M.Chandran – a Soccer Champion without equal

HE was envied, he was feared, he was admired but most of all he was respected. He was Datuk M. Chandran, one of the most treasured, if not the most treasured son of Malaysian football who passed away peacefully on the 28th September 2019. He was 77.

Even during his final days, when fans and friends knew he was gravely ill, they came from all walks of life to visit him at his home. They hugged him and silently shed a tear. Chandran was a man of few words, but did his talking on the field and, by his actions, showed he cared.

One of the most admired footballers who graced football stadiums throughout Asia, and on occasions, Europe with his gritty and stout defending, the legendary Chandran captained Selangor and Malaysia on numerous occasions with utmost pride. He went on to guide his beloved Selangor to a number of Malaysia Cup victories.

The name M. Chandran may not ring a bell with the younger set of Malaysian footballers and fans but for those who followed football in the 60s, 70s and early 80s that name brings on flashes of a steely, tough-tackling centreback who went on to become not only Malaysia’s but Asia’s best sweeper. Whenever Chandran’s name was on the team list, the fans rested easy because they knew Malaysia had a reliable centreback,

Chandran was born in Sungei Siput, Perak on May 4, 1942 but, surprisingly, he was always a die-hard Selangor player. From the first day he donned a Selangor jersey, he was hooked and never played for any other state throughout his footballing career.

The year 1961 was when Chandran caught the eye of the selectors and was picked for national youth team training. Not only that, he was also inducted into the Selangor Indian Association (SIA) team that competed in the inter-club league of the Selangor Football Association.

During those days, crowds would gather in the evenings to watch inter-club matches involving the league’s big names like Rangers, Sentul Railways, Tamilian Physical Culture Association (TPCA), Police, Selangor Chinese Recreation Club (SCRC) and SIA. Matches were played at venues like the SIA ground (Kampong Attap), TPCA Stadium (Jalan Raja Muda), Postals ground (Jalan Imbi), Malayan Railway grounds (Jalan Sentul, Jalan Ipoh and Jalan Brickfields), PWD ground (Jalan Cheras) and the SCRC ground (Jalan Pudu) where crowds numbering several hundred would stand just on the outside edge of the bye-line to watch keenly contested Selangor FA inter-club league matches.

Two years later, in 1963, Chandran joined the Selangor camp and trained with seasoned players like goalkeeper Teh Cheng Lee, defenders Abdullah Noordin and Edwin Dutton and forwards Stanley Gabrielle, Arthur Koh, Abdul Ghani Minhat and M. Govindarajoo. These players were already established members of the national team.

The years 1968 to 1974 were the golden years for Malaysian football and Chandran was at the heart of this glorious period dictating play from centrefield. This era of changing tides started in 1968 when Malaysia became  Merdeka tournament champions by beating Burma 3-0 in the final. That year Chandran had one of his best Merdeka tournaments. His undisputed defending capabilities was a major factor in Malaysia keeping a clean sheet en route to clinching the title.

Malaysia winning the 1968 Merdeka tournament where Chandran contributed so much fortified the relationship between himself and team manager Harun Idris, who in ‘football jargon’ was renowned as a ‘players’ manager’. It was no surprise that Chandran became Harun’s choice as national captain as he knew how to lead by example without showing-off his authority. Throw into this mix of ideal team manager and exemplary captain, Dave McLaren, a coach with innovation and imagination, and you had a recipe for success which was proven on numerous occasions.

Qualifying for the 1972 Munich Olympics was Malaysian football’s finest hour and Chandran was in the thick of things. The fans were pleasantly stunned by the Malaysian team’s achievement. On their return the players, officials and members of the contingent were given a welcome normally reserved for warriors returning in triumph from battle.

Chandran, the captain, was driven in an open-topped car which led the parade from Subang International Airport to the Selangor Menteri Besar’s residence in Jalan Raja Muda, Kuala Lumpur, a journey of about 20 miles where he did little else but wave to throngs of people who lined the route to hail their conquering heroes.

For the 1974 Asian Games in Teheran, Chandran returned to captain the team and brought his playing career to a fitting end by leading Malaysia to a first-ever football bronze medal in the quadrennial Games. Malaysia edged North Korea 1-0 in the third-fourth placing match. In earlier pool matches, Malaysia lost to Iran 1-0, drew with Japan 0-0 and beat South Korea 3-2.

