Thursday, April 08, 2010

North Zone 2010: What About Now?

As always, in spite of 10 different plans to blog to document last week's momentous event in Sungai Petani - in the end my writing flexibility is clipped by the fact that I only have a blackberry and this is the only time available.

In between a policy paper on the latest economic hype of the town, piling paper work in office (which I have been absent from for about a week), a neglected cat, various meetings - I settled for a direct narration of what took place. I had wanted to do it by chapters but ha ha tercabutlah keypad blackberry if we go down that route.

Things did not go as planned at all since the beginning of 2010. For a start, I was broke. After an incomprehensible decision to abandon the good life, I found myself barely surviving (ha ha) so it took some tolls on the hobbies I used to do; one of which was the Mighty Ducks Project.

Then, most of the Bapak Itiks were also mentally, physically and financially tired. It's been a long journey and most of them were at a junction where they need a breathing space. With KNO in Pakistan and I decided to pull a stunt, a lot of the burdens had to be spread even thinner among us. I did not want to push further because I know the limit - a further strain would probably break us.

Against this backdrop, we "plodded" (to use Joe's favourite word) along. It is not surprising that Mighty Ducks started 2010 with neglect; then it continued with further neglect over the months.

In the midst of it all, hope was only rekindled by one person and his optimism - the 67 year old Mr Thaman Singh. In late December, he sent me a card with one simple reassurance "2010 - A Better Hockey Year". That reassurance would come and haunt him later ha ha.

Together with his side kick Mr Pala, they held the fort while we tried to sort out our lives. In the process, there was a gap of..

Two days later: 

... there was a gap of 2 days between the last attempt to finish the account and this one. I have forgotten what gap I was thinking about.

In the process, there was a gap of four months between the last time we met the boys (Mighty Ducks Cup 2009) and this year’s first encounter. It came to a point in March this year that the sense of guilt overwhelmed us. Sending a cheque once in a while and a simple note can no longer obliterate the sense that we have abandoned the boys, Mr Thaman and Mr Pala.

So we worked up our courage, wiped off the embarrassment and took the journey to Kuala Kangsar (for the umpteenth time) in early March. I had already blogged about what had transpired during that short trip; so I won’t talk further about it here.

But Mighty Ducks is addictive and contagious. (If you read The Wheel of Time series, it is like seizing the One Power and each time you allow it to flow through you, it’s very difficult to let it go - OK I am mumbling here).

But Mighty Ducks is addictive and contagious. Once you are back on the field, meet the coaches, see the boys and become astonished at the rate they physically grow, you remember why you decided to do this in the first place.

In the next few weeks, all of us were rejuvenated and it was as if we were shook to wake up from the slumber. There was a series of planning and we could not wait to go to Sungai Petani.

The day came and as always I was late. Pak Tuan had to wait for two hours before I arrived at his place. Throughout the journey, he drove while I was busy responding to the madness of the world – courtesy of the worst creation in the world today: blackberry/handphone/mobile communications.

I was hungry and wanted to stop at Tapah for a bite, but Pak Tuan was adamant that we must arrive at Kepala Batas first so that we could pick up Mr Thaman and Mr Pala and checked them in at a hotel, before we went to look for food. If you know Pak Tuan – if you ask him to manage the logistics, don’t cross him in that department so you just have to follow. In the end, his insistence proved to be a better judgment.

We arrived at Kepala Batas around 330 pm to find an empty turf. I instantly called Mr Thaman, only to discover that the actual game venue was in fact Sungai Petani – the tournament was hosted by SMS Kepala Batas but the boys only sleep at Kepala Batas. The first match was in an hour away.

I don’t know whether many of you would understand the feeling – but you don’t drive 4 hours just to miss the opening match. It would have spoilt the whole weekend. We wanted to be there before the boys went in for the first game so suddenly we were panicking and quickly rushed to reach Sungai Petani in time for the game. Somehow the annoyance and frustration that those who were in charge should have had the courtesy to tell me and Mr Thaman of the real venue before hand, dissipated into thin air in the midst of the evening rush to Sungai Petani.

MCKK contingent arrived late so while the other schools had had some time to warm up and get accustomed to the turf, the team was a bit rushing. They arrived at the stadium directly from Kuala Kangsar and unlike other boys who had one good morning to rest before the game, they had to quickly change to warm up.

