Friday, December 30, 2022

Farewell The Greatest of All Time

I was dispatched to Singapore by the Malay Mail to meet Pele in December 2001. My biggest regret was that I have misplaced the picture with arguably the Greatest Footballer of All Time.

Below is the story ran by the Malay Mail in December 2001.


SOME sporting events are, well, just events. Meeting a sports figure acclaimed as the No 1 and the most celebrated in his chosen sport is a different story altogether.

It is, naturally, an event by itself. The eagerly awaited Press conference in the hub of Singapore, was scheduled at 2pm yesterday.

Pele, the maestro himself and in the middle of a hectic promotional tour as the Global Spokesperson of Mastercard International, emerged almost 20 minutes later, flanked by Ajay Bhalla, vice-president and Country Manager Singapore for MasterCard International, as well as two bodyguards.

In his second visit to our southern neighbours since 1974, Pele or Edson Arantes do Nascimento (he was named after Thomas Edison) clad in a dark blazer, needed no introduction. 

In the ensuing 50 minutes or so, Pele gave a few words, entertained questions from the floor before indulging in the routine autograph and photo opportunities for the media.

Some, perhaps, were awestruck by the presence of an individual whose popularity had astounded Robert Redford who remarked "Wow, man you're popular" after Pele gave dozens of autographs in New York while he was not asked for one. 

Questions, obviously, centred on the forthcoming World Cup in Japan- Korea in May 2002, Brazil (of course) to changes in FIFA which he described the world body having become more democratic since Sepp Blatter took over from Joao Havelange.

On Brazil's World Cup chances, Pele quipped: "I've done my job (referring to his three winners medals) ... but later voiced his optimism that his fellow countrymen would enter the last four under the stewardship of Felipe Scolari.

 On the first World Cup to be held in Asia, the 61-year old believed it would be an interesting affair not only because of the neutral ground (the Europeans and the Latin Americans share the same number of wins- eight) but also due to the presence of several debutants. 

"A lot of teams could surprise. If you noticed, almost 40 per cent of the teams that competed in France'98 will not be in Korea-Japan."

On the best player in the planet, Pele said: "(Zinedine) Zidane has been consistent for the past four or five years." 

He also mentioned Spain's Raul, Portugese idol Luis Figo and Argentine Juan Sebastian Veron. 

Asked about England's Michael Owen, Pele believed the Liverpool darling could walk into any team in the world. 

"I hold him in high regard." 

The question and answer session took 40 minutes. Pele was running short of time. The living legend had other commitments or maybe he just needed a rest. 

The Press quickly swarmed the former Brazilian Sport Minister. 

Interestingly, Pele signed a ball and without prior notice, offered it to whomever who could answer his question correctly. 

"How many goals did I score in my career?" Pele posed the question.

It caught many off-guard. But Wilfred Yeo was not one of them.

The veteran journalist and Straits Times sports columnist duly answered "1,283".

Someone shouted "one thousand" without being specific while the rest were reduced to being mere onlookers. 

Pele then gave Yeo the ball - with the black and white pentagon design similar to those used in the 1970 and 1974 World Cups, and a warm hug. 

Clearly the King never disappoints. One can always rely on his humility, which has always been one of his strong points.

Included in his two-day itinerary are visits to Singapore's National Kidney Foundation and the S-League Party at Planet Hollywood where he is scheduled to give away the awards - Best Cheerleading, Best Half-time performance and the Most Improved Fan Club. 

It was a unique occasion, one to frame and hang on the wall, and certainly not only for Yeo.

Farewell King.

The only picture from that trip was this...with a replica of the trophy Pele lifted on three occasions, though his contribution was limited in 1962.

Saturday, October 22, 2022

The days when R & D meant Rizal & Dhaliwal

BEFORE the world became consumed with Tik Tok and Instagram, Gen X like me and the rest of my fellow earthlings relied on mainstream media for our daily diet of news. Then came blogging.

Inspired by Rocky Bru’s socio-political blog which drew a large following beginning in 2006, yours truly jumped on the bandwagon in 2008. So did Satwant Singh Dhaliwal, a former colleague at the Malay Mail sports desk from 2001 to 2004.

Love him or hate him, Satwant’s now defunct blog enjoyed a wide following not only because of his controversial take on issues, or broadsides bordering on personal attacks against certain individuals but above all his exclusive interviews with big names such as Datuk Lee Chong Wei which were then picked up by the mainstream media. 

When Haresh Deol called me to break the sad news that Satwant had passed away on Friday the 14th of October, 17 days shy of his 60th birthday, I felt a profound sadness. For we were so close at one time that the late Datuk Sieh Kok Chi, the doyen of the Oympic Council of Malaysia (OCM), labelled us R&D, Rizal and Dhaliwal for our often opinionated, controversial and news-breaking approach.

Satwant remained an influential figure in Malaysian sports until the day he died.

For all his flaws and our differences, Satwant was a generous soul. Before joining the desk officially in 2001 ahead of the SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur, he would often dropped by at the office to offer food from his work place, the Royal Selangor Club. “Woi bodek ka” I used to utter to him.

Satwant was indeed a welcomed addition to the sports desk already reputed to be the best in the country. His knowledge on sports other than hockey on top of his experience in sports administration gave the desk a new dimension.

The desk was indeed the best in the country, without a shadow of a doubt, continuing a proud tradition of producing the best stories since the 1970s.

With Johnson Fernandez as the sports editor who was passionate about football and hockey as illustrated in his weekly column Game All in Sunday Mail, the desk churned out stories from a different angle.

After decades of serving the community as an afternoon paper, the Paper That Cares went regional in 2003. So we went head to head with the morning papers. But instead of the direct reporting style practised by the morning papers, The Malay Mail sports pages continued to be filled with human interest stories -  they tug at the heart and fog the mind!

The most senior writer then was Tony Mariadass, a qualified football coach who was also an expert in tenpin bowling. He succeeded Rajan Etickan as the sports editor at the tailend of Satwant's Malay Mail career.

From left Tony Mariadass, Mustapha Kamaruddin, Satwant, yours truly and Fariq

Mustapha Kamaruddin or Moose to everyone, was the main hockey and rugby writer, counting Volker Knapp and the late Tan Sri Zaman Khan among the victims of his criticism. His nom de plume, when he wears the Argentine hat, was El Loco.

Fariq Rahman was someone we fondly called Royal Reporter, for somehow he managed to enter the inner circle of the royalties, Pahang and Selangor especially, which gave him access to a lot of inside stories of the Malaysian national and Selangor football teams, apart from his contacts in squash, tennis and combat sports. 

Yours truly was focused on the Olympic Council of Malaysia (OCM), National Sports Council (NSC), Youth and Sports Ministry (KBS), FA of Malaysia (FAM), mainly on youth development, badminton, track and field, and less fancied sports such as shooting, weightlifting and archery which seldom hit the back pages.

Tony Yee, who was initially brought in from The Star to write for the footy magazine Football, later joined us and be put in charge of the badminton beat. 

Then Graig Nunis, brother of hockey legend Kevin, joined us from The Sun ahead of the 2001 SEA Games.

Before making his name as a critic and now owner of portal, Haresh began from the bottom, as a stringer-cum-law student tasked to cover schools at the desk and later joined us on a permanent basis, where he found good company in his contemporary Ghaz Ramli, who grew to become a motorsports expert and is now CEO of Badminton Association of Western Australia.

Satwant provided various angles and views on administration and management to a paper already established as a controversial tabloid. With the writers we had at the desk, we were guaranteed back page stories which were highly anticipated by the fraternity. Thanks to rewrite man Chan Wai Kong making us looked better than we actually were with his editing skills, we walked and talked as if we were God’s gift to Malaysian sports.

Satwant (standing, third from left in the background) with Fariq (second from left in the background) together with my siblings Kak Lin and Man plus my niece Aishah, sending off Khalid Redza (extreme right) and yours truly at the KLIA for an assignment - the Manchester Commonwealth Games 2002.

On good days, Fariq, Moose and myself would park ourselves at Satwant’s place in Bangsar just behind the office, drinking cans of Milo from his refrigerator, reportedly courtesy of his good office with Nestle, while discussing sports officials. There we used to poke fun at him because he had a car but could not drive. "You give your car to me la and we can make it the office car"!

Satwant’s articles usually drew a mixed reaction. We did not necessarily agree with his angles but that was the beauty of the paper then, that everyone was given the freedom to express our opinions, without fear or favour.

