Malaysia: Obituary: The grass was always green |
February 9, 2003
|Planet Field Hockey
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Perumal Allagapa, who died on Tuesday, aged 80, was one such person.
He was the man responsible for the upkeep of Stadium Merdeka and Stadium Negara from the late 1950s.
Born on Jan 23, 1923 in Kuala Lumpur, Perumal started his working life with the Public Works Department (PWD) while he was attached to the Indian National Army under the command of freedom fighter Subhas Chandra Bose.
It is hard for those not around during that period or not as involved in sports to understand Perumal's extraordinary presence and influence at the two stadiums.
It was the time when Merdeka Stadium, the symbol of Malaysian independence and sporting excellence, was the nursery to the national soccer team taking their first hesitant steps internationally.
He was part of the Merdeka soccer tournament since its inaugural series in 1957 ? which brought in teams from Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
Other than preparing the Merdeka Stadium for the annual showpiece, the Merdeka soccer tournament, Perumal took great pride in preparing the stadium for the third World Cup hockey tournament and the Muhammad Ali-Joe-Bugner world heavyweight boxing title fight ? both in 1975.
He was credited to a large extent with the near-perfect hockey pitch coaxed from a normally bumpy soccer patch.
But the boxing match brought him pain.
This was when a large concrete block was embeded in the ground to provide a base for the main boxing ring.
"I feel a deep pain inside, like a stab in the heart," he told me the morning after the slab was lowered into the ground.
After spending hours on the upkeep of the Merdeka Stadium turf under the blazing sun or at Stadium Negara in his shorts and wide-brimmed straw hat, Perumal often turned-up in a batik outfit to cheer on the Malaysian teams.
Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) founder president and Malaysia's first Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman always found time to draw Perumal into the VIP lounge for refreshments during the halftime break of Merdeka soccer matches.
He was just as popular with almost every Malaysian sportsman to grace the stadiums. Most of them went out of their way to acknowledge "Uncle Perumal" as he was affectionally known to them.
Perumal was equally comfortable in the company of former Malaysian soccer greats M. Chandran, Soh Chin Aun, Mokhtar Dahari and their teammates. He was also happy in the company of badminton stars Tan Aik Huang, his younger brother Aik Mong, Punch Gunalan and Yew Cheng Hoe.
Representing a cross-section of the sportsmen who turned up to bid him farewell on Thursday were Dr Mani Jegathesan, Nelson Chandran, K. Karu Selvaratnam, R. Yogeswaran and S. Vegiyathuman.
Perumal took pride in preparing the Merdeka Stadium for athletics. He was often seen near the finishing line with a stopwatch hanging down his neck. This was before the advent of electronic timing ? when time-keepers cascaded down a flight of steps by the side of the finish line.
Today, Perumal's era seems to belong to a different world.
He was known to all and sundry including visiting world stars like Swedish tennis ace Bjorn Borg and British soccer star Kevin Keegan among the many whom he rubbed shoulders with.
With his trademark bushy white moustache, Perumal had a magnetic capacity for attracting friends visiting the stadiums and showing them around.
For as early as 8am he would be at Stadium Merdeka, driving either one of the two tractors or heavy rollers around in the company of his supporting ground crew.
And like a professional golfer he would squat on the field, studying the blades of grass on a particular stretch before deciding on its next course of treatment.
True to his sporting spirit, he was always an early entrant for the famous Malay Mail Big Walk. Perumal was health conscious, keeping to a strict diet and walked some 5km every day after retiring in 1982.
Says son Chandran, 48, the eldest of his eight children: "Papa taught us the pride and dignity of hard work, no matter what. We are richer for that."
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