THE Malay Mail sports desk was my life for close to 30 years.
I can only look back with fond memories at the foundation that was first part of me, then built me through the years.
I became New Straits Times (NST) librarian in April 1977 and started stringing with the Malay Mail sports desk two years later, before joining fulltime in 1981.
My final article for the paper — as Level Field columnist — came last year.
But the best years were the ones which groomed me as a sports journalist.
The first sports editor I worked under was the late Maurice Khoo.
But Tony Francis, who came on board in 1983 from NST, had the biggest impact on me and, arguably, the sports pages.
The next four years under him were definitely some of the toughest, but his demands and high work ethics saw us taking the sports pages to a different stratosphere.
Tony came from a family of journalists and having started as a rookie aged 20, he brought experience and new ideas that sprinkled magic on the pages.
Out went routines and mundane reporting, in came breaking stories, profile pieces, commentaries and columns from renowned personalities.
Simply put, it was “poetry” — the glory days of sports coverage.
Along with the legendary late Francis Emmanuel, it was learning and learning all the way for me and other reporters on the desk — Ooi Kok Chuen, Rajan Etickan, Joe Carlos, Johnny Yew and Leon Lim.
It is little wonder Tony was inspired by sportswriting great Norman Siebel.
“I read his columns as schoolboy and was mesmerised by the way he wrote,” said Tony of Siebel.
“Imagine my joy when I was asked to join the desk when Norman was the sports editor.
“I was going to work under every person I had admired and hero-worshipped,” added Tony, who joined the late Mansoor Rahman and Ian Pereira at the NST sports desk in 1967.
With that kind of background, naturally Tony aimed to set standards high.
We benefitted immensely.
Quoting Tony, he aptly summed what sports meant to us.
He said: “Sports took me on a high like a drug. You get involved emotionally when the country wins or loses.
“You get so much joy in telling a happy story to your readers or sad when you have to tell them what happened in defeat.”
Among our popular features included the Kevin Keegan letter and answer column.
The famous former Liverpool and England footballer was involved when playing for Harimau Malaysia at the 1982 Merdeka Tournament.
Indonesian badminton star Rudy Hartono also wrote for the paper in the run-up to the Thomas Cup. Tony, a close friend of Rudy, ghost wrote the column.
John Toshack, Dr Jozef Venglos and Soh Chin Aun were just some of the other personalities whose writings graced the Malay Mail sports pages.
One man who can tell exciting tales of the changing print media phases is sports journalist extraordinaire Ian Pereira.
Ian joined NST with Tony in 1967 — later moving to Malay Mail as sub-editor — and remains an elder statesman of sports journalism.
Frankie D’Cruz, the former Malay Mail Editor Emeritus who grew up reading Ian’s reports had this to say: “He could easily amaze you with the sharpness of his journalistic insight.
“He’s the definite professional, someone blessed as he inevitably will be with a lifetime spent totally immersed in journalism.”
Working with Ian was a gift, an inspiration, a special thrill.
He still tells young sportswriters: “Make history, or lose and be history.”
My first lesson in sports journalism as a stringer was given by Ian.
I clearly remember how much interest he took in me and went through each article I wrote with a fine tooth comb.
Not every encounter was pleasant.
He would tear me apart for mistakes on tables and taught me how to perfect it.
Till today, whenever I tabulate a table, his face appears before me.
The likes of Francis, Tony and Ian laid the foundation for the Malay Mail sports desk.
Just why the product was outstanding and turned heads; everyone looked forward to the sports stories churned out in the 1980s and 1990s.
TONY joined Malay Mail in 1979 and left as Sports Editor in 2006. He also served as Consulting Sports Editor, Specialist Writer and columnist at different times from 2013 to last year.