Tony Yee and Moose (in the backround) conspiring with yours truly to question Satwant's angle 

At the desk, dissenting views were encouraged. And of course, we agreed to disagree to such an extent that Satwant and I stopped talking to each other even if we were seated side by side. On other days, we either yelled at each other or be yelled at but ultimately we had fun.

I first knew Satwant him when he was a sports officer at Yayasan Negeri Sembilan (YNS), managing the sports activities under the foundation’s auspices. I was then attached to the Berita Harian sports desk, covering hockey as and when, third in the ranking behind V. Ashok and Norbakti Alias.

As the officer tasked to manage and coordinate the YNS side, he was exposed to the rigours of managing a high-performing team that featured virtually the who’s who in Malaysian hockey. 

With former Indian international captain and penalty corner specialist, Pargat Singh, former Malaysian skipper Sarjit Singh, Mirnawan Nawawi (Dato’), Arrifin Ghani, Soon Mustapha, Maninderjit Singh, St John Davis, Brian Jayhan Siva and S. Suriagandhi, Nor Azlan Bakar and K. Dharmaraj in the YNS stable, Satwant rose through the ranks as assistant and later team manager under the guidance of YNS director, Mustapha Kamil Mohammed.

YNS was ahead of their time, offering scholarships and monthly salaries to the team in the mid-90s to youngsters like Nasihin Nubli, Calvin Fernandez and M. Kaliswaran. Hockey was not their only raison d’etre. YNS had the vision to develop badminton and football through a scouting system then.

But it was hockey which put YNS on the forefront, reaching the pinnacle with a treble in 1996 at the end of the glorious year which turned out to be their last when Mustapha Kamil decided to quit, while Satwant joined the National Sports Council (NSC) as the hockey liaison officer.

After creating a huge impression with his write-ups and opinions, Satwant quit the Malay Mail in 2004 to join the then newly-minted Sports Minister, Dato’ Seri Azalina Othman Said as her special officer.  

Following the medal drought at the Athens Olympics, Azalina rang changes. After he was dissuaded by Datuk Seri Ibrahim Saad from lobbying for the Malaysian Hockey Federation (MHF) secretary’s post, Satwant was made the head of AsiaCom, a project initiated to establish the highest achievers among the elite athletes, while Ibrahim as chairman. 

As someone who had covered NSC since they were based at Stadium Negara, I realised much of NSC’s authority was usurped by Ibrahim and Satwant upon Azalina’s directive who wanted to create a parallel secretariat in order to undermine the NSC leadership. 

I continued to be critical of Azalina's policies, which irked Satwant as he had gone to the other side of the fence. Often we debated on a lot of issues, governance or otherwise, virtually putting our friendship at stake. 

But Satwant’s stint did not last long. Thanks to his connection with Khairy Jamaluddin, he was made the general secretary of UPB-MyTeam, in 2006. In 2007, Satwant was made the chief operating officer of MSL Sdn Bhd, FAM’s marketing arm, when Ibrahim was the FAM general secretary. 

There was no doubting Satwant’s access to the movers and shakers in the sports industry. He shook them into moving things and making decisions, right or wrong. He created a whatsapp group, inviting  the likes of Tan Sri Norza Zakaria, Datuk Hamidin Mohd Amin, the late Datuk Seri Zolkples Embong, Datuk Ong Kim Swee, Datuk S. Sivasundaram and Datuk Dr Ramlan Abdul Aziz to discuss sports on a daily basis.

Standing from left, Bazly, Haresh, loose cannon with whatever hair left, Balbir Singh and a family friend. Seated former hockey international K. Maheswari and Ramaguru. 

On the day of his funeral, I travelled to Tampin, to his late parents’ house, the same house I went to for a Deepavali do two decades ago. On my arrival, Stephen van Huizen, the YNS coach who later went on to become the national team coach, quickly recognised me and introduced me to his brothers Jusvir and Rejinder.

After paying my last respects, I was told by Jusvir that the house was renovated by Satwant. Jusvir who lived nearby was the first person to be called when Satwant collapsed while eating at the eatery just behind the house.

Later Haresh and missus Pearl Lee arrived, followed by Astro Arena's Bazly Azmi and former The Star hockey writer, S. Ramaguru. We were told the house continues to be a pit stop offering refreshments for anyone travelling through Tampin, a tradition started by Satwant's grandfather. 

Ramaguru and Tony Mariadass were perhaps Satwant’s two friends who stayed with him through thick and thin until his last breath.

Satwant's final official job was a media consultant at OCM. He loved to tell me that he had completed a rare distinction of having worked at at KBS, NSC, OCM, FAM and MSL - a feat that may never be matched by any of us in the Malay Mail sports desk or even the present group of sports administrators. 

Farewell Satwant, you made a mark in Malaysian sports. You will be missed.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Selamat Jalan Tokcik - legenda dunia penyiaran dan arena sukan


Semoga Allah SWT mengampuni dan merahmati roh Allahyarham Tuan Haji Amran Hamid, serta meringankan musibah keluarganya.

Pemergian Allahyarham Tuan Haji Amran, pada usia menghampiri 80 tahun tanggal 4 April 2020, meninggalkan kesan buat diriku.

Maklumlah, aku bersama Hafizal Hamad menikmati minum petang, dengan dijamu jus mangga buatan Aunty Jun pada Jun 2012, selain bertukar pendapat untuk beberapa tahun dari 2011 hingga 2017.

Kami berdua terpanggil menziarah Allahyarham, yang menggelar dirinya Tokcik, untuk serba sedikit mengutip ilmu dunia penyiaran daripada beliau.

Sebelum itu, aku berkomunikasi dengan Tokcik menerusi blognya dan juga ulasan-ulasan menerusi Facebook. Aku menghubunginya menerusi mesej dalam FB, memperkenalkan diri sebagai bekas wartawan The Malay Mail.

Lama sebelum itu, aku hanya wartawan cabuk, budak hingusan yang mengundi dalam mesyuarat Persatuan Penulis-penulis Sukan Malaysia (SAM) ketika Tokcik antara pucuk pimpinan.

Pertemuan kami pada hari itu pertengahan 2012 di kediamannya di Subang Jaya diiringi tekad untuk membuat ziarah susulan ke atas Tokcik pada bulan-bulan mendatang.

Topik yang kami bincang berkisar sekitar peranan kami selaku penyiar di Astro Arena.

Tidak lama kemudian, aku menerima jemputan perkahwinan anak Tokcik, tetapi agak malang pada hari itu, ditakdirkan kami tidak sempat bersua muka - beliau dimasukkan ke dalam hospital.

Kali terakhir aku berkesempatan beramah mesra seketika dengan Tokcik pada 2017 pada majlis perkahwinan anak Kadri Taib.

Generasi hari ini barangkali sedikit kerugian tidak mengenali Amran. Tahukah anda Allahyarham antara individu yang menyumbang kepada satu rekod dunia – RTM menjadi penyiar pertama menyiarkan kesemua 52 perlawanan Piala Dunia FIFA Mexico 1986?

“Jika ada pertindihan jadual, satu perlawanan disiarkan secara langsung, satu lagi disiarkan secara tertunda.

“Ketika itu rakyat dari negara jiran akan berduyun-duyun ke sempadan untuk menyaksikan perlawanan yang kami siarkan secara langsung,” kata Amran dalam satu temu bual dengan Daniel Chan, wartawan The Malay Mail, yang disiarkan pada 2002 sempena mengenang sumbangan RTM yang bergabung dengan akhbar itu untuk menyiarkan Piala Dunia 1982 atas tajaan rakyat.

Waktu itu Tokcik ketua unit sukan TV RTM yang baru diwujudkan atas inisiatif beliau. Tokcik seterusnya menyelia penyelarasan siaran Piala Dunia FIFA untuk edisi 1986, 1990 dan 1994.

Tokcik memulakan kerjayanya di Radio Malaysia pada 1963 dan membuat liputan pertama menerusi corong radio untuk final Piala HMS Malaya pada 1964.

Senarai liputan yang dilakukan Tokcik, yang juga rakan sekelas Datuk Rahim Razali, cukup mengagumkan. Anak jati Ipoh itu yang meminati hoki, kriket, ragbi dan bola sepak, membuat liputan luar negara antaranya:

Hoki Piala Dunia di Belanda 1973

Sukan Komanwel Christchurch 1974

Sukan Asia Teheran 1974

Sukan Olimpik Montreal 1976

Piala Dunia FIFA di Argentina 1978

Argentina meninggalkan kenangan manis buat Tokcik.

