SEA Games, 1979: Malaysia's forgotten golden man sets the record straight

Mohamad Bakar was the coach when Malaysia won SEA Games gold in Jakarta in 1979, yet some records credit German Karl Weigang as the man in the dugout. The Malaysian spoke to Vijhay Vick to set the record straight…

Imagine being the main man in charge when a significant achievement is realised, only to watch someone else enjoy all the credit.

That was exactly how Mohamed Bakar felt as history somehow got distorted for almost four decades and a number of media outlets – including FourFourTwo – mistakenly named Weigang as the man who guided Malaysia to that gold medal.

I even tried correcting the records by contacting FAM several times ... but the records were never set right

- Mohamad Bakar

The late Weigang did become Malaysia coach in 1980. But a year earlier, the German had joined the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) only as an advisor to the national team.

“It’s frustrating to be honest … frustrating that others have got the credit while I seemed to have been forgotten from history,” Bakar, seen far right in the main image above at a coaching course in Germany, with Weigang second from the left, told FourFourTwo.

“I even tried correcting the records by contacting FAM several times, and to several general-secretaries, but the records were never set right. Only recently I am getting some calls by press.

“Weigang was an advisor … he only came for the final, where he sat on the bench.

“He did occasionally help out in training, especially with the reserves.”

Bakar's profile in Malaysia's 1979 SEA Games programme

An Olympian himself in 1972, Bakar was an assistant to Weigang when Malaysia qualified for the 1980 Moscow Olympics – which they would ultimately boycott – but before that had been given the top post in January 1979.

That was prior to the 1980 Asian Cup qualifiers and at the conclusion of predecessor Chow Kwai Lam’s tenure.

Malaysia qualified for the Asian Cup under Bakar's watch by finishing runners-up to North Korea in Group 3. With the former international calling the shots, Malaysia then finished joint-champions of the Merdeka Tournament after being held by South Korea in the final at Merdeka Stadium.

The Merdeka Tournament was at that time among the premier competitions in Asia and attracted some big names. A good finish provided the perfect platform for the SEA Games, to be held in Indonesia two months later.

A typically heated battle with an old foe

Malaysia went to the 1979 SEA Games as defending champions and boasting a number of household names, such as Mokhtar Dahari, Soh Chin Aun, Santokh Singh, James Wong and Hassan Sani, expectations were high.

It seems hard to believe in today’s football landscape, but Bakar was the sole coach at the time, without any support staff.

I did not have an assistant, there was no goalkeeping coach and we didn’t have a kitman

“The SEA Games was a bit different compared to other tournaments because it came under the Olympic Council of Malaysia,” explained the 72-year-old Bakar.

“We had a team manager but I was the only coach. I did not have an assistant, there was no goalkeeping coach and we didn’t have a kitman.

“The pressure was high and we were the defending champions. Playing Indonesia, who had a good side too, in their own backyard only made things more intense, but we had some real talent in our squad.

“We worked really hard and thinking about that, and the fact my name has slipped under the radar, makes me feel sad and frustrated at times.”

Bakar (left) with former teammate V Kalimutu

In a competition comprising of only five teams back then, Malaysia earned direct qualification into the gold medal match after topping the table with two wins and two draws from their four group matches.

The Indonesians then beat Thailand on penalties in a playoff to reach the decider.

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According to Bakar, there were several bad omens the Malaysians had to quickly forget ahead of the Games final.

Among them were forgetting to pick up the team leader Datuk Abu Bakar Daud from his hotel on the way to the stadium, the team bus hitting a drain and Bakar himself being locked out of his room the night before because he had forgotten the keys.

Yet Malaysia would prevail 1-0 after Mohktar’s 21st minute goal turned out to be the only one of the night.

Bakar and Malaysia rejoiced but it wasn’t a very pleasing atmosphere at Jakarta's Gelora Bung Karno Stadium, he recalled.

“It was a very heated atmosphere. Even back then, the crowd didn't like us from the start. After we won, the spectators threw shoes and slippers towards us in anger, such was the rivalry,” said Bakar.

‘Showing discipline and determination’

While footballers are firmly in the spotlight more than ever these days due to the growth and reach of social media, Bakar revealed his players were also well known back in 1979.

In the 1970s, the only source of information was from newspapers, television and radio, but footballers were widely recognised because the sport was followed so closely.

At the Games, we showed our discipline and determination. We never went out until the tournament was over

And this could get them into trouble, including drifting out of their lines during a march for the tournament's Opening Ceremony.

“We were picked on during the managers’ meeting with the contingent chef de mission, signalled out for things like being distracted in the march past,” said Bakar.

“Many other athletes from other sports were doing it as well but because the footballers were more recognisable, they only saw us.

“Yet at the Games, we showed our discipline and determination. We never went out until the tournament was over too.”

That discipline helped ensure a second consecutive gold medal for the Tigers and, almost 40 years later, Bakar should rightly get the recognition he deserves.

Malaysia's 1979 SEA Games team

Coach: Mohamad Bakar

Team Manager: Oei Poh Hwa

Assistant team manager: Ibrahim M. Taib

Players: Abdul Hamid Ramli, R. Arumugam, Jamal Nasir, Kamaruddin Noor, Wan Jamak Hassan, Abdul Shukor Salleh, Abdah Aliff, Soh Chin Aun, G. Torairaju, Mokhtar Dahari, Ramli Abdullah, Abdullah Ali, D. Davendran, Aziz Mahmud, Isa Bakar, James Wong, Santokh Singh, Hassan Sani.

Main photo: Danial Saad courtesy of Berita Harian