I was never a footballer, even during my childhood years and when I reached the age of twelve, I started to play this game with boys of my age. Somehow I did not get very far with this game and decided to drop the idea of being a footballer. Although I was a school runner during my primary schooling, football did not attract me as much as badminton and sepak raga did. But until that decision came, I participated in few games with close friends and neighbours and I will always remember some of those wonderful moments. Unable to play football those days would render you being called as kaki bangku and so I tried very hard to play this game.
During my childhood days of four or five years old, my football partners would be my female and male cousins and our playing field would be the small narrow patch of grass right beside the house of our grandparents in Jalan Omri, Muar. We knew not of the rules and the only objective of playing this game was to score as much as we could into the goalpost. How we scored the goal was secondary because what matter most was to let the ball into the goal post. There were ten of us; six boys and four girls and so each side would have three boys and two girls. We had no referee and so we had no specific rules. To make the goal posts, we used bamboo sticks with each stick poked into the ground. Each goal post would have two bamboo sticks at the right and left sides of the goalkeeper. We were hardly four feet tall and the bamboo sticks too had to be of the same height. For the ball, it was made of rubber that grandma bought at the toy shop selling all sorts of toys along Jalan Abdullah.
Besides this small patch of field was a chicken barn and we had quite a number of this livestock. And as we know, chicken would shit anywhere they feel like it and so on this playing field could be found some of their droppings.
We never had our shoes on whenever we played football. All of us would be barefooted what the Malays term as kaki ayam. The boys had their shorts on while the girls with their skirts. The game would begin with each side ready to do battle. The ball would be placed at the center and the leaders had to chase for the ball to pass to their respective players. We produced more noise to the highest pitch as the game gained its momentum. Then came to the thrilling part when the goalkeeper would be tested. There was one incident I will always remember.
I was chasing after the ball and when I noticed my partner still had the ball to his feet, I ran as fast as I could to the goal line, just besides the goalkeeper. When he saw me, he shouted as loud as he could ‘dia ni curi ayam’ (he is off-side)’. I was not perturbed by his shouts and when the ball reached my right foot, I kicked the ball and shouted loudly…’GOAL’. While celebrating my feat, I suddenly stopped as I could feel something sticky under my foot. Then I said with a solemn face ‘alamak, aku terpijak tahi ayam lah (Oh no, I stepped onto the chicken’s shit). It was now the goalkeeper’s turn to laugh out loud saying, ‘padan muka, dahlah kaki ayam, pastu curi ayam, sekarang pijak tahi ayam, hahaha’ (Serve you right, you were barefooted, then you were off-side and now you step onto the chicken’s shit, hahaha).
When I grew older at the age of twelve, I played football with boys my age and there were some of them slightly older. This time our playing field was at the field facing the Police barracks along Jalan Ibrahim. The field was not properly looked after and so some parts of the field were full of lallang and some of these full grown lallang were much taller than us. However, at the junction of Jalan Omri/Jalan Ibrahim lived the grandfather of my friend Halim we all called Pak Ji Sebol (Haji Hasbullah). Pak Ji Sebol had some cows and every morning he would bring these cows on to this field to have their first meal of the day. These cows did a great job eating the grass thus trimming the grass. Maybe that was the reason why the local council did not bother to have the grass cut. The tall lallang would be a hindrance whenever the ball fell on to it. Sometime this would be the most ideal location to hide while waiting for the ball to pass your way. It would give your opponents a terrible surprise. This time we wore rubber shoes, the same shoes we wore to school. But there were still few others who were still barefooted and they would sometime step on broken glasses causing blood to flow profusely. And by now we had quite a number of players ready to exhibit their skill. Because we had no specific attires, at times we could not recognize those on our side. So when we did our passing, we had to be extra careful to make sure the ball was passed to the right person. Most of the time we played without our shirts on what Muarians of my time called belenggeng.
Once we organized a game between boys of our area and those from the neighbouring area. We invited a neutral referee for a fee of one dollar and two linesmen for fifty cents each. This time we had a real ball and it was so much tougher than we thought. Some of us who came from rich families wore the boots fit for the game, what the Muarian Malays called Sepatu Boot but many of us, including me, could not afford them and so we still wore our school rubber shoes.