“Saya pengulas Bahasa Melayu pertama membuat ulasan secara langsung final 1978 dari Buenos Aires. Waktu itu RTM hanya menyiarkan perlawanan pembukaan, dua perlawanan separuh akhir dan final.”

Di sebalik tabir, Tokcik mendedahkan bahawa perbincangan beliau dengan Allahyarham Datuk Abu Bakar Daud yang juga Naib Presiden Persatuan Bolasepak Malaysia (FAM) di Buenos Aires membawa kepada format Piala Malaysia diubah berdasarkan liga sepusingan.

Sebelum itu, saingan Piala HMS Malaya, Piala Malaya dan Piala Malaysia semuanya dianjur mengikut format penyingkiran di peringkat zon.

Pada 1967 FAM memperkenalkan tiga zon, Utara, Selatan dan Pantai Timur, tetapi enam tahun kemudian, saingan Piala Malaysia dibahagikan kepada dua zon sahaja - Zon Utara yang menampilkan Pulau Pinang, Perlis, Kedah, Perak, Kelantan dan Angkatan Tentera dan Zon Selatan, ditandingi Melaka, Terengganu, Pahang, Negeri Sembilan, Johor.

Selaku dua gergasi dan pasukan pilihan, Selangor dan Singapura dipisahkan berpandukan mesyuarat jawatankuasa FAM setiap tahun.

Pada 1977, Piala Borneo secara rasminya dijadikan sebagai zon ketiga, membuka ruang kepada juara zon itu, Sabah, untuk menyertai Piala Malaysia untuk kali pertama pada 1978.

Musim sulung liga sepusingan diadakan dengan separuh akhir secara timbal balik. Edisi 1979 turut ditandingi Sarawak dan Brunei buat julung kali. Akhirnya edisi 1982 diiktiraf sebagai liga sulung secara rasmi yang dimenangi oleh Pulau Pinang.

“Beberapa dekad pasukan seperti Perlis, Kedah dan Johor tidak bertemu dalam Piala Malaysia , maka itu sebuah liga sepusingan menarik minat ramai kerana ia membabitkan pasukan dari seluruh pelosok negara,” kata Tokcik kepadaku.

Seperti yang Tokcik kongsikan dalam catatan blognya, kali pertama beliau diajak menonton perlawanan bola sepak Piala Malaya pada 1959 oleh Rahim yang bekerja sementara di Radio Malaya.

Empat tahun kemudian, Tokcik menyertai Radio Malaysia.

Apabila aku mencadangkan agar Anugerah SAM untuk kategori wartawan dinamakan sempena nama presiden pertama SAM, Norman Siebel, Tokcik meninggalkan ulasan di ruangan komen Facebookku.

Tokcik mengingatkan aku bahawa beliau bersama Allahyarham Zainuddin Bendahara antara yang menghidupkan semula SAM selepas lama tidak aktif.

Jasa Tokcik dalam dunia penyiaran dan arena sukan tidak tersenarai panjangnya.

Disebabkan peranannya yang menjadi bos atau penyelia di mana sahaja beliau pergi, sama ada di Pulau Pinang, Suara Malaysia, Ketua Perhubungan Awam RTM dan Pengarah TV, Tokcik mengenal pasti bakat untuk diasah menjadi penyiar.

Dari Pulau Pinang, muncul Jahaya Mahmud, di Johor ada Taroni Khalid, di Kuantan Hasbullah Awang, manakala Kelantan terkenal dengan Hussin Ibrahim dan Rahim Mohammad. Pembaca berita terkemuka, Allahyarham Datuk Hashim Embi turut mendapat asuhan Tokcik di Pulau Pinang.

Benarlah Tokcik berkongsi ilmu demi manfaat orang lain.

Sebab itu tindakan Majlis Olimpik Malaysia (MOM) menamakan Tokcik dalam Dewan Kemasyhuran MOM selaku ikon media adalah sesuatu yang wajar.

Dalam dunia digital yang hanya mengenali social media influencers dan watak-watak yang lebih dahagakan glamour daripada wibawa, nama Tokcik tenggelam dalam lipatan sejarah.

Namun bagi generasi pra-digital di saat radio menjadi wadah penghibur dan dua saluran RTM, iaitu TV1 dan TV2 sebagai medan penyalur maklumat sahih, Tokcik antara golongan pengamal media yang tiada tolok bandingnya. Al-Fatihah.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Bossku Mohd Zian Johari - sifu, mahaguru dan mentor

Aku teruja sungguh apabila terserempak dengan bek kiri Kuala Lumpur, Nazim Din, sedang berbekam di sekitar Chow Kit. Sebagai peminat bola sepak, aku kenal dia, walaupun duduk dalam keadaan terang-terang malam.

Berborak ringkas dengannya, aku tahu aku sudah dapat story. Berita sembilan perenggan yang bertajuk Nazim jalani rawatan tradisional tersiar dalam Berita Harian edisi 13 September, 1991. Ketika itu kami pelatih Skim Latihan Pra-Kewartawanan NSTP yang ditugaskan mencari bahan berita sekitar Kuala Lumpur sebagai latihan amali.

Bagaimana berita itu tersiar membawa aku kepada pertemuan sulungku dengan Allahyarham Mohd Zian Johari.

Balai Berita ketika itu sudah ada dua bangunan - bangunan lama dan baharu. Harian Metro sudahpun berpindah ke tingkat empat bangunan baharu, manakala meja sukan Berita Harian masih bergelumang dalam asap rokok dan stres di bangunan lama.

Selepas menyimpan berita dalam disket atau floppy disk berukuran 5 setengah inci, aku diarahkan oleh Nashruladin Abdul Rahman, ketua pengarang berita BH yang juga pensyarah kami, untuk berjumpa dengan Zian.

Aku sekadar dengar-dengar namanya sebagai bekas wartawan yang menjawat tugas pengarang sukan BH. Namanya yang unik, mesti orangnya unik, detik hatiku. Tapi aku tidak tahu rupanya bagaimana. Dengan tersipu-sipu, aku terpaksa tanya geng-geng di meja sukan yang mana satu Zian.

"Encik Zian, Haji Nash minta saya bagi story ni kepada Encik Zian," kata aku kepadanya.

"Story apa?"

"Story Nazim Din berbekam."

Dia senyum, lalu memanggil Norbakti Alias untuk memindahkan story aku ke dalam sistem. Itu juga detik pertemuan sulung aku dengan Bakti yang akhirnya menjadi pengarang sukan BH.

Pertemuan ringkas itu tidak terlalu signifikan. Yang lebih penting adalah usaha aku melobi untuk menyertai meja sukan sekalipun memulakan tugasan sebagai wartawan secara rasmi pada 1 Disember 1991 bersama meja am (berita) BH, Dua rakan sepelatih - Mohd Saufi Hamzah dan Munir Ana'am Zuljadan - beruntung dikirim ke meja sukan - unit yang aku impi-impikan.

Haji Bakti, Zian, aku dan Fariq Rahman bergambar kenangan sempena kenduri di rumahku pada 2 Disember, 2017.

Saturday, February 3, 2018


Berikutan tulisanku yang disiarkan dalam pada 23 Februari, 2016.

Kerjasama yang terjalin hasil cetusan ilham Astro Arena dengan Astro Digital Publications selaku penerbit menemui noktah menerusi edisi terakhir yang memaparkan muka depan 21 edisi terdahulu.

Di tengah-tengah kehangatan Liga M yang ditaja Astro di antara 2011 dan 2014, pengurusan Astro Arena dan Astro Digital Publications (Adpub) memikirkan sebuah majalah yang memberi liputan khusus untuk bola sepak tempatan cukup sesuai diterbitkan.

Perbincangan yang diadakan sekitar 2013 melebihi lima kali. Antara isunya sama ada diterbitkan dalam bentuk naskhah atau atas talian atau digital. Akhirnya terlaksana penerbitannya pada April 2014 dalam bentuk digital.

Asalnya jawatan pengarang majalah digital Arena ini ditawarkan kepada Norbakti Alias, bekas pengarang sukan Berita Harian. Namun dia menolak atas sebab-sebab tertentu dan akhirnya Datuk Hishamuddin Aun, penasihat Astro Arena yang juga pengarang urusan majalah digital Arena, mencadangkan nama penulis (selaku pengarang simpanan atau pilihan kedua) kepada Sree Pathmanaban, ketua pegawai operasi Adpub waktu itu.

