Thursday, February 29, 2024

Datuk Mokhtar Dahari: Footballer, Working Class Hero, Inspiration, Icon

30th of May, 1978. Malaysia’s most iconic footballer of all time is making one of 167 appearances for his country, and finds the ball at his feet just before the halfway line at Merdeka Stadium – his ‘second home’. With a deft swivel, he turns his marker and sets off on a surging run, the ball seemingly glued to his boot, roaring past opposition defenders. Leaving a trail of England players in his wake, he remains composed at speed and, with a final flick of a right foot, blasts a stunning strike into the top corner of the net past a helpless goalkeeper. The power of his own shot and momentum sends the star tumbling, but he immediately springs up in celebration, relishing the moment in front of 45,000 delirious fans.

They had witnessed not only a great goal, but a sequence that embodied the undeniable ability, determination and spirit of Datuk Mokhtar Dahari – just one of many memorable moments that would cement the legend of ‘SuperMokh’ as a true Malaysian hero, both on and off the field.

International Success

The accolades throughout Datuk Mokhtar Dahari’s career were plentiful. He was inducted into the Olympic Council of Malaysia Hall of Fame, pulled on national colours during Pre-Olympic Games and Pre-World Cup campaigns, starred at the Asian Cup finals, and led Malaysia to a Bronze medal at the Asian Games in Tehran in 1975 and Gold at the 1979 SEA Games in Jakarta. Mokhtar starred during a time when Malaysian football was at its finest and was a prolific midfielder during a golden age, scoring 125 goals in 167 appearances for his country.

He was a talented individual yet also the ultimate team player, a quintessential leader chosen to captain both club and country. Malaysia’s ‘Number 10’ was indeed one of a kind, yet despite the plaudits from fellow players, coaches and media – as well as the glittering achievements – what made Mokhtar a ‘man of the people’ was his down-to-earth nature, humble beginnings, and unbridled passion for the game and his nation. Born and raised in Selangor, it was here that his legacy would take hold, on the streets where countless children would attempt to imitate his flicks and tricks, yearning to be like Mokh.

A Selangor Story

Football is a universal language. It requires basic equipment, and can be adored by rich or poor alike. It is a sport of euphoric highs of tactics and guile… and like many, 11 year-old Mokhtar would not be immune to its allure. He had a special – if raw – talent and learnt the intricacies of the game at Victoria Institution in Kuala Lumpur. However, as he revealed in a 1982 interview with The Seladang Editorial Board, “I burst into the limelight after school – I remember that it was after a trial play with the Selangor Junior Squad at the Piala Razak Tournament. Later, my manager, M J Vincent, recommended that I join the senior Selangor FA squad and it was from that point that everything started coming my way. That was in 1972, and I’ll always remember the date because it was during that year I was chosen for the Malaysia ‘A’ Team, after my splendid performance in Indonesia while in the B Team.”

Mokhtar’s loyalty to Selangor echoed his patriotism, and he plied his trade at the club for the entirety of his career, leading Selangor FA to countless triumphs and re-writing the history books in the process. The memories will be familiar to Malaysian football enthusiasts, such as Mokhtar shaking the hand of the great Maradona before a friendly game against Boca Juniors, guiding Selangor to an emphatic 10 Malaysia Cup championships and helping Malaysia XI stun English giants Arsenal in 1975 with both goals in a 2-0 victory. He played when his health was waning, when stricken with the flu or injured. “To be a good footballer, you need three things: discipline, dedication and determination. Training is a must and never feel disheartened,” Mokhtar said when receiving his 1977 award for Sportsman of the Year. It is thanks to the results of this approach that historians are spoilt for choice when savouring his football success.

PKNS by Day…

As a sport, football was not the economic powerhouse that it is today, and even as recently as the 1970’s, athletes were playing ‘for the love of the game’, receiving small sums of money in the form of training and match allowances, and win bonuses. As an amateur star, Mokhtar’s pastime had to be supplemented with ‘real’ work, and it is little surprise that he went from delighting the Selangor faithful on the field to serving the community when not scoring goals. He joined Perbadanan Kemajuan Negeri Selangor (PKNS) Selangor State Development Corp – a statutory body at the heart of development in Selangor and a major socio-economic contributor to the state and country. In his role of Executive Officer, Mokhtar’s focus with PKNS was reminiscent of his professionalism on the football pitch.

According to his former colleague Noraida Mohd Yusof – now the Deputy General Manager for Administration and Development in PKNS – “Mokhtar Dahari was involved in the Housing Department back then, as the person responsible for office administration and also housing allocation for staff. People loved him and he was suited to the role because of his friendly and approachable nature, yet through his work ethic he was responsible, disciplined and a firm leader.”

Full Circle

Aside from being a developer, the PKNS name is associated with football through its PKNS F.C. team that was founded in 1964 and currently plays in the Malaysia Super League. A natural transition for Mokhtar was to turn out for the team during his time with the company. Says Noraida, “He was heavily involved in football at PKNS, and was obviously a priceless asset to the team. With him in his famous Number 10 jersey we played victoriously in every tournament, alongside teammates such as Datuk Khaidir Buyong and Zulkifli Norbit. I am proud to have known such a legendary football player.

Datuk Mokhtar passed away in 1991 – an untimely death at the age of 37 – yet his legacy is set to endure forever. He stands as the top goalscorer in Malaysia and Selangor FA history but more than the statistics, he was a husband to his beloved wife Tengku Zarina Tengku Ibrahim, a father to three children, a colleague to many at Selangor State Development Corp (PKNS) and an inspiration to all. Those who watched him play, from fellow players to fans glued to TV sets across the country, could not help but adore Mokhtar Dahari as a professional, a role model and as a man. He was the pride of a state and his country and while SuperMokh did not have a ‘1Malaysia’ initiative to unite a nation, his ‘1 Nil, Malaysia’ proved more than powerful enough.

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