There wasn’t any official invitation to stage the game. It all started when the two elder boys of different neighbourhood mooted the idea of having a friendly match between them. After the two agreed, we had our practices at the same field facing the Police barracks. Two days before the game, the final selection would be done and it was during one selection that I offered not to be included. I volunteered not to be selected because I could not sustain the continual running. In fact I never played real football game during my teens but I loved watching the game. We would sit on a long wooden bench of four storey and this sitting position was known then as tenggek ayam.
During every Merdeka Tournament, we would be glued to the radio whenever our national team played. In those days, I remember names such as Ghani Minhat, Arthur Koh, Gabriel, Ng Boon Bee and many others. Malaya at that time was the darling of football in the region of South East Asia and our close rival was always Korea. Burma was another force to be reckoned with. Every time our national team played against Korea, we would be so excited that leaving the radio to ease ourselves was unthinkable. When our national team scored, we would be shouting like as though we were inside the stadium. Somehow, our national team did not improve much while other countries made a name for themselves. Today Korea had advanced greatly leaving us trailing like a lame duck.
In the 60s, the Padang Muar Club, situated along Jalan Arab, would be filled with spectators of all races whenever our local team stage a tournament. The road leading to the field would be filled with cyclists and few cars going to the same direction. Before the game begun, many tree branches would have been taken by the early birds to have a better view of the game. These tree branches provided the best view and one could enjoy the game with full view just like in a stadium and they need not have to pay for the tickets. Members of the club could enjoy the evening watching the game at the verandah while enjoying their cool brew. At the entrance where the tickets were sold, the queue sometime could be quite long with its tail reaching the center of the road. Inside the field to the right were the hawkers including the most sought tea Muarians of my time called teh cangkung.
We must always be early to have a better view as the field had no chairs to offer to its local fans. There were, however, about twenty chairs provided for some VIPs located near the front stairs of the Club. We had to stand just along the boundary line. When the ball reached the goal post, those standing at the center of the field would enter the field to have a clearer view, and they would immediately scramble back when the ball boomeranged.
During every tournament, the referee must be very attentive and must be able to make a quick and fair decision. Otherwise, he would need a bodyguard after the game. Seeing bottles thrown into the field was quite common especially after a visiting team was given a verbal warning instead of a deserving yellow or red card. This sometime arouse suspicion and we suspected the referee could be corrupted. We called this leferi makan suap. The linemen too needed to watch out because he was more exposed to the spectators. So in most cases, he would always be seen siding the local team from one end to the other He would receive good remarks as well as pats on his back. When the local player was off-side, he would always has one of his eyes closed. After the game, he could have a great teh cangkung and the tauhu bakar without having to worry about the bill. It was indeed fun seeing a real football game at the Padang Muar Club with both sides in full gear of sparkling colours.
Our youngest uncle Wak Jis (Abdul Aziz b Abdul Hamid) was a good footballer during his younger days. Every evening he would not miss playing football at the field of the police barracks with boys his age. Every time our team played against a neighbouring team he would surely be one of the players. He even played for the Muar High School. His older brother Wak Yem (Ibrahim b Abdul Hamid) somehow was not too keen playing football or sepak raga. Maybe he would rather spent most of his time watching the girls passing by our house in the evening.
Schools too often organized the game to be played among the schools in the district and sub-district. Most of these games would be held at the field along Jalan Abdul Rahman towards Tanjung. This field had a small covered area fitted with steel benches and this would be the place the VIPs would be seated during the game. Although this field was more suited for sporting activities, schools would often use it for football games.
As years passed by, I began to stay away from playing football in total. However, most of my younger cousins continued playing the game until they reached their teens and early twenties. Among them I remember Ghani Ahmad and Zainuddin Mohd. Noah. Although I did not play this game any longer, I would always be around to give my team the support they needed.
So always remember, during our childhood years, whenever we played football, we always attributed a fowl (ayam) associated to some of the terms used in a football match. Curi ayam is off-side, kaki ayam is barefooted and tenggek ayam. And playing football with kaki ayam would surely land oneself stepping on to a tahi ayam.