This piece, written by Jeffrey Low, was for me the best tribute to the late Dollah Kassim among all the others today. It was lyrical, laced with detail, recalls football history in snapshots and brimmed with a tinge sadness, poignancy and tenderness. You could just imagine Low slapping Dollah on the back and saying “Have a safe journey, my friend, and remember us”. Just wanted to share it here.
God bless you, Dollah, I hope you are in a much better place now
Singapore Sports Fan
Dollah’s jinking all the way to heaven
(The Straits Times, 15 Oct 2010)
By Jeffrey Low
Got the wings of heaven on my shoes
I’m a dancin’ man and I just can’t lose
You know it’s all right, it’s okay
I’ll live to see another day…
Ah, ha, ha, ha, Stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive
Ah, ha, ha, ha, Stayin’ alive…
-The Bee Gees
You waited till yesterday, didn’t you? To stay alive for one whole year, just for the right time to say your final goodbye? Don’t worry, my friend. We can see you in your dancing boots, jinking all the way to heaven, to the rhythm of one of your all-time favourite songs, pointing to us that, yes, on this day you should be on the bus too.
But then again, we know you will be on that bus this morning, with the boys, with the brightness of your spirit illuminating the path to the Shah Alam Stadium, where they will play for you, and you alone.
For it was exactly one year and 10 days ago that you gave your life to football, in this very same auspicious event, the Sultan of Selangor’s Cup, playing only five minutes at the Jalan Besar Stadium before calling it quits.
On the bus to Kuala Lumpur this morning, your pals will ask for your blessings, the guys who found glory with you – Samad Allapitchay, S. Rajagopal, Quah Kim Song, Robert Sim, Hasli Ibrahim, Lim Tien Jit, Ho Kwang Hock.
And at Shah Alam for tomorrow’s veterans match against Selangor, Soh Chin Aun will be there, the one you took such Sgreat pleasure in beating. And so would Santokh Singh, who used to shout at you: ‘Come lah! You dare?’
Many had tried to break your legs. But all had failed. Many have tried to imitate you. None have succeeded.
For there can only be one ‘Gelek King’, one Dollah Kassim, the one who rose from a scrawny 12-year-old juggling ragged balls in the back alleys of Farrer Park, to one of the greatest legends in the annals of local football.
Say hello to Uncle Choo Seng Quee for us, the one who discovered you, nurtured you, loved you exceedingly for the way you could twist and turn and tear away to kingdom come. Many times over the years Uncle would say of you: ‘Dollah has the pace and acceleration that will tear his markers apart, especially in that crucial 10-yard burst that will leave everyone in his wake.’
And that was how you scored the best goal of your 11-year international career, your second goal against Pahang in Singapore’s 2-0 Malaysia Cup victory at the Grand Old Dame in 1975. In your own words you said: ‘That was my most memorable goal. Zainal Abidin sent me a through-ball from midfield, a Pahang defender came rushing at me, but with one swerve I beat him.
‘By this time I was already in the six-yard box, but the goal was guarded by three men on the line – goalkeeper Redzuan Shamsuddin, and defenders Jamal Nasir and Ramli Mahmud.
‘With another body feint, Jamal slipped and fell down, and Ramli was going the wrong way. With only the goalie to beat, I pushed the ball forward a bit and pretended to kick. The goalie fell for the trick and dived. So it was an open goal for me.’
Across the entire region, from the Thai King’s Cup, to the Merdeka tournament, the Jakarta Anniversary and the President Park Cup in Seoul, the name Dollah Kassim was respected, revered, and most of all, reviled.
And from Kangar to Kota Baru and Kuantan, across to Alor Star, Georgetown and Ipoh, to the ‘Kubu Hoodoo’ of Malacca and the Larkin in Johor Baru, people came to see Dollah and his men light up the Malaysia Cup.
Proud were we to own you, a son of the soil whose greatest moments were reserved for the National Stadium’s sacred turf, where the Kallang Roar erupted for you and the gang of the 70s.
In fact, Dol, you could have lasted more than 11 years in the Singapore shirt. And when you gave up in 1979 at age 30, no amount of appeals from the fans, officials and the press could change your mind. As you put it: ‘There’s no guarantee I’ll be third time lucky (after suffering two successive right-shoulder dislocations in the 1978 and 1979 Merdeka tournaments). I don’t want to go through the pain again.’
Ah, yes, you hated that certain Indonesian hard-man named Simson Rumahpasal, who roughed you up, who made you pun: ‘Alamak, that fella really cari pasal (looking for trouble).’
Dol, we love you for your honesty, your hand of friendship for everyone you met, and above all, for your devotion to the heavens above. Sometime soon, we will drop by your favourite makan place at the corner of Kandahar Street, to wait for your spirit to return, like you always did, to join us for nasi padang after your Friday prayers.
Ikan bakar, rendang, telur dada… fare thee well, my friend. And thank you for stayin’ alive – until the right time. Amen.
Jeffrey Low, 63, is a former sports writer with The Straits Times and The New Paper. He covered the Malaysia Cup from 1969 to 1994