Fauzi Omar: It was the middle of 1981. The Malaysia Cup was at its peak. So was talk that bribery – match-fixing – was rife in Malaysian football. We got our big break and published stories confirming match-fixing was indeed a part of our football. And then we received a bullet in a white envelope.I was with the Sports Mirror then, a weekly sports paper started by R.D. Selva and Bill Tegjeu. I had left the Malay Mail to join the new venture.
It was a fun and rewarding time to be a sportswriter. Malaysian football was in full bloom. The national team were flying high. We had just beaten South Korea in the Olympic qualifying round the previous year. Yes, you read it right, South Korea. The Malaysia Cup tournament was thriving. Fans were filling up stadiums all over the country.
Everybody was lapping it up, including, unfortunately, the bookies. But except for rumours and coffeeshop talk, no newspaper had carried anything concrete on the match-fixing menace – until the Malaysia Cup final of 1981. That was when we got our big break and the bullet.
The break came in the form of Singapore national coach Jita Singh who was brave enough to speak to us when his team, cited as the overwhelming favourites to win the Cup that year by the Press and pundits on both sides of the Causeway, went down tamely by 4-0 to Selangor.
Jita told me after the match that he was warned the night before the final that five of his key players had sold the match. The anonymous caller even named the five players. But Jita said there was no way he could have dropped all five at that late stage.
Sure enough, Jita noticed during the match that the five players were playing one of their worst games ever and their showing couldn’t be attributed to Cup final jitters because all were very seasoned campaigners.
Splashed across the front page of the Sports Mirror that week was a 90-point banner heading in bold letters: MALAYSIA CUP FINAL FIXED?
We followed up that breakthrough by interviewing the likes of the late Mokhtar Dahari, Shukor Salleh, Bakri Ibni and few other lesser known state players who admitted they had been offered money to throw matches.
The then Selangor manager, Mazlan Harun, even told us he had initiated his own investigation, cornered a bookie and got an admission out of him. From that admission he confronted a few of his Selangor players and they confessed in writing that they had indeed been on the take and asked for his forgiveness.
It was shortly after the publication of these stories that I walked into the office one day and was told a white envelope containing a bullet had found its way into our office. There was no name on the envelope, neither was there any note attached.
As this happened quite a long time ago, I vaguely remember us wondering what that bullet was all about and even having a good laugh about it, not actually realising it was a warning to us to stop writing about bribery in football.
As it was an unprecedented happening in our profession at the time, we took no heed of the sinister message behind the bullet and were happy to keep doing what we were doing. The bullet, I think, ended up in someone’s drawer in the office.
It was only much later that we actually realised the significance of that bullet and intrepid journalist R. Nadeswaran even wrote about it in his widely followed column Citizen Nades.
Fast forward to 1994, and I had another ugly encounter as a result of my writing. This one was more direct and much scarier as my family was right in the middle of the threat.
My home was attacked by some people who threw stones and smashed my kitchen windows. Attached to the stones were notes with death threats, warning me to stop writing if I wanted to live. I had an inkling of which article had led to the attack and who I had offended. But, of course, I couldn’t know for sure.
We were in constant fear then. To make matters worse, my wife was pregnant with our second child. Datuk A. Kadir Jasin, the Group Editor-in-Chief of the New Straits Times then, was kind enough to assign company security guards to our house.
Unable to attack our house, they came after me. It happened after an especially long day at the office, around 4 o’clock in the morning. I was already the Malay Mail Editor and keeping such late hours was pretty normal.
I was driving along Jalan Setapak heading home to Taman Melawati when a red Proton suddenly came screeching by at speed, trying to force me off the road. I hit the brakes and swerved to the side of the road as the red Proton raced away. In the panic, confusion and anger, I failed to get the plate number of the car.
It wasn’t until after I went to see the then IGP, Tan Sri Rahim Noor, that that ugly episode ended. It was Datuk Kadir who suggested I see Tan Sri Rahim with the then Malay Mail news editor, the late K. Bala. To Tan Sri Rahim’s credit, that same night he sent two patrol cars to my house and I noticed they kept making their rounds around my house the following few nights.