Malaysiakini Malaysians Kini

Of Tunku and the beautiful game

Geraldine Tong & Vinodh Pillai  |  Published:  |  Modified:

MALAYSIANS KINI | At the age of 82, Peter Velappan's face still lights up when he talks about football.

But who can blame him, after devoting his whole career to the sport, which saw him help organise 12 Fifa World Cups and oversee football tournaments in over 230 countries?

Trophies and medals of his heyday are scattered all around his home office, dating from as early as 1950, together with certificates, recognition letters, and pictures of himself with football stars like Diego Armando Maradona.

“Sometimes, he just hides in here when he doesn’t want to talk to the rest of us,” his wife jokes as she walks past.

Velappan was also the team manager for the Malaysian football team that beat South Korea to qualify for the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, Germany.

"When the German Football Association called and told me Malaysia and Germany would play in the opening match (of the Olympics), I couldn’t believe it.

“So I called (then Selangor Chief Minister) Harun Idris and said, ‘Imagine Germany playing Malaysia. The Olympics will be played across the whole world!

“He said, “Are you mad?” And then we played,” he recounted the story with glee during an interview with Malaysiakini at his house in Petaling Jaya.

Growing up, Velappan was always fascinated by the sport and would spend hours at a time kicking a ball at an estate field near his house in Siliau, Negeri Sembilan.

He represented his home state in relay events and other games on a number of occasions too.

After pursuing a degree in education in Canada, Velappan served under the Youth, Culture, and Sports Ministry for 17 years.

It was during this time that Velappan met and befriended Tunku Abdul Rahman, Malaysia's first prime minister.

“I first met Tunku in 1958 when I was Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) assistant secretary,” he says, adding that Tunku was leading the association at the time.

“Of course, before physically meeting him we had seen him in the papers.

“He was a very fatherly figure, very humble and polite too. This impressed me a lot. He once told me, "Please help Kwok Kin Keng, FAM general-secretary, manage our Malayan football,” he said.

Velappan has contributed his recollections of Tunku to a new book titled “Dialog: Thoughts on Tunku’s Timeless Thinking”, a hardback, 270-page compilation of anecdotes and essays by Malaysians about the country’s first prime minister.

However, when asked about the state of Malaysian football today, Peter’s face fell.

Having built a career in football, and witnessed the country’s history from pre-independence until today, Velappan shares his story in his own words.

THERE IS NO SADDER PERSON THAN I WHEN TALKING ABOUT MALAYSIAN FOOTBALL TODAY. Football is my life. My whole life, football was the game. It was progressing so well.

I deeply believe that in order for this country to remain united racially, playing football would best serve this mission. There is no better sport to really unite Malaysians....

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