Bagi penulis, ia cabaran baharu. Selaku wartawan akhbar tabloid, junior broadsheet kemudian menjadi blogger dan pengarang sisipan bola sepak EplX dan Rembat! di akhbar Kosmo, dunia digital satu proses yang semula jadi untuk melengkapkan pengalaman penulis.

Untuk edisi pertama yang menampilkan Badhri Radzi dan Khairul Fahmi Che Mat sebagai wajah muka depan, Lee Seng Foo yang juga pengarang urusan majalah Four-Four-Two meletakkan batu asas penerbitan majalah ini dan bertungkus-lumus berganding bahu dengan penulis Shazreeq Alhadi menyediakan keluaran sulung sambil dibimbing Hishamuddin.

Tanpa pengarang yang belum dilantik, panel editorial memilih Piya dan Apeks untuk menghiasi edisi pembukaan dan pengenalan arena, selain menyiapkan pelbagai ruangan seperti peminat selebriti, sepetang bersama, dapur atlet dan pilihan bulan ini yang menggabungkan elemen interaktif termasuk video, teks dan gambar slaid serta muka depan yang diselitkan animasi.

Peserta seni bela diri campuran atau mixed martial arts, Ann Osman atau nama pentasnya Athena menjadi penyeri muka depan yang disempurnakan oleh Seng Foo untuk keluaran kedua. Sedikit sebanyak inisiatif ini memasarkan sukan MMA ke mata masyarakat, sekecil mana sekalipun.

Penulis terbabit secara terus dengan keluaran ketiga yang menampilkan Edleen Ismail dan Beatrice Krishnan, dua rakan penyampai Astro Arena yang membincangkan bola sepak dari perspektif wanita sempena penganjuran Piala Dunia FIFA. Edisi ini turut memuatkan perancangan Felix Pietro untuk Astro Arena dan Reem Shahwa dari Astro SuperSport yang ditugaskan membuat liputan di Brazil.

Sazali Abdul Samad, kejayaan skuad aristokrat Pahang, Dollah Salleh dan penolongnya, skuad Malaysia Bawah 22 tahun, Farah Ann Hadi dan kakaknya Katrina Ann, Loh Zhiayi, Shalin Zulkifli dan Sin Li Jane, Irfan Shamshuddin serta Syaidatul Afifah Badrul Hamidi antara yang terpilih mewarnai muka depan arena.

Interviu eksklusif dengan Tengku Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah, selain dua serangkai tonggak ragbi negara, Dineshvaran Krishnan dan Syahir Asraf Rosli, atau masing-masing dikenali dengan nama gelaran Dugro dan Sahur, turut membawa kenangan tersendiri.

Sebenarnya tugas pengarang arena satu sinergi dengan tugas penulis di Astro Arena. Selaku hos bersama Kafe Sukan, penulis harus sentiasa mengemas kini maklumat dan perkembangan terbaharu dunia sukan tempatan.

Apabila pengurusan Astro Digital Publications memilih Jason Kang untuk menjadi pereka grafik tetap Arena, daya kreativitinya memberi nilai tambah kepada arena.

Terima kasih kepada jurufoto Ahmad Johanif Azman, jurukamera Ian Kirk dan Shahzuan Al Hadi serta abangnya Shazreeq yang menemu bual Andik Vermansyah untuk resipi ayam penyetnya dan Mohammad Rizal Razak, penyumbang tetap foto dan artikel.

Terima kasih juga kepada Sree yang sudah bersara dan ketua kandungan Adpub, Donald Cheah, yang memberi peluang kepada penulis untuk belajar dan belajar lagi dan semua penulis tetap dan sambilan yang menyumbang. Sehingga ketemu lagi! 

 Nota kaki: Arena merakamkan setinggi-tinggi terima kasih untuk semua atlet, jurulatih, penggiat sukan dan kakitangan Astro Arena dan Astro Digital Publications yang memberi kerjasama dalam menjayakan majalah ini.

Untuk edisi penutup, aku meyimpulkan setiap edisi satu persatu.

Kembara majalah digital Arena berakhir di sini.

Kerjasama yang terjalin hasil cetusan ilham Astro Arena dengan Astro Digital Publications selaku penerbit menemui noktah menerusi edisi terakhir ini. (Februari 2016). Sebagai mengimbau kenangan, arena untuk kali terakhir menghidangkan muka depan 21 edisi terdahulu sebagai tanda ingatan untuk pengikut setia.

Edisi sulung Muka depan: Badhri Radzi dan Khairul Fahmi Che Mat (bola sepak)

Tanpa seorang pengarang yang belum dilantik, Lee Seng Foo yang juga pengarang urusan majalah Four-Four-Two meletakkan batu asas penerbitan majalah ini dan bertungkus-lumus berganding bahu dengan penulis Shazreeq Alhadi sambil dibimbing pengarang urusan, Datuk Hishamuddin Aun. Panel editorial memilih Piya dan Apeks untuk menghiasi edisi pembukaan dan pengenalan arena, selain menyiapkan pelbagai ruangan yang menggabungkan elemen interaktif termasuk video, teks dan gambar slaid.

Edisi 2 Muka depan: Ann Osman (seni bela diri campuran)

Peserta seni bela diri campuran atau mixed martial arts, Ann Osman atau nama pentasnya Athena menjadi penyeri muka depan yang disempurnakan oleh Seng Foo. Sedikit sebanyak inisiatif ini memasarkan sukan MMA ke mata masyarakat, sekecil mana sekalipun.

Edisi 3 Muka depan: Edleen Ismail dan Beatrice Krishnan (penyampai Astro Arena 801)

Hasil buah tangan pertama pengarang Rizal Hashim dibantu Shazreeq, menampilkan Edleen Ismail dan Beatrice Krishnan sebagai dua wajah Astro Arena membincangkan bola sepak secara umum sempena penganjuran Piala Dunia FIFA. Edisi ini turut memuatkan perancangan Felix Pietro untuk Astro Arena dan Reem Shahwa dari Astro SuperSport yang ditugaskan membuat liputan di Brazil.

Edisi 4 Muka depan: Farah Ann Hadi (gimnastik artistik)

Ketika ditemu ramah untuk edisi keempat, Farah Ann Abdul Hadi baru pulih daripada kecederaan dan menjalani persiapan ke Sukan Komanwel di Glasgow.. Profesional dalam melayan pertanyaan dan temu janji krew arena di gimnasium di Majlis Sukan Negara (MSN), gimnas artistik jelita ini membuat beberapa rutin yang biasa untuk dirakam tetapi keberatan untuk melakukan pergerakan yang memerlukan pemantauan jurulatih. Kesudahannya kejayaan Farah Ann di Sukan SEA 2015 disusuli kontroversi, dengan sesetengah pihak mempertikai kaedah pemakaian atlet gimnas.

Edisi 5 Muka depan: Katrina Ann Hadi (renang berirama)

Disiplin renang berirama jarang-jarang dibicarakan, maka kami memutuskan Katrina Ann Abdul Hadi yang juga kakak Farah Ann untuk dijadikan penghias muka depan. Ditemani Tasha Jane Taher Ali untuk sesi temu bual dan rakaman foto di kolam di Pusat Akuatik Nasional di Bukit Jalil, Katrina berkongsi visi untuk layak ke Sukan Olimpik di Rio de Janeiro. Malangnya kini Katrina Ann tidak lagi bergelar atlet setelah mengumumkan persaraannya selepas memenangi pingat emas di Sukan SEA di Singapura tahun lalu atas sebab-sebab peribadi.