After a quick warm up and some tips from Mr Thaman, the boys settled for the game.

Then the rain came. And some more. And a lot more.

We had to wait for half an hour before the game against SMSAH could commence. Even then, the turf was flooded and it was akin to playing at desert (koleq nya desert and for the record; I had enough experience playing during the rain at desert to warrant this comment ha ha).

But the boys started well – they took control of the game and there was hardly any time the ball crossed the half line. By the end of the game, there was 14 penalty corners and on average there was an attack each minute. But the water on the turf hampered the speed so the ball usually skidded and stopped half way ha ha.

Pak Tuan and I counted 2 goals but the official tally was 4 – NIL in our favour.

Feeling extra optimistic, we told ourselves (Mr Thaman and Mr Pala too) that if the boys win the next game (against STSSS) we would upgrade ourselves to a better hotel.

We booked two rooms at Pengkalan Hotel nearby the turf. Mr Thaman really liked the place because it was within walking distance to places of eatery and the turf.

I vaguely remember how bad the hotel was (you can’t expect much when you paid peanuts) – but even my memory under estimated how bad it really was. We couldn’t sleep that night because the mattresses were too hard and the pillow felt like buah kelapa.

The next morning – still buoyant with the prediction that the boys would cruise and win easy with STSSS – we checked into the best hotel in town (especially considering Idzam and Joe were supposed to arrive in early morning of Saturday) without waiting for the results ha ha. Mr Thaman did not want to follow – he said he liked to location; though I always wonder whether he just didn’t want to burden us financially because he too admitted he couldn’t sleep the night before.

The next game was played under the scorching sun. I wouldn’t say the boys played badly – they still had the control of the game and provided attacks after attacks.

But they committed too many mistakes. Most of them were basic mistakes and basic rules that they should know. The mistakes provided some breathing space to the opponent and they couldn’t keep the pressure; or couldn’t convert attacks into a goal.

We drew with STSSS and suddenly the panic set in, especially because we had under estimated STSSS. If we couldn’t score with STSSS, we would have a problem at a later stage. The mood in the contingent was very bad.

Earlier on, Mr Thaman had already told me that the morale had been low especially due to numerous run-ins and confusion over training schedules for the last 2 weeks. He asked me to say a few words but I took that for granted.

After the game against STSSS, suddenly everything was at stake and staring starkly at us and Mr Thaman. We knew that if we fail to bring the team to the national level, it would provide a good excuse to cut us off. After 3 years and a large chunk of money that we couldn’t afford to spare, we would be told (not in a polite manner) to leave. Mr Thaman knew it, I knew it too though we didn’t talk about it.

So I thought the only intervention I could make was to sit down with the boys, make them feel at ease and comfortable so that they can go onto the field tomorrow with focus. It’s not that they were de-motivated or didn’t understand what Mr Thaman was saying – but they needed to relate. And it’s a lot easier to relate to an old boy whose age gap is a lot smaller than your coach’s.

Armed with packets of nasi bungkus from the best mamak restaurant in town – we left for Kepala Batas.

We spent the first half an hour getting the boys to clean the room – I shuddered to think how I survived boys dormitories especially during a tournament when I was in college. Then we showed them the recordings of their previous game and some of their training – I think they spent more time laughing than observing their mistake; but at least they were at ease.

Finally, it was the crunch time – telling the boys in a subtle manner that their quarter final game in the next morning could be their last time seeing us and Mr Thaman.

It was not easy for two reasons.

First, I was not close to these boys. Not as close as I was to their seniors or as close as I wanted to be – in fact I was a complete stranger to them. When we started with their seniors, we had months of frustration before we broke down the wall and many times I wanted to give up. There were periods when I actually didn’t like some of them for making me tried so hard just to communicate with them. But at least we had a few months to try. That night I had a few minutes to deliver the most important message and make them understand.

Second, I couldn’t divulge everything. I had to send subtle hints because I don’t want to skew their perception of the school or certain people.

With these two constraints, Pak Tuan and I carefully constructed our sentences. I was on the bed and they were sitting on the floor listening quite attentively.

