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He was the King
Fri, Oct 15, 2010
The New Paper
Photos:
Photos: ST, TNP, BH, New Nation    

By Brian Miller

LIKE you, I came to know Dollah Kassim in the early 1970s. Like you, I saw him as a soccer star. A Malaysia Cup hero.

A decade earlier, in the 60s, we young teenagers wanted to quit school and become footballers. We had two role models: Rahim Omar and Wilfred Skinner.

If you could catch a ball, you were Skinner. If you could dribble, you were Rahim. No argument there. But in the 70s, it was Dollah.

Back then, we used to think that the National Stadium was built for him. For him alone, to show us his fantastic dribbling skills.

On Malaysia Cup days, Dollah was our man.

Sure we had the Quah brothers. Both Kim Lye and Kim Song were great footballers. But Dollah was king.

I still have this picture of him in my mind.

It was taken on the tarmac of the then-Paya Lebar Airport. The year was 1977. Singapore had won the Malaysia Cup at the Merdeka Stadium in Kuala Lumpur.

When the plane carrying our players touched down at Paya Lebar and taxied to a halt, airport workers swamped the airliner.

They cheered. Indeed, there was this maelstrom of shouting and hand-waving, you would have thought The Beatles were about to alight.

Then they emerged. And as they came down the stairs - no aero bridge in those days - the roar from the airport staff drowned out the sound of the 737's engines which were winding down.

Then they saw Dollah. He was not the captain of the side, but he was holding the cup.

No need to say, they mobbed him, lifted him up on their shoulders and he, in turn, lifted the cup high above his head. It reminded me of that other picture. The one of American soldiers raising the flag on Iwo Jima.

 

Kassim being hoisted by the Singapore
fans.

For a young journalist just like - just two years into the job - it was a defining moment.

I knew then that I had made the right choice. This was what sport journalism was all about. This was the career I wanted.

Flashback even further - to 1970. Army days. My camp was at Fort Canning where some expensive restaurants now stand. The army chow that they served was, well, army chow. So, most days I would take a walk to Percival Road where Singapore Pools had their headquarters and where the canteen served better food.

On the first day there, who do you think I bumped into?

Dollah.

I nearly choked on my fried rice. I mean, there he was - my hero - at the next table. I didn't know whether to doff my hat, bow or pay for his meal.

I went up and shook his hand - rigorously. I remember him, grinning and saying: "Alamak, easy lah."

I went back to finish my fried rice and I waited until he left - swaggering out in his bell-bottoms and tight shirt.

Needless to say, I never had another meal in camp. It was Pools or starve.

Dollah, then working for Singapore Pools, was always there. Occasionally he would eat with Kim Lye, who was also with the lottery giant. I remember Dollah being a friendly bloke. He always had a toothy smile and he was truly a fan's fan. No airs. Just plenty of hair which he piled up - Afro-style.

We would meet more often when I joined the New Nation in 1975. But even as a reporter I was always in awe of the man they called the "Gelek King" because of his astute running with a ball.

He didn't possess a mule-kick of a shot but his footwork was so cultured, I would imagine he could juggle a soap bubble in the shower. And when he took a shot from the penalty spot, his aim was as deadly as Robin Hood.

Personality

With him, there was no economy in effort. Although Dollah never captained the national team, he moulded them through the sheer force of his personality.

Those days there were some rogue elephants on the pitch. Guys who would push, shove and trample you if that was the way to win.

But Dollah was never like that. He played to win. He played hard. But he played fair. Together with my colleague Jeffrey Low, we would, during the Malaysia Cup season, traverse the length of the Malaysian peninsula covering Singapore's exploits. And when stumped for a story angle or a quote, we knew we could get a nugget or two from Dollah.

But it was on home soil, at the National Stadium - before the coming of Fandi Ahmad, Abbas Saad and David Lee - that he gave us most joy. People talk about the Malaysia Cup of 1994 which we won, thanks to some great goals from Abbas and Fandi's stewardship. But my great days were the ones when Singapore launched its Malaysia Cup campaign with guys like Dollah at the helm. I remember those epic battles with Penang, Pahang and Selangor. When the tension brought the hairs on your arm to stand on end. Dollah featured in all of them.

Then, a year ago, he collapsed while playing on the field while playing a friendly game. He fell into a coma and we knew then that he faced the biggest match of his life. Like you, I hoped he would win it.

Sadly, we heard yesterday, he didn't.

This article was first published in The New Paper.

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  Good on you, Fandi
   
 
  You were something special, Dol
   
 
  He was the King
   
 
  Remembering the Gelek King
   
 
  Now, the Dollah Kassim Award for youth football
   
 
  Goodbye, Gelek King
   
 
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