Edisi 6 Muka depan: Sazali Abdul Samad (bina badan)

Asalnya kami bercadang merakam aksi Sazali Abdul Samad di dapur, memasak makanan yang dihitung kalorinya sebagai gambaran disiplin yang diperlukan untuk membina otot-otot pejal yang banyak mengharumkan nama negara. Kesudahannya Sazali mengizinkan sesi fotografi di gimnasium di ISN di Bukit Jalil sambil melumurkan badannya dengan minyak, Menceritakan pengalaman di kampung sebelum berhijrah ke hutan batu, Sazali mengimbau pelbagai kenangan bersama arena. Walaupun kini menjalani hukuman gantung empat tahun gara-gara mengguna bahan terlarang, Sazali tetap wira di mata masyarakat. Untuk peminat selebriti pula, bekas penyampai Astro Arena, Azura Zainal, ditemu bual di gim miliknya bersama suami tercinta berasal dari Brazil, Ibrahim Cristiano Genuino da Silva. Zumba, capoeira dan yoga serta senaman bergelar Fit Combat adalah antara rutin harian Azura dalam mengekalkan susuk tubuh yang cergas. Azura dan suami melayan penggambaran krew Arena di Caboco, yang terletak di Zenith Corporate Park, SS7/26 di Kelana Jaya.

Edisi 7 Muka depan: Dollah Salleh (bola sepak)

Berikutan pelantikannya sebagai jurulatih skuad kebangsaan menggantikan Datuk K. Rajagobal, Dollah dipilih menjadi subjek utama edisi ketujuh bagi membincangkan hala tuju pasukan negara, dua bulan sebelum anak didiknya dibawa menyeberangi Tambak Johor untuk Piala AFF. Turut dirakam foto khas ialah tiga penolong Dollah - Reduan Abdullah, Omar Salim dan Wan Mustaffa Wan Ismail, dengan pengarah seni arena, Jason Kang, memikirkan konsep di Wima FAM. Turut ditonjolkan pendapat pakar dari Astro Arena mengenai prospek pasukan negara di Piala AFF. Malangnya tidak sampai setahun Dollah meletak jawatan setelah pasukan negara dibelasah 10-0 oleh Emiriyah Arab Bersatu (UAE) di Abu Dhabi dalam pra-Piala Dunia dan digantikan oleh Datuk Ong Kim Swee.

Edisi 8 Muka depan: Pahang (bola sepak)

Pahang muncul juara Piala Malaysia selepas menewaskan Johor Darul Ta’azim (JDT) dalam final yang ditentukan sepakan penalti di Stadium Nasional di Bukit Jalil. Sebagai satu penghormatan, arena memilih untuk menceritakan Pahang selaku pasukan aristokrat pertama di pentas tempatan, bermula selepas Sultan Ahmad Shah mengambil alih teraju Persatuan Bola Sepak Negeri Pahang (PBNP) daripada ayahandanya selaku presiden dengan memindahkan beberapa pemain yang bertugas di Penjara Taiping ke Kuantan dengan bantuan Ketua Pengarah Penjara waktu itu, Tan Sri Murad Ahmad.. Digandingkan dengan Jamal Nasir Ismail, Redzuan Shamsuddin, Hamidon Abdullah dan Rosmaini Mohd Shah, barisan Pahang antara yang disegani dalam saingan domestik, dengan kemaraan ke separuh akhir Piala Malaysia sebanyak tujuh kali - pada 1975, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1980, 1981 dan 1982. “Asas kejayaan Pahang hari ini sebenarnya berpunca daripada visi Sultan Ahmad Shah dan diteruskan oleh anakanda-anakanda Tuanku,” kata Ramli Mahmud. Skuad aristokrat ditandai pasukan 1983 yang menjulang Piala Malaysia pada 1983, Pasukan Impian 1992 sehingga kejayaan 2014. Artikel muka depan itu membawa kenangan manis kepada Rizal yang diisytihar pemenang keseluruhan Anugerah Penulis-penulis Sukan Malaysia (SAM) 2014. Edisi ini turut memuatkan kisah atlet seni bela diri campuran, Peter Davis dan Anugerah Bola Sepak Kebangsaan 2014.

Edisi 9 Muka depan: Shalin Zulkifli dan Sin Li Jane (bowling)

Sejak tampil di pentas tempatan pada usia 14 tahun pada 1992, Shalin Zulkifli telah banyak meninggalkan jasa untuk negara. Jadi siapa pengganti multak mahkota milik Shalin? arena memilih Sin Li Jane berasaskan keputusan yang dicatat di antara 2010 dan 2014. Dalam tempoh empat tahun, Li Jane melonjakkan permainannya dan terpilih menyarung jersi negara di peringkat senior di Sukan Asia Guangzhou pada 2010, dengan kenangan mengutip gangsa berpasukan. Di Sukan SEA di Palembang, Li Jane mengutip pingat perak individu dan gangsa berpasukan Seterusnya Li Jane mencipta sejarah, berganding bahu dengan Syafiq Ridhwan untuk merangkul Trofi Bent Peterson berdasarkan jatuhan pin terkumpul kategori lelaki dan wanita di Wroclaw, Poland pada 2012. Lebih manis buat Li Jane, trofi disampaikan oleh bekas presiden Poland, Lech Walesa.Sepanjang 2014, Li Jane mencatat keputusan cemerlang. Dia memenangi Kejohanan Kebangsaan pada April, disusuli Euro Med Masters (Mei), dan Terbuka Singapura, selain perak di Sukan Asia di Incheon dan tangga kedua di Piala Dunia QubicaAMF, sekali lagi di Wroclaw, Poland, November lalu. Rencana arena menyimpulkan kesediaan Shalin menyerah mahkotanya kepada Li Jane. Edisi ini turut memuatkan kisah bagaimana skuad bola sepak negara mengutip pingat gangsa Sukan Asia di Teheran pada 1974 sekalipun dilingkari isu penerbangan lewat, pemulauan terhadap jurulatih yang disudahi dengan setiap pemain diberi hadiah jam.

Edisi 10 Muka depan: Shukor Adan (bola sepak)

 Arena memberi penghormatan kepada kapten dan sumber inspirasi, Shukor Adan, yang membimbing pasukan negara muncul naib juara Piala AFF. Pada usia 35 tahun, Shukor mengawal benteng pertahanan dengan kental sekalipun tidak terdaya menghalang Chanathip Songkrasin dan rakan-rakan daripada menjulang gelaran. Hampir sebulan peminat tempatan dibuai keseronokan, dilanda kegelisahan, dihimpit kerisauan dan melompat kegembiraan dalam merasai debar dan getar untuk tujuh perlawanan membabitkan anak buah Dollah Salleh. Media arus perdana memilih sudut positif. Pejuang-pejuang papan kekunci membakar semangat, sambil membuat momokan terhadap sesetengah watak utama. Bermula dengan kontroversi pelantikan penolong jurulatih yang dipertikai banyak pihak, prestasi tidak menentu dalam perlawanan persahabatan, insiden kad merah, penyenaraian pemain senior yang mengundang cemuhan, insiden merokok di restoran mamak, hinggalah detik Safiq Rahim melencongkan sepakan percuma yang menggegar jaring - gol dari situasi sedemikian yang pertama untuknya sejak menentang Laos pada edisi 2012 - Harimau Malaya melakar skrip yang sukar dilupakan. Ia bukan skrip cerita dongeng. Ia catatan perjalanan pasukan negara sepanjang kempen Piala AFF Suzuki 2014. Kesudahan yang diimpikan, malangnya, tidak seindah ceritera yang berakhir dengan nota kemenangan. Sekalipun merakam kemenangan 3-2 ke atas barisan Thailand pada malam final kedua di Stadium Nasional, Bukit Jalil, tanggal 20 Disember 2014, Piala AFF yang menjadi kebanggaan bola sepak Asia Tenggara terlepas ke Bangkok. Untuk sebahagian besar permainan, barisan Harimau Malaysia memberi gambaran seolah-olah bola sepak Malaysia dalam keadaan yang sihat wal afiat. Tujuh pertembungan sehingga ke final turut dipaparkan.

Edisi 11 Muka depan: Previu Liga Super (bola sepak)

Dengan purata perbelanjaan pasukan untuk semusim meningkat sehingga RM20 juta setahun, apakah pemain tempatan bersedia bersaing? Apakah pemain asing terus mendominasi tajuk berita? Apakah gaji tinggi pemain berbaloi dengan sumbangan di atas padang? Di sebalik kemeriahan liga yang dinanti-nantikan, di manakah hala tuju pasukan negara yang berdepan pelbagai cabaran - kelayakan Piala Asia Bawah 23 tahun, Sukan SEA di Singapura, pra-Piala Dunia untuk skuad senior dan saingan pra-Olimpik? FAM dalam situasi kalah-kalah sebenarnya. Kemeriahan Liga Super tidak akan menebus duka ini. Tujuh pasukan negeri, sebuah wakil negara jiran, dua agensi kerajaan dan dua firma gergasi berkaitan kerajaan (GLC) mewarnai Liga Super musim 2015 manakala Liga Perdana disertai enam pasukan negeri, satu institusi pendidikan tinggi, sebuah agensi kerajaan, dua agensi sukan negeri, satu pasukan daerah dan sebuah syarikat swasta. Jumlah pasukan yang mewarnai kedua-dua liga ini harus menambah kehangatan saingan. Namun kesudahannya, apakah kualiti permainan yang ditagih agar Dollah Salleh, Datuk Ong Kim Swee dan Razip Ismail mempunyai kelompok pemain yang boleh diketengahkan. Begitulah previu Liga M arena edisi 11.

