My schoolmates find it hard to recall anything significant about me throughout our schooldays for yours truly was truly average. But being schooled in one of the best schools that placed emphasis on sports as part of the process of growing up, helped shape my life and perspective on sports.
The class of 1980, upon receiving our respective medals on the same pitch that bore witness to Hassan Sani's unstoppable run for James Wong to score the winning goal in the pre-Olympics. Recognise the husband of Datuk Sheila Majid?
When 1983 came, I was somehow placed in the top class of Form 1. With William Goldman as our English literature teacher, Puan Sulastri as form teacher and Cikgu Badiozzaman our maths wizard who coined the nickname Kenit for me (for I was one of the shortest in class), the early years were certainly unforgettable. Academically I managed to consistently finish among the bottom three of the class, probably because of my tendency to let my mind wander each time I took a peek outside the classroom. For each time I took a glance, it was either the football Under-15 or Under-18 teams being put through their paces or the hockey teams and the rugby guys undergoing training.
The image of David Fernandez, Vincent Fernandez and Phua Seng Tiong pushing, coaxing and cajoling the seniors in their respective sports remains embedded on my memory bank.
Can you see Harith Iskander the comedian anywhere in this picture? Team skipper was Isham Hassan, brother of Zainal Abidin Hassan...Isham (with the ball) was known for his close control...front row, second from right is Preman, later assistant accountant at Wisma FAM
David Fernandez with the SJI football Under-18 team 1987. Right smack in the middle Sheldon Xavier, keeper when I was right-back of St John School One way back in 1982...Sheldon of course went on to become a football pundit. Back row, notice Hans Isaac? When the star of the team, David Hung, saw the overweight 14-year old Rizal Hashim attending the open trials, he said "wah gumuk pun mau main bola ka"...
Apart from being our PE master, Master Vincent was the voice of sports over the English channel. He had a soothing and distinctive voice perfect for commentary.
Hockey was his passion. The thrill of watching Master Vincent drill the seniors as they train and play on the pitch, winning and then having the school's name featured in the Malay Mail the following day fuelled my interest and passion. It was truly a privilege to watch S. Suriagandhi, St John Davies and Calvin Fernandez donning the green jersey of SJI before going on to represent the country at senior level.
Master Vincent (standing, extreme left), and Master Louis Rodrigues (extreme right)
SJI's array of titles in hockey
This set-piece, a brainchild of Master Vincent, was named the Johannian delight
When I bumped into Master Vincent covering events on a number of occasions in the mid-90s, I was too intimidated to introduce myself to him. Since I was an average student, no teacher would remember me! Even Badiozzaman could barely recall Kenit! Master Vincent and I often crossed paths, covering badminton tournaments at Stadium Negara, football matches at Stadium Merdeka and hockey events at Stadium Tun Razak but not once I told him that I was his student. Imagine standing before the teacher-cum-coach-cum-sports commentator, ah, not many could hold a candle to him! It was only when I joined the Malay Mail in 1996 that I plucked the courage to tell him that I was a Johannian. The NST sportswriting family then boasted old boys like Lazarus Rokk, younger brother of maths teacher-cum-football coach Kiru, national fencer Gerald Martinez, Malay Mail football coach Tony Mariadass and Faizul Azim Saiful. Then in 2009, SJI-VI organised the Rivalry Games, where I took the opportunity to snap a picture with Master Vincent. Read here
Tributes came pouring in from his students following Master Vincent's demise. One of them Jahabar Sadiq, several years my senior, a councillor prefect who used to tick us off for a lot of reasons. Read here
When producer Markus Lim invited me for Kerusi Panas over Bernama Radio, little did I know he was a Johannian. Read here
My ex-boss Tony Mariadass, a school footballer-turned-sports journalist-cum-coach, pays his tribute
Master Vincent was laid to rest at the Bukit Kiara cemetery, with hundreds of his students in attendance. Among the crowd was actor Hans Isaac, actor-comedian Reza Zainal Abidin, TV host Nazruddin Habibur Rahman and two neighbours of mine, Hisham and Hj Azmi, chairman of our residents' association who happens to be Cikgu Zabedah's cousin. I was standing beside Y.P Sivam as he interviewed Joshua. Read here
Sorry for this late tribute, Master Vincent, but better late than never.
"I'm taking bottles of medication," said master Vincent, referring to his illness, as Zaidi Barkis snapped this picture that I will cherish forever.
Preman, the school's football rightback in 1983 who later became assistant accountant at FA of Malaysia (FAM), said: "Master Vincent was forward thinking, do you know how he prepared the school teams from various sports - football, hockey, basketball, volleyball and rugby - in terms of physical fitness? Months before the schools tournament began, he made us come to school during the December holidays to train around the natural terrains surrounding Bukit Nanas. There were maybe 70 of us, running, jogging, hurting, puffing, climbing...I won't forget the pain one had to suffer in order to perform months later."
A friend on FB, a fellow Johannian, said Master Vincent was fond of reminding his students of the saying "your attitude determines your altitude." With the right attitude human beings can move mountains. The orientation of our minds determines how high we can fly. Master Vincent flew high indeed, as high up as an eagle can be, so high that he had helped his underlings flew higher. That's the hallmark of a great man.