So it all ended this week for the first batch of the Duckies (technically Class of 07 was the first batch but we didn’t have much opportunity to have big impact with them, compared with the current Form 5) – we lost 2-0 to Clifford (for the record, we lost 6-1 to Clifford last year).
We picked the current Form 5 boys almost at the same time last year – we were struggling to establish our presence, authority and most importantly to gain their trust; they were struggling with every aspect of the game back then. The modus operandi that we had to settle i.e. ‘remote control’ coaching was not to the liking of some of them but that was the best that we could offer then, as it is now. Either way that’s the best anyone had ever done for them for the last few years – so while a minority felt unease with our presence, generally the rest was just happy that someone actually cared about their game.
But what I learnt over the past 5 years with the college boys is that love and trust takes time. And that love and trust has to be gained; it’s a result of sweat and toil that you put in.
I made a promise on behalf of the Bapak Itiks (ha ha much to the shock of everyone in TAR Hall that day) that we would be with them for their games even when no one else was around.
We delivered our promise with the Class of 08 boys (CO08) for their maiden tournament in the SBP’s North Zone, April 2007. I remember the morning we left KL (and Idzam was having difficulty explaining to his young children at 5 am in the morning that he was going to Sungei Petani for a hockey game!) and sped towards Sungei Petani (with Epit, Badut and Idzam; joined by Pak Tuan who was already waiting in Sungei Petani).
The drama that took place before we finally qualified to the national level (by a razor thin margin!) was something that none of us will forget; what with the un-gentlemen jeering from STAR (“MC KO MC KO”), a series of draws that earned us the nickname “The Draw King” (which continues to dog the team till the end), SM (a key player) breaking his hand after an emotional game and many others. But Sungei Petani in April 2007 was more than just a tournament in my book – it was the turning point that earned us their love and respect. The kids understood that we meant business and we would be with them till the end.
It was a lot easier after that – more of strengthening the bond rather than building the foundation. The camping and turf training in Ipoh in June 2007 left memories that only us and CO08 can and will appreciate. By the time we were in the semi final of the national level, koleq team had gone from the underdog to the top seed – everyone in Kuantan actually believed and expected us to win all the way.
But Rome was not built in one day; and surely we (bapak-bapak and anak-anak itik) cannot undo almost a decade worth of neglect in one month. Despite the improvement (which is typical of college boys when you give them a reason to believe in themselves), a winning team needs more than just a zeal to win – they need strong basic skills, match exposure and killer instinct to win; which a team of 3-month old couldn’t give especially when they are up against teams which had had proper planning all those years. Finally we lost the penalty flick to the eventual national champion after a goalless draw (our niche so it has become by then).
The next four months in 2007 were spent building the continuity for future years. We even had to buy hockey sticks for the juniors to encourage them to play in addition to the frequent visits to Kuala Kangsar. The series of training was capped with the Mighty Ducks Cup games in Manjong (which is an annual trip to Manjong after this, a sort of escapism for the boys from the hectic schedule of MCKK at the end of the year).
By the time we went to the USM Open (the biggest invitational hockey tournament for schools in Malaysia) in December, the boys and us were no longer strangers. We even made a point to stay with them in dormitories by then because we needed to prove that we would go down that low as much as we needed them to put in their best efforts to make the arrangement works.
Given this background, one can understand (hopefully) the hopes and emotions that we and the boys had going into 2008. We wanted to see the boys win and they wanted to win if only to deliver their part of the bargain (apart from the desire to finally taste the sweetness of victory).
Training started very early with the CO08 boys – in second week of January, a week after the school reopened. We went back twice and despite the setback of losing the best player in the team who was also the captain – the team soldiered on and reorganised themselves. They also had 2 friendly matches before the first test against RMC.
The match against RMC was a family affair – we were families to the boys; and we brought our families to watch the game. All of us (apart from Wong, Chamat and Epit – who couldn’t make it for various commitments) were there; even Chibiok who was previously always away on the platform each time there was a program with the boys! The atmosphere was one of a family gathering – I know it may sound too much, but it was as if we were watching our children playing their game on the turf.