Edisi 12 Muka depan: Razip Ismail, Farhan Abu Bakar, Nazirul Naim Che Hashim dan Syahrul Azwari Ibrahim (bola sepak)

Untuk edis ke-12, kami memilih menonjolkan skuad Bawah 22 tahun yang bersiap menghadapi Kelayakan Piala Asia Bawah 23 tahun. Gambar dirakam sehari sebelum mereka berlepas ke Dhaka, sudahnya mereka muncul juara Piala Bangabandhu. Profil Farhan Abu Bakar, Nazirul Naim Che Hashim dan Syahrul Azwari Ibrahim turut diterbitkan sambil membincangkan tiga isi besar untuk sekelompok anak muda yang dipikul sepanjang 2015 menjadi penanda aras sama ada mereka wajar atau tidak diangkat selaku peneraju nama negara untuk lima tahun akan datang. Liga Singapura, kelayakan Piala Asia Bawah 23 tahun dan Sukan SEA di Singapura mencabar kewibawaan program Harimau Muda yang dijangka dimansuhkan sesudah ini, keputusan yang dipersetujui jawatankuasa teknikal FAM dan pengarah teknikal, Fritz Schmid. Menerusi prrogram Harimau Muda di Sekolah Sukan Bukit Jalil (SSBJ) dan Sekolah Sukan Tengku Mahkota Ismail (SSTMI), lahirlah nama-nama seperti Irfan Fazail, Fadhli Shas, Wan Zack Haikal Wan Noor dan Izham Tarmizi Roslan yang lahir pada 1991. Bagi mengenang pemergian pengulas tersohor, Datuk Hasbullah Awang, arena memuatkan belasungkawa nukilan Hafizal Hamad.

Edisi 13 Muka depan: Loh Zhiayi (terjun)

Umpama terbitnya sinar matahari di celah-celah kabus pagi, Loh Zhiayi tampil sebagai produk terbaharu dari kilang yang melahirkan pakar terjun negara. Gadis cilik yang berasal dari Taiping itu meraih dua pingat di Sukan Olimpik Remaja pada Ogos 2014, perak dalam acara 10 meter platform disusuli gangsa 3m papan anjal dua hari kemudian. Sepuluh hari selepas ulang tahun kelahirannya yang ke-17, Zhiayi mengutip 450.65 mata untuk menduduki tangga kedua acara 10m platform, ketinggalan kepada Wu Shenping dari China yang menggondol emas dengan mengumpul 526.20 mata. Tangga ketiga milik Alejandra Orozco dari Mexico. Dua hari kemudian, dalam acara papan anjal yang menuntut lonjakan daripada kekuatan betis bagi membuka ruang untuk menyempurnakan rutin, Zhiayi meraih gangsa. Mengumpul 446.70 mata, Zhiayi menduduki tangga ketiga di belakang Shengping (492.05) dan Ganna Krasnoshlyk dari Ukraine (459.10). Dua pingat Zhiayi itu penting dalam menceritakan potensinya yang dikongsi arena sebagai penghias muka depan edisi ke-13.

Edisi 14 Muka depan: S. Balachandran, Hadi Fayyadh Abdul Razak dan Adam Zairi Fitri Zaini

Atas sebidang tanah yang dahulunya berstatus pertanian, satu impian besar disemai. Sekelompok anak muda dihimpun di satu kawasan di Janda Baik untuk diberi biasiswa latihan dan pendidikan formal dalam membentuk mereka menjadi pemain bola sepak berkaliber. Benih yang disemai harus tumbuh menjadi pohon membekalkan hasilnya. Krew Arena yang diketuai pengarang, Rizal Hashim, ditemani jurufoto Ahmad Johanif Azman dan juruvideo Shahzuan Al Hadi, dibawa meninjau kemudahan Akademi Frenz United di Janda Baik dan pulang membawa kisah jurulatih S. Balanchandran, penyerang Hadi Fayyadh Abdul Razak dan penjaga gol, Adam Zairi Fitri Zaini.

Edisi 15 Muka depan: Irfan Shamshuddin (olahraga)

Bertubuh sasa tetapi atletik, Muhammad Irfan Shamshuddin adalah produk ekosistem yang mengutamakan sukan. Hampir dua dekad jantungnya berdegup dalam mengharungi rentak kehidupan, anak muda ini menjalani satu metamorfosis - bermula dengan golf, renang dan ragbi sebelum namanya dikenali menerusi acara lempar cakera. Krew arena mengambil masa hampir tiga jam mendapatkan sudut dan konsep terbaik, dengan meminta Irfan memakai jersi ragbi dan baju olahraga untuk disesuaikan sebagai muka depan. Daya kreativiti Jason selaku pengarah kreatif arena memungkinkan Irfan dilihat menjalani proses metamorfosis daripada ragbi kepada olahraga. Lokasi di padang Majlis Sukan Negara yang menjadi gelanggang latihan pemanah negara.

Edisi 16 Muka depan: Tengku Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah (bola sepak)

Hampir setahun selepas mengambil alih kemudi Persatuan Bola Sepak Malaysia (FAM) daripada ayahandanya, Tengku Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah memenangi kerusi sebagai ahli jawatankuasa eksekutif FIFA dalam pemilihan yang diadakan Kongres AFC di Bahrain. Namun penghormatan memasuki kelab elit itu tidak menjamin kejayaan buat Tengku Abdullah di pentas tempatan. Sebab itu arena menemu bual secara eksklusif tokoh yang mengisi kerusi empuk paling panas dalam sukan negara menerusi rencana soal jawab. Malangnya tidak lama selepas itu pasukan negara diaibkan 10-0 oleh UAE mengakibatkan Tengku Abdullah hilang semangat untuk meneruskan tugas.

Edisi 17 Muka depan: Dineshvaran Krishnan dan Mohd Syahir Asraf Rosli (ragbi)

Dunia ragbi jauh lebih kecil dan kelompok pemainnya juga tidak semasyhur bintang-bintang bola sepak yang menikmati hidup mewah dalam satu industri yang dijana siaran televisyen dan hak komersial. Namun ragbi di Malaysia sedang menuju ke arah pengkomersialan. Jadi arena memutuskan menampilkan dua pemain yang harus diangkat menjadi ikon untuk ragbi negara berbeza dari segi penampilan, susuk tubuh dan latar belakang. Dineshvaran Krishnan kini berkelana ke Jepun, membawa nama Malaysia dengan menyarung jersi juara liga Jepun, Yamaha Jubilo, manakala Mohd Syahir Asraf Rosli adalah kapten negara yang melalui sistem sukan tempatan untuk muncul sebagai pemain disegani. Kemunculan dua ikon generasi baharu ini seiring dengan ledakan teknologi maklumat, tanpa perlu bergantung kepada cara konvensional dalam melonjakkan nama ragbi.

Edisi 18 Muka depan: Grafik previu Piala Malaysia

DI tengah-tengah jerebu yang melanda bola sepak negara, edisi ke-89 Piala Malaysia tampil sesudah aib besar terpalit. Malaysia dibelasah 10-0 oleh UAE dan Piala Malaysia dianggap medan menebus kecewa. Dengan kejayaan mempertahankan gelaran Liga Super, JDT dianggap pasukan pilihan untuk mara ke final sekali lagi tetapi tiga serangkai Pantai Timur - Pahang, Terengganu dan Kelantan - menampakkan kesungguhan menyentuh puncak prestasi pada penghujung musim. Soalnya jika Piala Malaysia diraikan, mengapa aib 10-0 boleh berlaku? Antara persoalan yang dibentangkan oleh arena dalam menyorot 16 pasukan yang memburu kegemilangan Piala Malaysia.