By the time I reached the last sentence, I felt stupid for initially under estimating them. They reminded me why it was a pure pleasure looking after them all this while – because they are bright boys, it was easy to make them understand many things without having to explain much. We left the room satisfied having seen the look of determination on their faces – I didn’t know how it would translate into actions on the field, but I was quite sure it did change certain things.

We collected all their electronic gadgets to make sure they slept early, otherwise they spent more time on their console.

That night, we checked in to the best hotel in town. I dropped dead instantly on the bed because I only slept 2 hours the previous night and barely could hear Pak Tuan was telling me that Joe and Idzam wouldn’t be able to make it because they had car problem on the way. At about 3, he woke me up to change room because apparently the air cond was not working – again, don’t argue with him so I was walking half asleep along the corridor to a new room.

Across town, Mr Thaman had another sleepless night. This time around not because of the hard mattress, but he understood the stake. He was worried sick that they boys wouldn’t play up to their standard and we would crash at quarter final against SEMESTI. Crashing at quarter final meant the end of Mighty Ducks project. (Later on he told me that this sort of sleepless night is not good for his heart at that age ha ha).

The morning started well. We skipped breakfast and went straight to the pitch; the boys were already doing the warming up.

I noticed they wore the white jersey which I didn’t like much. I asked one of the boys why they didn’t wear the other jersey – “tak ong bang!”. The superstition reigned for the rest of the day as the boys refused to swap jersey till the end ha ha.

SEMESTI looked confident – for once they had the size. On top of that, out of 15 players, 8 were juniors made up of F1s, F2s and F3s. That was why our boys were one of the smallest in size in the tournament.

Last year Mr Thaman put Amer (a Form 2) as the main forward (and I nearly dropped dead already – but he was the coach, so he knew better). This year he pushed the limit further – he put a Form 1 as a forward.

I wanted to query Mr Pala, but luckily I did not because in the end it was the Form 1 who scored ha ha. We won 1 – NIL and cruised to semi final against STAR. By the end of the game, the boys had regained full control and full confidence so much so that there was hardly any panic moments. Once or twice the ball crossed to our side but it was adequately cleared by the defence.

Same thing happened in the semi final. They controlled the game and carried out attacks consistently. For the first time, we scored early in the 3rd minute and after that the boys paced the game and slowed down considerably. Mr Thaman reminded them that the semi final game was the most important game of the tournament and we never lost to STAR ever since Mighty Ducks was started . They maintained the record by the time the whistled was blown and we ended up in the final for the first time since 2007.

Right after the game, Mr Thaman jokingly said that he felt he deserved a hotel upgrade now that the boys were through to the final.

It is hard to describe why it was meaningful to be in the final although it was only the North Zone final (but nowadays there are about 15 schools in North Zone alone!). By MCKK standard, it was a normal thing – after all Cagers win the north zone without a blink of an eye year after year. We did relatively better in cricket and had continuously represented the north zone.

But hockey was a different story.

We went to national level by fluke in 2007 because we drew all games and went through the semi-final because by co-incidence, our points were better. We went to the final because Afique (the goal keeper) saved one penalty flick.

We lost at grouping level in 2008 and 2009.

There had never been a game since 2007 when we could sit down and felt that we were in control. There were too many panicky moments.

Luckily after one year being drilled by Mr Thaman, the boys were good at controlling the game so it felt like watching a Malay College game all over again. The series of problems and head ache (or heart ache) we went through before the tournament made it even sweeter, anyone in our shoes would have sighed a relief and felt we were vindicated. Or Allah has answered our prayers.

In between the one hour before the final, Pak Tuan and I quickly went to a nearby shopping mall to buy some souvenirs for Mr Thaman, Mr Pala, Cikgu Razif (the new teacher) and some grubs for the boys. We had to quietly pass the souvenirs to the boys so that they could give to Mr Thaman and Mr Pala later when we were not around; otherwise the two would refuse to accept it from us. Mr Thaman’s famous last words to us have always been “we’ve burdened you enough” ha ha.

The final came and go.

Mat Jiwa shocked the tournament when they defeated the seemingly invincible SERATAS (three times national champion) to go to the final.

When the boys sang Lagu Kolej before the start of the game, I chuckled because the thunder and clouds followed their singing instantaneously. Then suddenly I saw the opponent singing Lagu Sekolah Mat Jiwa – so I went to see Mr Pala to complain: “how come we end up playing for 3rd placing, we should be in the final!”. I was not around when Mat Jiwa defeated SERATAS so didn’t realise the latter was out.

