On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

A film that brought us together

‘OlaBola’ is a reminder to us that whether we win or lose in the pitch or elsewhere, we are in this standing side by side.

IT isn’t right at all but that is the harsh reality – Malaysians are craving for the past when we used to be better as a nation and as a people. Which is why the movie OlaBola has captivated the nation, hailed as “the ­finest local movie in living memory” by prominent journalist Tan Sri Johan Jaafar. 

Another veteran newsman Datuk Seri Azman Ujang finally made the effort to visit a cinema after 30 years just to watch it.

I finally found time to watch the movie last week, which is based on the true story of the football match between Malaysia and South Korea at Stadium Merdeka on April 6, 1980, where the winner would qualify for the Moscow Olympics that year.

For those of us who are past 50 years old, it brought back a flood of memories when, once upon a time, we could remember the names of all our national players.

As Azman correctly said in his article about the movie, we can no longer rattle off the names of the national squad.

I agree. It is indeed ironic that many of us can rattle off the difficult foreign-sounding names of our favourite Premier League clubs, yet don’t have a clue as to who is playing for the national team. Indeed, the team of 1980 left behind a ­legacy, as they promised themselves they would.

Those were indeed the days when Malay­sia was truly 1Malaysia without the need to shout the slogan. The national football team was not only truly multi-racial, but they played great football. The team beat South Korea but never made it to the Moscow Olympics though, as Malaysia joined the international boycott of the Games because of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

It must also be mentioned here that the national teams before this team fictionalised in OlaBola also won the hearts of all Malaysians, especially the team which qualified, and played in the 1972 Munich Olympics. As a nation, it was also the good old days, when politics wasn’t racial even if the political parties were communal based.

It was a time when politicians did not need to proclaim themselves as champions of their races nor was it necessary for them to dress up to look religious and pious.

The heroes of 1980 were the super cool Soh Chin Aun aka Towkay, who was the captain, striker Mokhtar Dahari aka Super Mokh, and goalkeeper R. Arumugam aka Spiderman because of his long arms.

No one saw them as Chinese, Malay or Indian. No one would even question why a Chinese should be the captain of the Malaysian football team. They were just looked upon as Malaysians.

Today, the team is no longer multi-racial.  Whether there are no longer talents from the Chinese community, or whether this has come about because of our school system, the effect is that the multi-racial face of Malaysian football is gone.

So, many of us, who have seen the better part of Malaysia, must have also been rudely reminded that in our heyday, we beat Asian giant South Korea 2-1 in that vital match at Stadium Merdeka (in the movie, the scoreline was 3-2).

Today, at No.171 in the FIFA rankings, we are languishing with the likes of Bangladesh, Bhutan, Timor Leste, New Caledonia and Mauritius. We were also recently beaten to a pulp by Palestine in the World Cup qualifying match.

Interestingly enough, South Korea today has its players playing in top European football leagues. And incredibly, our current national ­players, who also play professional locally, earn six-figure salaries.

None has to hold clerical jobs with PKNS or JKR or TNB, as most of our past national players had to back then. The luckier ones were in the police force. 

But OlaBola isn’t the only movie that makes us nostalgic. Why is it that Malaysians never grow tired of watching  reruns of P. Ramlee movies?

It’s very simple – no Malaysian has been able to meet his standards. No one has been able to produce anything close to what he managed to do. 

His era reminded us about the days when things were a lot simpler, when we were just happy to live together as one nation.

It was a time – which would never happen again – when it was perfectly acceptable for a woman to hop on to a Vespa with her boyfriend and dance the night away while being serenaded by a band where the lead player played the saxophone. And she would be dressed in a nice body-hugging baju kebaya.

Today, if one were to make a movie like that, he would risk being attacked on social media by those who think they are the moral guardians of our society.

Surely P. Ramlee would never have imagined that one could be criticised for shaking the hand of a female and worse, that few would stand up to question the criticism.

OlaBola is surely the first Malaysian movie where all the major languages and dialects that are widely spoken by Malaysians are used. 

The movie has been able to spread the message of unity and patriotism without been seen to be forced or perceived as propa­ganda. However, it would have been more appropriate for it to be shown as the run-up to Merdeka Day or Malaysia Day instead of Chinese New Year.

I hope every member of the Cabinet would take two hours off and watch the movie. Likewise, too, members of the opposite side of the political divide.

I also hope Biro Tatanegara will make it compulsory for all participants to watch the movie instead of instilling racist fears and, certainly, Ali Tinju should be forced to watch the movie non-stop while under remand the next time.

Schools should be encouraged to screen the movie while clubs and non-governmental organisations should be encouraged to organise private screenings.

When OlaBola ended, there was huge applause from the audience – I feel truly good because it was spontaneous. 

I did not cry but I was certainly emotional because I had lived through the 70s and 80s, and watched the night when Malaysia beat South Korea, regarded as Malaysia’s ­proudest moment.

Azman recalled what retired sports journalist Tony Francis told him: “Even after 36 years, I could still break into tears watching the clip. What a night it was for the players and Malaysia.”

I never imagined that one day I would be able to meet these football legends up close. Thanks to His Royal Highness, the Sultan of Selangor, who picked me as a committee member of the Selangor Cup, I have been able to meet legends including the Towkay and Santokh Singh who still play for the state ­veterans annually.

At their age, they are no longer physically strong. They can only play for less than 20 minutes and, in some cases, less than that, but you see the Towkay dribbling the ball like he is doing the waltz. That magic touch and that magic moment for Malaysia is ever present.

The producers of OlaBola have been able to do for Malaysia what many politicians cannot do – to remind us that as a nation and as Malaysians, “kita menang sama-sama, kita kalah sama-sama” (we win together and we lose together).

Thank you, director Chiu Keng Guan, the cast and all in the crew for your invaluable efforts in bringing us together.