Edisi 19 Muka depan: Faizal Ramli (muay thai)

Tidak ramai yang mengingati Faizal Ramli sebagai antara penyumbang 43 pingat emas untuk kontinjen negara di Sukan SEA di Nay Pi Taw pada 2013. Bahkan kemenangannya dalam kategori 75kg menjamin pingat emas terakhir buat Malaysia tanggal 22 Disember 2013. Hanya seketika namanya berada dalam radar sukan negara, apabila aksinya melenyapkan laungan sokongan 5,000 penonton yang menyemarakkan semangat Aung Myint Win. Dua tahun sebelum sejarah dicipta di stadium tertutup Wunna Theikdi itu, Faizal antara watak dalam musim kedua program realiti di saluran televisyen AXN, Contender Asia, yang dipancarkan ke 50 negara. Faizal yang menewaskan lawannya, Abdul Alif Mohd Zulkifli, pada proses pemilihan di Kelantan, bersama juara Ultimate Warrior 2007, Bernard Radin, 37, dari Sarawak mewakili Malaysia dalam acara itu yang membabitkan 16 peserta seluruh dunia. Rancangan itui bukan saja memaparkan unsur seni mempertahankan diri, malah menyediakan cabaran, emosi, inspirasi dan motivasi. Senjata utamanya dalam bertarung ialah menyiku lawan, maka tercetuslah gelaran Golden Elbow atau siku emas untuk anak jati Kampung Gong Kua, Pasir Puteh, Kelantan itu. “Tapi untuk bertarung, saya biasa buka langkah dengan mengukir senyuman,” katanya. Begitulah kesimpulan muka depan edisi ke-19 arena.

Edisi 20 Muka depan: Lakaran Generasi 2020 (bola sepak)

Dalam bola sepak, ramalan tidak semestinya menjadi realiti. Namun berasaskan prestasi semasa, latar belakang dan susur galur kerjaya mereka, beberapa remaja sudah mencipta nama sebagai bintang dalam pembikinan. Andainya bakat mereka digilap dan diurus dengan profesional sambil mengambil kira perkembangan fizikal masing-masing, kelompok pemain berusia 15 hingga 19 tahun ini harus mewarnai saingan tempatan dalam dekad akan datang. Arena menampilkan tonggak kepada generasi 2020 dengan menyentuh potensi pemain dari Pelan Pembangunan Bola Sepak Negara (PPBN) atau NFDP yang dijana Kementerian Belia dan Sukan (KBS), program elit di peringkat sekolah sukan di Gambang, Bukit Jalil dan Bandar Penawar selain sekolah sukan negeri seluruh negara yang menyalakan sebuah fantasi - bahawa kecemerlangan melangkaui rantau Asia Tenggara bukan sekadar impian pada masa akan datang.

Edisi 21 Muka depan: Syaidatul Afifah Badrul Hamidi (bowling)

“Karakter saya gila-gila,” kata gadis manis ini membuka bicara. Ramah menjawab pelbagai soalan, khususnya mengenai perwatakannya, Syaidatul Afifah Badrul Hamidi rileks dan bersahaja melayan kerenah krew Arena. Sudah lama nama Afifah dicadangkan oleh pengarang urusan, Datuk Hishamuddin Aun, untuk menjadi penghias muka depan Arena tetapi hanya sekitar Oktober tahun lalu kesempatan itu terhidang. Menghadirkan diri ke studio Astro Digital Publications di Sri Kembangan, tidak jauh dari Institut Sukan Negara (ISN) yang Afifah singgah untuk proses rehabilitasi, gadis berusia 24 tahun ini rupa-rupanya lebih tinggi daripada pengarang arena, Rizal Hashim. Afifah menjadi tumpuan bukan saja kerana kemahirannya melontarkan bola di lorong-lorong bowling. Dia juga dianggap antara jelitawan dalam kalangan atlet. Akhirnya Afifah menjadi penghias wajah penutup tirai arena yang bertahan hampir dua tahun.

Nota kaki: arena merakamkan setinggi-tinggi terima kasih untuk semua atlet, jurulatih, penggiat sukan dan kakitangan Astro Arena dan Astro Digital Publications yang memberi kerjasama dalam menjayakan majalah ini.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017


IT is time to bury the ghosts of 2001. With N. Thanabalan on a hot streak, it is likely to happen! As a journalist with the Malay Mail the last time Kuala Lumpur hosted the SEA Games 16 years ago, I could recall moments before and after the final at Shah Alam Stadium on September 15.

My preview for The Malay Mail - Saturday, Sept 15, 2001

A DECADE full of heartaches, disappointments and bitter memories could well be cast aside at the end of tonight's SEA Games soccer final between Malaysia and Thailand.

For Malaysian soccer has gone through a roller-coaster ride, and mostly on a downward curve, over the years. The road to redemption is only 90 minutes away and it begins at Shah Alam Stadium.

For the first time ever, the Games is restricted to the Under-23, a decision which appears to have favoured the home team who have shown potential beyond their average age of 20.7.

Despite being one of the youngest teams in the Games, the Malaysian team led by fisherman Hairuddin Omar, have done enough to attract the fans back, as evident in the semifinals when the stadium was packed to the brim, something not seen for a long time.

One such scene was the final in 1989, held at the Merdeka Stadium on Merdeka Day. A crowd of over 40,000 spectators witnessed a thrilling match. Borhan Abu Samah scored an own goal before Lim Teong Kim and Dollah Salleh added salt into the Lions' wounds to ensure Malaysia's fourth soccer gold in the SEA Games series.

Ten years earlier in Jakarta, newly-wed Mokhtar Dahari struck in the 16th minute for the solitary goal, two years after Bakri Ibni and Mokhtar delivered the killer blows against Thailand in Kuala Lumpur.

Forty years ago in Rangoon, Burma succumbed in their own backyard to goals from Mahat Ambu and Abdul Ghani Minhat, now Datuk Abdul Ghani.

A fifth gold medal would extinguish all the bitter memories of recent times and consign the defeats to the Philippines (0-1) in 1991 and Laos, also by the same margin in 1997 in addition to the 6-0 debacle against Indonesia in Brunei'99, into the scrapheap.

Tonight's clash could be an evenly contested one. Both sets of players have a well-balanced squad, with emphasis on a strong offensive line-up.

While Malaysia have Kedah-born and former sprinter Akmal Rizal Ahmad Rakhli, Hairuddin and Nizaruddin Yusof firing the ammunition, Thailand look towards the fleet-footed Manit Noyvach and London-based Teerathep Vinothai.

Allan Harris' charges have the tendency to fumble in front of goal after a promising build-up, mostly bypassing midfield as opposed to Thailand's ability to attack in numbers through the middle.

Malaysia last came close to a title in 1996 in the Tiger Cup, losing 1-0 to Thailand to a Kiatisuk Senamuang's strike. For that, we are fond of harping on the 1989 squad whose coach was an Englishman, Trevor John Hartley. Englishman Harris' middle name, mind you, is also John.

The similarity might not end there by the end of the night.

Previous final wins 1961 (Rangoon) Malaysia 2 Berma (then Burma) 0
1977 (Kuala Lumpur) Malaysia 2 Thailand 0
1979 (Jakarta) Malaysia 1 Indonesia 0
1989 (Kuala Lumpur) Malaysia 3 Singapore 1

Malaysia's likely line-up

KAMARULZAMAN HASSAN The Penang keeper and current No 1 in the country has been outstanding throughout the tourney and is likely to be kept busy by the Thai forwards, especially Manit Noyvach.

REZUAN RADZY The former Under-19 skipper has made the slot his property at the expense of the more experienced S. Jayaprakash. One of three Jitra boys in the team, Rezuan or Demang to his friends, hits penetrative passes from the flanks.

IRWAN FADZLI IDRUS One of several free-kick specialists in the side, Jitra-born Irwan combines grit and skill on the left flank.

KAIRONNISAM SAHABUDIN HUSSAIN The Perlis forward-turned-defender came in the second half against Indonesia in the preliminary rounds and his composure has allowed Allan Harris to push Norhafiz Zamani Misbah further upfield. Doubtful due to an ankle injury but likely to start.

NIZAM JAMIL Younger brother of the late Zaid Jamil, Nizam lacks technique but compensates for that with his man-marking ability and well-timed tackles. The Selangor defender scored against Vietnam.

MUHAMMAD SHUKOR ADAN The Malaccan-born midfielder is a bit temperamental but the 22-year-old provides a steadying influence in the engine room.