It was a balance game – equal attacking and defence by both sides, though koleq had more control of the overall game. But we drew 1-1 as always. With hindsight, I would have told the boys that they did well; given that RMC played on turf all the time and went on to win the Bangsar district (defeating the likes of VI and Vivekananda) while the boys had to contend with a hockey field whose grass was barely cut that we had to practice on a takraw court instead! RMC had a full time coach while ours is a rag tag team of part time coaches giving instruction from KL; with the kids left to their devices all the time.
In our book, it was certainly an improvement because last year we lost – and this year on average we controlled the game.
With that spirit, the boys went into the MSSD Kuala Kangsar this week for the eventual showdown with Clifford. To the uninitiated out there – in the 80s and 90s MCKK had dominated the hockey scene in Perak (until mid 80s) and Kuala Kangsar. The scores for some of the games I watched went as high as 20-0 back then. But lately, the last time MCKK defeated Clifford (another premier school older than us across the street) was in 2004.
The last one year was a build up to this week to break the psychological barrier.
KNO and Canoe looked after the boys for the first day of the tournament.
They lost to Clifford 2-1 – however they came back from trailing 2-0 to score a goal; a feat they had not displayed before. Due to the various circumstances (e.g. the best player who used to play centre quit the team, the current captain Topoi couldn’t play because he broke his hand in the RMC match) the boys were having some difficulty adjusting to the new positions; which Clifford capitalised well. Despite this, KNO was impressed with their game and believed that they could beat Clifford in the final.
The next 2 games against Methodist and Datuk Wahab were won handsomely so as expected, it was a repeat of the 2005, 2006 and 2007 finals i.e. MCKK versus Clifford.
Badut and I finally made the decision to be with the boys – partly because somehow we felt the boys would have won this year, partly because we knew it would have meant so much for them for us to be there; but mostly (as intimated between the two of us in the 200 kmph drive to and fro Sungei Siput) because we love them. Badut and I just didn’t have the heart to leave them on their own; going through the biggest game of the year and the finale to their 5-year hockey career in MCKK.
It was one of the craziest things Badut and I had ever done; to treat Sungei Siput as if it was a drive from Subang Jaya to USJ!
But we were there and I would like to think it meant a lot to them; as it was to us.
Everything started well – we had the psychological advantage because it was clear that Clifford feared us; having been through the earlier game knowing full well that it was a revitalised MCKK team determined to deny them another trophy. You could see their nervousness during the warm up and during the briefing while our boys were calm and composed. In one year, at least we had managed to change the mindset of our boys that we have no one to fear each time we go to tournament compared to their constant nervousness before each game last year.
Somehow we picked up late at the initial stage of the match – that Clifford scored one of the most lousy goals ever to have passed through our net! It was not even 10 minutes into the game. The boys picked up instantly after that that the next 30 minutes was our game – with attacks after attacks. Unfortunately we just couldn’t convert into goals despite a few short corners given to us.
The second half was a flip flop of attack-defence between both teams. We attacked; they defended well; they came for a goal and we repelled them. In went on almost until the end but finally Clifford scored another goal. So it was 2-0.
The boys were definitely devastated. Badut and I had to rush straight away so we didn’t have the time to be with them after the game unlike before. But I know some of them went to cry in the toilet. Even when the end was getting closer, Anding and Yuri (on the reserve bench) kept looking at Badut and I – I had coached MCKK teams long enough to know that it was a look of guilt and pity; that they didn’t win. Anding was as if trying to ascertain whether we were disappointed in them; at least that was my interpretation of his look then.
Were we disappointed having made that journey only to see them lost?
Not at all, Badut and I actually were proud of the game. Of the boys. Full satisfaction. Both of us did not have a single regret for the journey that day or for every single hour we have spent with the CO08 ducklings.
The thing about us budak koleq is that sometimes in our hurry to achieve what we set out initially; we rarely pause to reflect. The boys certainly did not reflect that a game in hockey (or football for that matter) between Clifford and MCKK is almost similar to that of Goliath and David (with MCKK being the proverbial David!).
On one hand, Clifford is a school whose full obsession and resources was on hockey. They selected the best hockey players from Perak (well, some went to Anderson of course) and brought these boys to the school from Form 1. They invested hundreds of thousands in their hockey program – participating in the National Junior Hockey League (and a strong contender at that) and various other tournaments. They have full time coaches and train every single day.
