Mengingati Pestabola Merdeka 1969 (Bhg 1)

Pestabola Merdeka 1969 berlangsung bukan tanpa cabaran disebabkan oleh situasi politik Malaysia ketika itu. Suasana tegang makin meningkat menjelang pilihan raya umum 1969 pada 10 Mei, yang membawa kepada Peristiwa 13 Mei. Insiden rusuhan kaum bermula pada hari tersebut mengakibatkan pengisytiharan darurat oleh Yang di-Pertuan Agong. Kerajaan Malaysia pula digantung dan perintah berkurung diumumkan dengan serta-merta untuk seluruh negara. 

Peristiwa Mei 13 menyebabkan penubuhan Majlis Gerakan Negara (NOC) untuk mentadbir negara buat sementara dan Perdana Menteri Tunku Abdul Rahman terpaksa menyerahkan tugas beliau kepada timbalan Perdana Menteri, Tun Abdul Razak, yang merupakan pengarah NOC. 

Namun begitu, Tunku Abdul Rahman terus memikul tanggungjawab sebagai Presiden Persatuan Bola Sepak Malaysia (FAM) dan menjalankan operasi harian. Walaupun politik tengah mendominasi negara, Tunku masih berpegang pada kepercayaan beliau bahawa sukan boleh membangkitkan perpaduan negara. Pada masa itu, tentunya sukan negara terganggu seperti pembatalan semua perlawanan liga tempatan. Tarikh Pestabola Merdeka, yang biasanya diadakan pada bulan Ogos, juga semakin hampir.

Sehubungan dengan itu, Tunku membuat keputusan untuk mengadakan Pestabola Merdeka ke-13 dari 30 Oktober hingga 9 November, 1969. Tunku memang yakin peminat bola sepak Malaysia akan bersama untuk menyokong pasukan Harimau Malaya menentang pesaing antarabangsa mereka. Ia merupakan keputusan berisiko untuk menetapkan tarikh baharu pada tahun yang sama, tetapi ia terbukti berjaya. Untuk edisi ini, FAM menjemput tujuh negara untuk bertanding iaitu Indonesia, Korea Selatan, Thailand, Burma, Singapura, Indonesia dan Australia Barat. 

Dato’ Harun Idris, yang menggalas tanggungjawab sebagai pengurus pasukan kebangsaan dan pengerusi jawatankuasa penganjur, menyokong Tunku kerana beliau juga mempercayai bahawa Pestabola Merdeka merupakan kejohanan penting dalam dunia bola sepak. Sudah tibanya masa untuk politik negara diketepikan supaya pasukan Harimau Malaya dapat mempertahankan kejuaraan mereka. 

Pemain-pemain Malaysia yang terpilih untuk menyertai latihan pusat di Kelab Selangor dan Stadium Merdeka termasuk Chow Chee Keong, Lee Soo Phang, Abdullah Nordin, Foo Fook Chuan, Soo-Toh Kim Poh, Sardar Khan, M. Chandran, Namat Abdullah, Ibrahim Mydin, Chan Yong Chong, N. Thanabalan, Lim Kim Lian, Yap Eng Kok, Shaharuddin Abdullah, Zulkifli Norbit, Wong Choon Wah, Harun Jusoh, Sulaiman Rejab, dan Wong Fook Yong.

Latihan pusat yang berlangsung selama dua minggu begitu singkat berbanding tempoh masa yang diberikan pada tahun-tahun sebelumnya. Walaupun pasukan Malaysia tidak mempunyai banyak masa untuk berlatih seperti biasa, jurulatih Abdul Ghani Minhat dan Naib Presiden Hamzah Abu Samah menaruh keyakinan terhadap pemain-pemain negara setelah menyaksikan mereka berlatih bersama. Hamzah Abu Samah juga berkata bahawa pemain-pemain negara masih mengekalkan tahap kecergasan yang tinggi dan menjalinkan hubungan yang baik bersama jurulatih mereka. 

Bagaimanakah pasukan Harimau Malaya beraksi di Pestabola Merdeka 1969?

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The 1969 Merdeka Tournament was not without its challenges due to the political state of Malaysia at the time. Tension rose on the eve of the 1969 general elections on May 10, leading to riots on May 13. The racial riots resulted in a declaration of a state of emergency by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong. The Malaysian government was suspended and immediate curfew was called for the entire nation. 

The National Operations Council (NOC) was established to temporarily govern the country, causing Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman to hand over his tasks to deputy Prime Minister, Tun Abdul Razak, who was also the director of NOC. 

Nevertheless, Tunku Abdul Rahman still had responsibilities as President of the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) and continued to run its operations. While politics dominated the scene, Tunku held on to his belief that sport is an instrument in evoking national unity. The sports scene was heavily disrupted in the aftermath as local league matches were postponed indefinitely. The Merdeka Tournament, which was usually held in August, was also getting close. 

As such, Tunku made the decision to hold the 13th edition of the Merdeka Tournament from October 30 to November 9. He was confident that Malaysian football fans would rally to support the Harimau Malaya team as they take on their foreign competitors. It was a risky decision to fix new dates but it proved to be a success. Seven nations accepted the invitation to compete including Indonesia, South Korea, Thailand, Burma, Singapore, Indonesia and Western Australia. 

Dato Harun Idris, who became the national team’s manager and Chairman of the organising committee, supported Tunku’s decision as the Merdeka Tournament was a significant event in the football world. It was time to put politics on hold to defend Harimau Malaya’s title as reigning champions. 

Malaysian players who were selected to join central training at the Selangor Club and Merdeka Stadium include Chow Chee Keong, Lee Soo Phang, Abdullah Nordin, Foo Fook Chuan, Soo-Toh Kim Poh, Sardar Khan, M. Chandran, Namat Abdullah, Ibrahim Mydin, Chan Yong Chong, N. Thanabalan, Lim Kim Lian, Yap Eng Kok, Shaharuddin Abdullah, Zulkifli Norbit, Wong Choon Wah, Harun Jusoh, Sulaiman Rejab, and Wong Fook Yong. 

The central training ran for two weeks, a short stint compared to their given time for training in previous years. While the Malaysian team did not have as much time to train as they usually would, coach Abdul Ghani Minhat and Vice-President of FAM Hamzah Abu Samah had the utmost confidence in the team after witnessing them in action. Hamzah Abu Samah said that the Malaysian players managed to maintain their fitness level and had a good bond with their coach. 

How did Harimau Malaya fare at the 1969 Merdeka Tournament?

Click here to read part 2.

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