NORHAFIZ ZAMANI MISBAH The first-choice central defender who made his international debut at rightback in March, is equally adept in midfield and has shown maturity beyond his years. Will have his work cut out against his Thai counterparts.

HAIRUDDIN OMAR Team captain who has been utilised on the right flank to accommodate Nizaruddin Yusof as the target man. Noted for his gutsy displays and aerial prowess.

INDRA PUTRA MAHAYUDDIN An intelligent player with a languid style, Perak player Indra loves to attack the flank. Scored Malaysia's first goal in the current campaign in the 5-0 win over Brunei.

MOHD NIZARUDDIN YUSOF Nizaruddin is built like a boxer but possesses a delicate touch. A key figure in attack with his constant running and killer passes, the Selangor striker would love to add to his two-goal tally in his own backyard.

AKMAL RIZAL AHMAD RAKHLI The former district-level sprinter who is eyeing a trial in France or Switzerland, has five goals to his name despite nursing an ankle injury. Much hinges on the Jitra boy's ability to strike. 

My report for The Malay Mail - Monday, Sept 17, 2001

PENANG goalkeeper Kamarulzaman Hassan (right) was desperate to cap the year with a fine SEA Games performance. It was not to be.

Make no mistake, the Negri Sembilan-born custodian, widely acknowledged as the current No 1 in the country, was THE keeper throughout the Games.

Performing acrobatics and showing a pair of steady hands, Kamarulzaman or Ayoi to his friends, was instrumental in the Under-23 team's march to the final. Until that single moment of catastrophic blunder on a wet Saturday night.

For that blunder, the only blot in his almost flawless displays from Day 1 in the 5-0 victory over Brunei, Malaysia lost the much sought after gold medal the whole nation had waited since 1989.

It was Malaysia's fifth silver medal in football, and the nation's third defeat to Thailand after the 1975 and 1981 losses. The 22-year-old, was, of course, speechless after the match on Saturday. Up to that point, he had conceded only one goal, to Maman's header during the crucial group clash with Indonesia last week.

His decision to somehow dive and spread his legs to deal with Thai right wingback Sarawut Treephan's harmless cross when the opposing strikers were nowhere near him, was poor judgement. 

A goalkeeper of his experience, having tasted international action since he was handpicked by Hatem Souissi and Mandiaty Fall to man the net during the Asian Under-19 qualifiers in 1998, should have known better.

You simply do not do that, especially when extra-time beckoned. Some section of the crowd made their feelings known as gloom descended upon Shah Alam.

Itu keeper tak payah kasi pingat ... was heard during the medal giving ceremony graced by the Sports Minister, Datuk Hishammuddin Hussein. Teary-eyed while walking towards the team bus to ferry them back to the hotel in Subang, Kamarulzaman was a broken man. He did not utter a single word, dragging his feet to take the bus.

Deep inside, Kamarulzaman must have realised his name would go into the record books for the wrong reasons. 

Because of him, Malaysia ended up with silver. But let us forgive Kamarulzaman in the same manner coach Allan Harris decided to give him a second chance after he was dropped for breaking curfew prior to the pre-World Cup campaign in March.

Kamarulzaman's services are badly required, with the Tiger Cup and the Asian Games next year in mind. Like quartermiler Zaiful Zainal Abidin who lost the men's 400m race despite being ranked No 1 with his 46.41sec, Kamarulzaman must pick himself up.

He is after all earmarked for a stint in Germany soon. Success is getting up just one more time than you fall down. Failure is the opportunity to begin again, more intelligently.

My personal take, an individual analysis on the squad members. Report appeared in The Malay Mail Sept 19, 2001.

KAMARULZAMAN HASSAN (Age: 22, Penang) The Negri Sembilan-born keeper hardly put a foot wrong until that moment when he decided to spread his right leg to deal with Sarawut Treephan's harmless-looking waist-high cross, inadvertently guiding the ball into his own net to hand the gold medal to the Thais.

SYAMSURI MUSTAFA (20, Terengganu) A first-choice in the national Under-19 team last year, Syamsuri made his international debut by stopping a penalty against Palestine in the pre-World Cup in March but Kamarulzaman's form forced him to merely warm the bench throughout the Games.

REZUAN RADZY (20, Kedah JKR) Nicknamed Demang, the former Under-19 skipper made the rightback slot his own after replacing the temperamental Aziz Ismail against Brunei. Appeared shaky at first but grew confident with each match.

AZIZ ISMAIL (20, Penang) A defender who impressed observers in the Merdeka Tournament, his only notable contribution for the team was the flare-up near the touchline which resulted in Shukor Adan's sending off against Brunei. He never saw another minute of action.

IRWAN FADZLI IDRUS (20, Kedah) Leftback Irwan curled in a memorable winning goal off a trademark free- kick against Indonesia in the crucial group clash. A similar effort struck the bar in the final against Thailand. Steady and reliable left foot.

S. JAYAPRAKASH (22, Selangor) Despite being the most experienced defender in the team, Jayaprakash was only utilised as a second half substitute to Kaironnisam Sahabudin Hussain in the semifinal clash against Myanmar.

MARZUKI YUSOF (20, Terengganu) A first-choice defender for the Under-19 last year but a midfielder in Terengganu's good start to the season, Marzuki seemed to have lost the coaches' trust, possibly due to his tendency to leave his position.

NIZAM JAMIL (22, Selangor) Younger brother of the late Zaid Jamil, Nizam makes up for his poor technique on the floor with well-timed tackles and tight-marking ability. Scored the first goal against Vietnam in the last group match.

KAIRONNISAM SAHABUDIN HUSSAIN (22, Perlis) The forward-turned-defender was perhaps the find of the team, comfortably filling in the void in the centre of defence left by Norhafiz Zamani Misbah who was pushed upfield in the match against Indonesia. There was no turning back for the only player in the team who has settled down.

NORHAFIZ ZAMANI MISBAH (20, Negri Sembilan) The Malaccan-born proved to be equally adept in defence and in midfield, but the young international showed the tendency of overdoing things when passing was the better option.

SYAIFUL SABTU (20, Negri Sembilan) Syaiful was reduced to the role of a substitute as his game is similar to Juzaili's. Good shot, tireless worker but lacks the ability to impose his authority.

JUZAILI SAMION (20, Pahang) The former France-based midfielder is admired for his high work rate but needs to polish his finishing and distribution apart from his tendency to pass back rather than look for an opening upfront.

SHUKOR ADAN (22, Negri Sembilan) The temperamental Malaccan-born midfielder who was looked upon as the brains of the team, played below par throughout the Games, probably affected by the sending-off against Brunei.

K. RAJAN (20, Negri Sembilan) The right flanker shocked Thailand with a well-taken free-kick in the Merdeka Tournament but there was not to be another magical piece of finishing in the Games. Known for his direct running, Rajan sadly froze when he came in for Nizaruddin in the final.

SUBRI SULONG (22, Terengganu) A midfelder who shone during the Merdeka Tournament, Subri lost his place prior to the Games. Twice made appearances as a substitute, coming in for the ineffective Rajan in the final immediately after the blunder by Kamarulzaman in a futile bid to equalise.

INDRA PUTRA MAHAYUDDIN (20, Perak) A player with a languid style, Indra proved to be an intelligent left flanker who supported the front two quite well but sometimes a bit too casual in his approach. Scored the opening goal in the campaign against Brunei.

AKMAL RIZAL AHMAD RAKHLI (20, Kedah) Akmal's emerged as the team's top-scorer with five goals, blasting in a hattrick against Brunei, a penalty against Indonesia and the second against Vietnam. The former Strasbourg trainee now has topped the team's scoring charts in three major assignments, following his seven goals in the pre-Olympics (1999) and four in the pre-World Cup (March 2001).

NIZARUDDIN YUSOF (22, Selangor) Nizaruddin is the workhorse in the strikeforce, working overtime as the target man with his bustling style and non-stop running. Scored two goals - one against Brunei and the solitary strike against Myanmar which led Malaysia to the final.

RUDIE RAMLI (19, Selangor) The former Germany-based player is the youngest member of the team but he did not see any action.

HAIRUDDIN OMAR (22, Terengganu) Team captain and part-time fisherman who somehow was not his usual commanding self playing on the right flank. More was expected of Hairuddin but perhaps he is better off as the target man.

So where are they now?

Read Four-Four-Two 2001 silver medallists - where are they now