The game was good. I say we control 70% of the game – by ball control, by no of attacks and by penalty corner. Once in a while Mat Jiwa broke through our defence and there were some near misses, but our boys didn’t panic till the end.

We drew without a goal and had to settle by penalty flick. As it turned out, we lost 2-3 to Mat Jiwa.

The boys were sad and kept apologising to us at the end of the game but Mr Thaman kept saying “there’s nothing to be sorry about”. It was a good game and luck was not on our side.

Most importantly, Mighty Ducks Project was just given another short lease of life, at least until the end of the national tournament.

I went up to the bus to see the boys before they left to return their electronic gadgets.

As I was walking down the stairs, the boys called back and smiled when they said “old boys and Mr Thaman ada lagi kan, sebab kitorang dah pegi ke national”.

That was the single most precious moment of the whole tournament – knowing that they understand the words we could not speak; knowing that our presence is greatly appreciated and meant the world to them; as they mean the world to us.

I wish everyone was there so that they could feel the same way – but sapa suruh tak pegi so padan muka korang ha ha ha! 



Thanks to:

Azu, Mizan, Syahmie, Amo, Haziq, Nash, Mirza and Apai (F4); Tuan, Afi and Amer (F3), 3 F1 and F2 whom I don’t know their name and Kaza (the F1 who scored!).

Mr Thaman and Mr Pala – nothing that I can conjure here can adequately explain what it means, so I prefer to not even attempt.

Cikgu Razif – for being with the boys.

Bapak-Bapak Itik – lepas ni kena kejar lari bertempiaran for national level.

Sdr Azizi (Class of 97) - for the support, 100+ and bananas!

Sdr Ermal & Sdr Jasmin (Class of 89) - for being a loyal fan throughout.

Everyone who follows and understand what pride and passion means :-)


Two days later, the school told the boys that they weren’t going to the national final after all because only zone champions would qualify.

Luckily we checked with the organiser and it turned out it was a misinformation. The boys were nearly crying already and it took a while before they could believe that they were going after all - I wished the adults would have been more thoughtful in handling these boys after they worked so hard to qualify.


The boys jokingly said that they would have to find sad songs to sing on the way back because they lost – apparently the bus has a karaoke unit now?

So I was thinking for the clip, I too should find a song that identifies with Mighty Ducks and Sungai Petani. It was quite an easy pick because Idzam played the song over and over when we first went to the tournament in 2007.

It was also apt because suddenly we should be asking ourselves – what do we do now that we reach this point? Ha ha ha.


We finally decided to launch a Mighty Ducks Project fan page at Facebook here :-)

Photos here.


  1. musim waja meghoyan la weh

  2. ha ha ye lah tu, diorng suruh korang beli starex sbb nak pi tournament. tak lama lagi aku lak meghoyan....

  3. official car yg reliable is still avanza. yg lain2, as is. belum berjaya official-ize grandis though.

  4. if zaman aku kaya2, i can consider buying a bulky van just for this.

    but alas. money and me do not jive ha ha.

    kena tunggu syed asrul bukak kompeni bas ha ha (maybe that's not a bad idea after all?) ha ha

  5. Anonymous11:43 AM

    e 68 said.....

    fan mighty duck dah byk 1000 fan boleh ka?

  6. mimpi la kau 1,000 fan. ha ha aku x nak banyak2 pun nnt pressure.

    "losing is tiring" - sama kita ok lah, klu asyik kalah nnt kau nak jawap apa kat situ? ha ha

    my idea abt the fan page is so that budak2 (anak2 itik) tak lari bertempiaran. they hv a central place to visit, to remember and to connect.

    one day hopefully dia akan balik, sbb there's a constant reminder.

    masa cuti sekolah budak2 ni nanti kerja dia go thru the page je lah.

    ha ha that's the idea la, doubt you can do much more than that with the page.

    hoi sapa balik pagi esok ni? kita kena brief thaman psl the friendlies schedule.

  7. kompeni bas? jadi fleet manager kete2 yengkoz je

  8. ha ha beli bas lg senang dr nak manage fleet kete2 yengkoz. nak synchronise grandis pun dah 3 tahun dah ha ha (epit kena lagi ha ha)