nazri was appointed as chairman of FAM's referee's committee last year. My deepest condolences to his family, FAM and the refereeing fraternity. Al-Fatihah. I last spoke to him outside the KL Stadium minutes before the Malaysia-UAE Asian Cup qualifiers. An obituary will be posted later.
UPDATED, an obituary for a friend
WHEN the old Malay Mail carried my story on the backpage on Pahang coach Jorgen Larsen taking a swipe at local referees in August 1997, little did I realise it would create a series of incidents.
Under the heading SAVE US FROM…THE MEN IN BLACK (in reference to the movie MIB released also that year starring Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones), Larsen said Malaysian referees were an inept lot and suggested their European counterparts to officiate M-League matches.
Of course the referees were not happy. Three days later we carried a response. I remember the article clearly for two reasons. It was ground-breaking for a referee to be speaking to the Press, and secondly the Malay Mail subs decided to put my byline as Rizal Abdullah, after my better known namesake who happens to be currently stringing for the paper since retiring from the Star.
Mohd Nazri Abdullah was given special permission by the FA of Malaysia to speak to me. So on Aug 26, 1997, under the heading BAD IS AS BAD GETS, the old Malay Mail carried Nazri’s quotes. He spoke on behalf of the 18 referees officiating in the old Premier League. Later, Larsen was hauled up by the FAM disciplinary committee for not going through the proper channel in voicing his grouses.
Nazri was a soft-spoken man, a really nice character who knew how to make you feel comfortable. No wonder he made it right to the top, as a member of FIFA board of selectors who gets to pick the men we like to point fingers at for the World Cups. He had seen it all, barring the one he coveted most – the FIFA World Cup.
A man of Nazri’s credentials deserved the World Cup spot. He missed it by a whisker on two occasions, the USA’94 edition and the next one in France. But reward came in other forms. He officiated the Sydney Olympics and the various FIFA age group tournaments. After blowing the whistle for the final time in the M-League in 2000, he joined FAM as a development officer and later rose to become the Asian Football Confederation head of referee.
His contemporaries included Nik Ahmad Yaakub, Amir Sharifuddin Wong, Kol Kamaruddin Sakhari and the late Wan Rashid Wan Jaafar.
Born K. Letchumanan on January 23, 1955, Nazri hailed from Kulim, Kedah and began his career as a referee at the age of 17 when he obtained his Class 3 certificate from the Penang FA after coming to a conclusion that he would not make the cut as a footballer with Prai Rovers.
He obtained his FIFA badge in 1989 and refereed a pre-World Cup match involving characters like Stuart Pearce, Paul Ince, David Seaman, David Platt and Ian Wright in Bologna in 1993.
“You Kulim tang mana?” when I hand-delivered my wedding invitation to him in 2001. Each time we met the former TNB personnel would be asking me about Kulim!
I regret that our last meeting took place less than a minute. He was about to enter the KL Stadium through the VIP entrance for the Malaysia-UAE Asian Cup qualifiers on January 21 when I stopped him.
“Ref, what’s happening with the referee’s department and committee (since he was the chairman). I’ve been hearing a lot of things?”
“Slowly lah, let’s do things gradually. Don’t worry, we are looking into it,” Nazri assured me. Someone else must take over the mantle I guess.
Nik Ahmad, when contacted, was overcome by emotion.
Former FAM media officer, Ahmad Khawari Isa, said: “Football in Malaysia has suffered a great loss. He was a fantastic individual with great inter-personal skills who had the interest of the referees and the standard of refereeing at heart.
“We spent a lot of time together, brainstorming, arguing and discussing a variety of footballing issues. He initiated the young referees programme, where he himself went to schools to identify and persuade schoolkids to take up a career in refereeing.”
FAM assistant general secretary Saifuddin Abu Bakar was sobbing when we spoke over the phone.
“Last Friday Nazri asked me to join him in his car to go for Friday prayers but I opted to go with someone else. We last spoke on Saturday, discussing several matters at great length but he did not inform me he was going to Spain.”
Saifuddin added: “FAM and FIFA are trying to make arrangements for his jenazah to be flown to Kuala Lumpur as soon as possible.”
Nazri’s old boss, Datuk Dell Akbar Khan, said: “It is a great loss not only for Malaysia and Asia but the world of refereeing in general. Nazri was a dedicated one man who never minced his words, was focused and very frank. He knew his job well and above all, he had only good and honest intentions and no ulterior motives.”
Nazri leaves behind wife Roziah Abdul Rahman and three children. Al-Fatihah. May Allah bless his soul, forgive him of his sins, make his grave a garden and grant him the highest levels of paradise….. Ameen.