Johnson Fernandez: It was a little past 1.0am when my wife called. “Are you on your way home?” she asked. “Yes, I am back,” I replied. “But I didn’t hear you,” she said. `My wife does not sleep until she hears the main gate being opened and closed and the beep of the car’s reverse sensor. When she knows I am safely in, she’ll automatically knock off. Unbeknownst to her, I was parked about 100 metres away, as I usually do, whenever I return home late after Malaysia Cup matches or a Friday night out with the boys. I just want to be sure there were no trackers, before I enter the house. Cautious? Paranoia? Well, both. I have had death threats. Contracts actually, which were not unusual in our line of work. This particular story (there are others, which I shall get to later) is one of many reasons for that. It was in March of 2003 when I received a call from a contact in a State FA. This was a team I covered regularly in the M-League.
“Do you have a minute? This is important,” the caller said. “Yup, what’s up?” I replied, the rest of the conversation taking a dark turn. “I just got out of a closed door meeting. I know you as a friend and I don’t agree with the discussion regarding you.” I waited. I suspected it was going to get more sinister. “Be very, very careful. They had just put a contract out on you.” When I asked who else was at the meeting, he rattled out a few names. I responded: “You mean the top man was there too?” My contact replied: “I am very sorry to tell you this, but it was his idea.” I profusely thanked my contact for the heads-up. Now what, I thought. I was not about to change my style of writing, that the truth will always be told. I was not going to be intimidated. But I had a young family.
My wife was a home-maker. My three children were teenagers – my sons were 17 and 16 and the youngest, a girl, was 13. Needless to say it was a sleepless night as I contemplated my next move. As I mentioned earlier, I was not going to compromise. I can’t even recall if I ever discussed it with anyone, definitely not with my wife. My concern was the future of the family. If ever something was to happen to me, they needed to be on solid ground.
The next day I made an appointment with my insurance agent. “I want a life policy for RM1 million,” I said to him. “No matter what happens to me, how it happened, why it happened…if I am killed, I want my family to receive RM1 million. My wife should be the sole beneficiary. Work out the premium.”
Shocked at my hitherto unseen agitated state, he asked for the reason and I related the story to him, in strict confidence. Fifteen minutes later, after consulting with his bosses, the agent reverted with a figure and the deal was done.Well, I have lived to write this story.
So, what happened? Some months later, I bumped into my State FA contact and I did ask him. “Though there were not many of us at the meeting, still there were one too many. If it had happened, someone would talk. As a politician, the boss had too much to lose. Too much of a risk,” he explained.
I wish I still had the policy to authenticate this story. Only last year, I cleared all my old files, which included this lapsed policy certificate. However, my insurance agent was able to trace the approved application form for the policy. It would be pertinent to point out here that particular policy was for only one year.
I have learned to look into the rearview mirror at every turn I took. I used different routes to and from work. Became more aware of my surroundings, looking if there were loiters near my car when I was done with my pints.
No, not because of this one incident. There were others. Several years earlier, there was another contract hanging over my head. And I know this because the “contract-holder” himself told me about it.
I can’t remember the year, except that my daughter had not been born yet. I had my two sons. So, it would have been sometime in 1988-1990., and the boys would have been two to four-years-old.
This time was a State team official. I turned up one day for one of my many football assignments, and this person is there as well. He sees me, walks straight up to me and without even blinking he says, rather callously: “Go and thank your wife and kids that you are alive today.
And he walks away from me but remains in the function hall. I was stumped. What was that all about, I thought to myself. Of course, I confronted him after the event and he tells me that he had me tailed for three days.
On the day of the hit, or just before it was all supposed to go down, the “contract killers” had called him to confirm the assignment. “I asked them where you were. They told me you had just got into your car. I asked them if anyone was with you, and they replied a lady and two little kids also got into the car.
“That’s when I called it off. I thought about your wife and children. If you had been alone, we wouldn’t be having this conversation now,” he said. It is strange though how that caustic relationship with that official matured into one of mutual respect. We remain very good friends today though. Occupational hazard
I could write about how a national hockey fullback, when I turned up while they were practising, sent a high ball in my direction because he didn’t take too kindly to my description of his performance in a tournament.
I heard the whistle of the wind in my left ear as I dodged the ball. The national coach saw what happened which resulted in practice being stopped and a dressing down for the fullback, all out of earshot (pun intended!) of course.
The threats on my life didn’t come only from this side of the Causeway. There was one from Singapore which I vividly recall. I was not amused that someone had given my home number to this person, who was a regular on the Malaysian golf circuit.
It was about 3.30 in the morning when I was forced out of bed. When the phone rings at that time of the day, it’s always chilling. You fear the worst. A death in the family, perhaps…Then, I hear this unfamiliar, irritated voice booming at the other end of the line: “Hello, is this Johnson Fernandez of The Malay Mail?”
“Yes, but who is this?” I ask. He retorts: “I am ……. (Name withheld). You don’t simply implicate me in match fixing. You better watch what you write.”
Excuse me, but I had not mentioned this sorry-excuse-for-a-golfer’s name anywhere in any of my numerous reports on the bribery scourge that held Malaysian football by its jugular at that time.
But, I had implicated a Singapore pro golfer who plays regularly on the Malaysian circuit as a “fixer” for infamous Singapore bookie Rajendran “Paal” Kurusamy. I had not mentioned names.
As the Malay proverb goes “siapa makan cili, dia rasa pedas”.Or, the English equivalent: “If the hat fits, wear it”.
Even after I had clarified that I had not mentioned anyone by name, especially given there was a large horde of Singapore golfers on the Malaysian and Asia-Pacific circuits, the ranting didn’t stop.
“Don’t f..k with me. You don’t know what I can do. Don’t you dare step into Singapore. You will never return to Malaysia,” he threatened. Sick and tired of the ranting of a lunatic, I just said “F..k off”, slammed down the phone and left the receiver off the hook. I needed my sleep. I was in and out of Singapore numerous times after that. Still here.
Yes, we took the risks. We didn’t write to please. We wrote as we saw it, we fashioned our thoughts without fear or favour.
Would I choose this profession again? Without a second thought!