IT began with a phone call, snowballed into a frenzy and ended up gripping the nation.
The year was 1982 and the World Cup in Spain a day old — Belgium had stunned reigning champions Argentina 1-0 in the curtain raiser on June 13.
Live matches had been airing since 1974 but RTM only showed the opener, semifinals and final.
That proved inadequate for a self-confessed “Soccer Fanatic”, who spurred into action and a historic event into being.
As often the case, The Paper That Cares — then part of the New Straits Times Press (M) Berhad — stepped forward to turn his brilliant idea into reality.
That fanatic was insurance agent Peter Teo, who reached out to the paper’s then-popular-now-defunct Hotline team to propose collecting RM1 from the rakyat to sponsor matches.
The 27-year-old West Germany supporter later told Malay Mail his dream was not far-fetched because “after all, there must be millions of football fans in the country”.
The Hotline report the next day by Noraini Shariff, who took Teo’s call, was titled How About This?
It sparked a revolution and what is now known as crowdfunding.
Malay Mail editor Ahmad Sebi Abu Bakar believed Teo’s suggestion was doable and reporter Daniel Chan was assigned to get feedback from Information Minister Adib Adam.
Three days after Teo called, Adib said “yes” to Chan when met at Angkasapuri.
Malay Mail went to town with his reaction — it was cover story the following day — and the nation was taken by storm.
The People’s Live Telecast Fund (PLTF) was launched on June 19 to a terrific response.
Malay Mail office in Balai Berita, Bangsar and New Straits Times branches nationwide were swarmed by people from early morning to late night in the days that followed.
The threshold was RM60,000 for one match and unsurprisingly, Teo was the first to donate (RM10) among thousands that also included children.
Even a six-year-old emptied his piggy bank to donate savings of RM12.80.
Some contributions came via cheques, postal and money order.
The paper published reports and donor names daily to update the public.
Within five days of launch, the PLTF pool swelled to RM66,116.45.
That was enough for a match but Malay Mail “challenged” its readers to take it up a notch.
Their response was emphatic and by the time a Malay Mail Invitation team took on Malaysian Artistes on June 27, the total had surpassed RM170,000.
A day before, RTM did their bit by waiving technical costs totalling RM33,000, and a contract for three group matches — England-West Germany, Soviet Union-Poland, Italy-Brazil — was signed.
The Malay Mail team at Selangor Club Padang (now Dataran Merdeka) consisted of staff and internationals like Soh Chin Aun, Wong Choon Wah and Dell
Wagers were placed on three players to score past legendary comedian
Former Malay Mail Editor Emeritus Frankie D’Cruz, then a reporter, was one of them — with RM80 for every goal — but he fired blanks.
He vividly remembers how “effective” Hamid was and one particular incident still gives him the giggles.
D’Cruz reminisced: “I was through on goal. Hamid being Hamid, he rushed out and performed a comedic jig and weird facial gestures.
“I ballooned the ball and the crowd booed me!
“Hamid later said Jangan marah bos, ini taktik. It was great fun.”
Then Yang di-Pertuan Agong Sultan Ahmad Shah (RM1,000), Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad (RM200) and his deputy Datuk Musa Hitam (RM150) also chipped in later.
PLTF eventually collected RM300,000, enough for a fourth match (England-Spain) and a post-tournament telecast — the Fifa World All-Star charity game on Aug 7.
There was almost a last minute snag due to technical difficulties — with RTM informing Ahmad Sebi on matchday (June 29) that the England-West Germany second round telecast was off.
Somehow, Telekom Malaysia and RTM worked a miracle and it was back on at the 11th hour, albeit in black and white.
Retiree K. Sivadasan, 63, then a young father of two, remembers how he beamed with pride when the phrase DiTaja Oleh Rakyat Malaysia flashed on TV screens before each match.
“It showcased what the Malaysian spirit could accomplish. I didn’t contribute but knew friends who did. It was a proud moment,” he said.
D’Cruz added: “It gave us goosebumps. Being involved in such a move left an indelible mark on our lives, history of our nation.
“Malay Mail has seen its fair share of scoops and good reporting in over 100 years but this was a true people’s initiative.
“The Mailers came together with one aim, to make it work.”
And work it did, for it remains the only World Cup that was DiTaja Oleh Rakyat Malaysia.
The honour of seeing that gigantic effort through, will forever be the
Grand Old Lady’s.