Friday, September 28, 2012

Raja Bola is no more

When the rest of us were playing football barefooted, there was this one lad who came well-equipped. He had a pair of boots on! He stood out for being very different from the rest.

Ah, what a show-off, some would say. That's the Malaysian psyche those days. Especially among 11-year olds.

But Nik Abdul Halim Abdul Ghani is and was in the province of the privileged. He had footballing pedigree in his blood.

One day I saw his father picking him up.

"Eh that's looks like Ghani Minhat." Yes, having made the newspapers and sports magazines as my regular reading diet, I could instantly recognise him although he was no longer hitting the headlines in the 80s.
No wonder his son came attired in full-gear. It was meant to instill a sense of professionalism at such a young age.

The moment Fariq Rahman called me to inform of Tan Sri Abdul Ghani Minhat's passing this morning, the first number I dialled was that of Nik Abdul Halim. He did not respond, understandably so as he is the eldest son tasked to make the necessary arrangements for his father's final journey. To Nik and family, please accept my deepest condolences.

Never did I imagine being able to be face to face with Raja Bola whom I've had the pleasure of interviewing numerous times. One of them resulted in this piece below, which appeared in the Malay Mail in 2005:

HE remains Raja Bola to many.

To most of his South Korean contemporaries, he was known as Khani. Mailsport's RIZAL HASHIM catches up with legendary Datuk Abdul Ghani Minhat, a Negri Sembilan-born football wizard who weaved his magic with Selangor.

Mailsport: How are you Datuk?

Ghani Minhat: I'm fine. A little bit busy because my electrical company has a deadline to meet.

MS: Do you still keep abreast with football?

GM: Of course, but mostly on the telly. However, as I'm in the Negri Sembilan team management committee, I have been to a few matches including the Premier League final against Selangor.

MS: I believe 1959 was a very significant year for you. First you were bestowed the title Raja Bola by Selangor, and later you were voted by the Sunday Mail readers as the Sportsman of the Year in the biggest ever national sports poll by any Malayan newspaper then (second was sprinter Datuk Shahruddin Ali, followed by footballer Robert Choe).

GM: Yes, but that year also there was a smear campaign against me. I was dropped by the FA of Selangor because I was made the scapegoat due to the team's dip in form. Despite all the honours and adulation, one man does not make a team.

MS: Tell us about your early days.

GM: I did not come from a family of footballers. I played very little organised football until I was invited to play for the Police Depot team in 1951. My father was a staff at the Police Depot at Gurney Road (now Jalan Semarak) and I guess my talent was spotted while kicking a ball around with other youngsters. But I think I had managed to stamp my mark at school level. I can recall back in 1949 when I was representing the Selangor Combined Schools against the boys from Malay College of Kuala Kangsar (MCKK). MCKK players were equipped with boots while we were barefooted. We won 1-0. The MCKK headmaster wanted a rematch the following day, this time without the boots but still we won 6-0. Those days our mode of transport was a lorry belonging to the State Education Department.

MS: Your stint in Germany and England alongside Robert Choe in 1962 was described by the national media as the Big Freeze.

GM: Frozen pitches wreaked havoc to our plans. Our first stop was Frankfurt, with Eintracht, coached by Paul Oswald. It was during winter and I saw snow for the first time in my life. Then Robert and I were attached to West Ham, then coached by Ron Greenwood (later to become England coach 1977-82).

MS: Any regrets?

GM: The class of 1956 was good enough to play in the Melbourne Olympic Games but the FAM did not have the means to finance the entry fee.

MS: What do you think is lacking among today's generation of footballers?

GM: The willingness to go the extra mile to improve themselves. If you talk about the late Mokhtar Dahari, Awang Bakar, Shahruddin Abdullah and Soetjipto Suntoro, they shared the common desire to polish their technique and skills. While others were packing their bags to go home, they were either doing shooting drills or practising free-kicks. I used to start my day as early as 5am by jogging and running around Kampung Baru because I wanted to be superfit.

 Profile: Datuk Abdul Ghani Minhat
 Born: Dec 23, 1935 at Kg Solok (Kg Masjid), Rantau, Negri Sembilan
Family: Wife Datin Tengku Aishah Tengku Ibrahim, sons Nik Abdul Halim and Nik Mohd Hanif, daughters Nik Salwani and Nik Sarina
Achievements: Helping Malaya to the Merdeka Tournament titles in 1958, 1959, 1960, helping Selangor to the Malaya and Malaysia Cup titles on seven occasions (1959, 60, 61, 62, 63, 66, 68), Sunday Mail's Sportsman of the Year 1959.
Current position: Executive chairman of SLM Letronik Maju Sdn Bhd 
Coaching stints: Coach of Malaysia with a few breaks from 1969 to 1977, Selangor for two spells 1970-72, 1983-85 and currently member of Negri Sembilan Premier League management committee.

Later, I did another piece with Raja Bola below, this time for the weekly pullout EPLx Kosmo:

Read here

May Allah grant his soul the gardens of paradise. Al-Fatihah


Anonymous said...

Semoga roh arwah dicucuri rahmat dan diletakkan bersama-sama org yg mendapat perlindungganNya


Cikguruby said...

Salam Rizal Hashim, I am cikgu Ruby currently a teacher in St.John Institution & admin for Can I share this to be put at the blog. I understand that allahyarham is a Johannian & I think your article will bring memories to Johannians. Thanks

rizal hashim said...

Cikgu Ruby, of course, you don't have to seek my permission! You are still at St Johns after all these years! With pleasure. However I am surprised the fact Allahyarham Tan Sri Ghani played for SJI in 1947 was never mentioned in any of the school's printed materials, otherwise we would have gone to town with news Raja Bola played for the school, the way VI takes pride in having produced SuperMokh.