IT HAS been over two decades since Datuk Soh Chin Aun retired from the Malaysian national football team, but he still gets stopped by fans on the street every once in a while.
”It’s nice to be recognised, especially at this age, and having been out of the game for so long. It feels good,” ” said the former national team captain.
Of course, it’s nothing less than he deserves. Chin Aun, 59, had played a reported 252 games for Malaysia (a figure that would make him the most capped player in world football, but one that’s often disputed and said to include unofficial games), competed in the 1972 Olympics in Munich, West Germany, and was the national team captain in the 1980 Olympics in the Soviet Union. The footballer nicknamed ”Tauke” (boss) is, without doubt, a Malaysian sporting legend.
But the sad thing is, in spite of those Maxis World Cup advertisements with Chin Aun and former teammate Santokh Singh talking about how much playing for Malaysia meant to them, many young people today still aren’t aware that our national team once made it to the Olympics. To be honest, neither did I.
It’s one of those things you seem to remember hearing about somewhere, but never really cared enough to find out.
Said Chin Aun, ”I know a lot of young football fans today don’t know we qualified for the Olympics. But it’s true, it’s part of our history. I don’t blame them though, because they weren’t born yet.”
He chatted with me for a bit after recording a special World Cup episode for The Star’s Football Every Day podcast.
What even more people might not know is that Malaysia actually played the opening game in 1972, against host West Germany.
The young Malaysian team, which included a 22-year-old Chin Aun, lost 3-0 to a team that included future two-time Champions League-winning manager and current Swiss national team boss Ottmar Hitzfeld. Nevertheless, Chin Aun still has fond memories of that great event.
”I was just a young player coming up in the national team at the time, so it was a real honour to play in the opening game. The atmosphere was very different. It was something special, and something great,” he recalled. The team went on to beat the United States 3-0 in their next game.
Though he captained the team throughout a successful qualification campaign for the 1980 games, Malaysia participated in the mass boycott of the event due to the Soviet Union invasion of Afghanistan.
Hailing from Alor Gajah, Malacca, Chin Aun was called up to the national youth team in 1969 when he was 19, and his performances earned him a place in the first team that same year.
Back then, football fans would flock to the stadiums to watch local teams and the national side play; but even though young people today mostly prefer to support foreign teams, Chin Aun remains philosophical.
”English Premier League games are more interesting. They have a lot of star players, a lot of good goals. If Malaysian teams can do that, score good goals and play well, then the supporters will come.
”You can see that with local teams like Selangor and Kelantan who are playing well. The supporters are still there. If you go to their stadiums, you will see people who are still crazy about local football,” he said.
Another local team that has been doing well is the national under-23 team, which bagged the SEA Games football gold medal last year.
The Harimau Muda boys continued their impressive form by beating the South Korean Olympic team 1-0 in Kuala Lumpur last Sunday.
But as much as Chin Aun has been impressed by the development of the young team, he believes they can still do better.
”I hope they can improve in the future. I would like to see them be more consistent. It’s more important to be consistent that just to have a few good games,” noted Chin Aun, ever the demanding professional.
The former centre-back was known for his commanding, no-nonsense playing style after all.
Back in his day, being a footballer wasn’t exactly what it is today. Even for a national captain, Chin Aun wasn’t a ”fully professional” footballer — he still had to have a regular job.
If you’re a young footballer hoping to make your mark, Chin Aun’s advice is to be honest and ask yourself if you’ve done enough.
”I always believe that you have to take care of yourself. Nobody can tell you what to do — you should know what you need to do, and do it. Especially if you’re a professional. You have to behave yourself both on and off the field, and that will make you a better player,” he advised.
These days, Chin Aun serves as a member of the Football Association of Malaysia’s technical committee. He is the proud grandfather of two young girls, and he’s currently living the easy life back in Malacca.
”Nowadays, I mostly spend time with friends. We go for coffee, have a beer sometimes. That’s a very important thing in life, to just spend time with friends,” he said.