MCKK on the other hand – is a school where hockey is not even considered a major game. If we had not come back in 2007 – there might not even be a permanent hockey team. MCKK would have resorted to the usual tactic of assembling a team 3-4 weeks before the MSSD tournament. We didn’t have jerseys and the hockey field was barely fit for the game.
What most people ignore or forget – is defeating Clifford in hockey is not that much different from defeating Vajiravudh in rugby, in today’s term given the circumstances! I know the shock on everyone’s face when they found out that we lost to Clifford year after year (and some would launch into a tirade of boasting of how his batch won the state championship, or that championship yada yada yada); but after one year following the team – all of us now accept the fact that we are paying the price of the neglect all these years while Clifford continued to invest during those period.
In life – we reap what we sow. Clifford had channelled all the necessary resources and focus into hockey. As a result, they have a much better team.
It was unfair if we had won against Clifford on all accounts, because they were a better team. In much the same way it was unfair if we had defeated SERATAS at the national level, because SERATAS was a better team given the efforts they put in.
Yet we should not eclipse the fact that the boys put a bloody tough fight that earned them the respect of these teams; given all the inadequacies (though the other teams do not know all the constraints we have to go through).
So it is in that perspective that I pay tribute to the CO08 ducklings – the first batch of MCKK hockey players that we look after. They have come from the lowest to rise to be in the same league as the bests in a matter of one year. That took courage, determination and most importantly love – love for the game, love for the team and love for every value that we tried to teach them throughout the last one year.
I spoke to Ben and Abe after the game and they were still sad especially at the realisation that it was the last tournament of their career as a hockey player. That they could not deliver what they set out to achieve (and promise to us).
I will say this to all the boys I did not have the opportunity to speak, as I told both of them the other night.
That in life, we should not judge ourselves against other people’s unrealistic expectation especially when such expectation was made through sheer ignorance. We should only be judged with how we make the best of the limited time and space given to us.
On both accounts, you boys have given your best and had risen beyond what we expected of you given the limitations. If I were you, that’s all that matter – because you were not meant to be a professional hockey player like some of the Clifford boys are; the whole journey was not about winning.
It was about learning what life is all about and that for every one door that closes, another one will open. And we all hope you have had a meaningful life in MCKK from your hockey experience.
TRIBUTE TO CLASS OF 08
Topoi – for the coolness and leadership at the time when leadership was needed most; for all the experiences in clinics and hospitals that we had to spend with you
Abe – for the love and respect you give to us despite your difficulty of ever showing it
Sham – for the non-ending smile and for being the sweetest among the smelliest
SM – for your commitment and courage to change to do what is necessary; for one of the most powerful hits on the pitch each time you play
Ben – for being voted the most good looking and the sheer improvement from the nervous-wrecked defender to the games you play nowadays
Kay – for proving that you can be as much a part of MCKK even if you join 3 years later and for the best attacking moments for the team
Farid – for the worst hairdo; the jokes and the strength on the field never to give up even when you should have collapsed
Acap – for a bloody good job at clearing the ball all the time and for the decency and kindness and politeness
Hairy – for the loyalty and unending effort for the team (and perhaps the few in the team whose doa will be received by God!)
Ferd – for the sheer determination to improve and improve you did! For the memories of staying with us in the big bungalow in Kuantan
Afiq – for the showmanship in Sg Petani and all the subsequent games; for contributing so much to the team that without you our opponent’s score would have matched the basketball games’
Anding – for being the poster boy for the team (ha ha) with your green eyes, for providing so much fun and entertainment throughout the time we spent with you
Yuri – for being Yuri (who missed every single game that we planned until the RMC and MSSD games ha ha) and for your smile all the time
Am – for your love of the game; for looking after your batch’s team all this while and leading them to the pinnacle of achievement in Kuantan
Amin – for your politeness and efforts; for being the only one of the two who could keep up with Chamat’s running
One batch is leaving (hopefully some of them will continue what we started); the journey with the Class of 09 boys has just started.
Despite the lack of tangible results in tournaments, at least hockey is definitely back on the map in MCKK – the joke going around among the teachers is that the hockey team is quite well endowed that they have too many jersey to the point they can rent the jerseys out to the teacher’s team! Hopefully more will be attracted to play in future years and we will defeat Clifford in the not so distant future.
More photos at KNO’s Flickr; more stories at knizam.com