Former FA of Malaysia General Secretary and ex-international Datuk Dell Akbar Khan could not hide his feelings when asked about Chandran’s passing,

In a voiced tinged with sadness, Dell said: “I came to know Chandran through my late brother Sadar Khan. Both were attached to (Standard) Chartered Bank and they were like brothers. In fact both played for the country. I was playing for PDRM and Chandran was playing for SIA. When he joined the Selangor squad I already knew him and from then a special relationship started. He was the centreback and I was the rightback and we played together even in qualifying for the Olympics. Chandran was very much like me. We mean business during matches so don’t mess around. I guess that’s why we got along so well.”

Dell added: “I remember a Business League match when we were on opposite sides. I tackled Chandran and accidently caught his ankle. My brother came on as a substitute for Chandran and from that moment on, I became a victim. My late brother never left me alone, he was waiting to break my leg, that’s how close we were.”

Dell, a former CPO of Kuala Lumpur, added: “Chandran was a great captain and we all looked up to him. You cannot beat Chandran in a 5-metre or 10-metre dash for the ball because he was super fast. He was not as skillful as (Soh) Chin Aun but he was fast.

“I lost my brother in 2009 so I know what it’s like to lose someone so close. Now losing Chandran indeed it’s very sad.”

Close friend and Asian Football Confederation General Secretary Datuk Windsor Paul when asked about his relationship with the late Chandran, said: “I would say one of deep respect and admiration for who he was as a person and former national captain and also a very special relationship only good friends can share.”

Clinching the Asian Games bronze medal was all the more remarkable because it was achieved despite the team lacking the services of a coach. The senior players, led by Chandran, plotted the tactics and oversaw the execution. Between his emergence as a youth international in 1962 and his retirement as a senior international in 1974, Chandran had a 12-year run at the top of the game.

During this span his career was distinguished by his captaincy of the national team in the 1971 Merdeka Tournament, a first-ever Olympic qualification the following year and an Asian Games bronze medal. These achievements stamped him as the most accomplished footballer the country had ever produced in its 62-year history as an independent nation.

Close friend and former colleague, Mervin Nevis, said: “I first met Dato Chandran in 1973. We were then working with Chartered Bank (now Standard Chartered Bank) and somehow the both of us clicked and became good friends. Our friendship grew stronger as time passed and stood to the test of time even after we both settled down and raised our respective families. We were more like brothers and each other’s trusted confidant. There were no secrets between us as we shared common values. We always made it a point to keep in touch with each other either in person or by phone at least four times a week.”

In 1974, Chandran retired from the national team and the following year from Selangor. As one door closed another opened and Chandran moved into coaching.

As a coach, he proved to be a no-nonsense disciplinarian.

Datuk Soh Chin Aun, another member of the team which qualified for the Munich Olympics, said:  “It’s a great loss to the country to lose someone like Chandran. We played many years together, we fought on the field for the country. He was a great captain and always motivated his players and supported us. We will definitely miss him.”

Career-wise Chandran had moved from Chartered Bank to Arab Malaysian Bank where he retired at age 55 in 1997.

Chandran also served the Football Association of Malaysia technical committee for eight years and later worked under the late Dato Sri Paul Mony Samuel at FIFA’s development office in Kuala Lumpur.

Datuk M.Chandran leaves behind wife Datin Pushpalata, sons Vicnaraj and Kumarason, daughter-in-law Adeline Chew and two grandchildren.

To conclude this eulogy for a dear friend, I have borrowed a few paragraphs from the poem ‘If Tomorrow Starts Without Me’ by David Romano which is very appropriate.

 If tomorrow starts without me

And I am not there to see

If the sun should rise and find your eyes

All filled with tears for me


I wish so much you wouldn’t cry

The way you did today

While thinking of the many things

We didn’t get to say


I know how much you care for me

And how much I care for you

And each time that you think of me

I know you’ll miss me too


But when tomorrow starts without me

Please try and understand

That and angel came and called my name

And took me by the hand


So if tomorrow starts without me

Don’t think we are far apart

For everytime you think of me

Please know I am in your heart


Rest in Peace Chandran. Your sacrifices for your family and country will not be forgotten but will forever be etched in our hearts.


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