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How Ipswich Town became Chester Bennington’s favourite football club

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It’s been a difficult day, hasn’t it?

The world was left absolutely shocked on Thursday after it was revealed that Linkin Park’s lead vocalist Chester Bennington was found dead in his Los Angeles residence, with reports claiming that he took his own life.

The timing of his death is absolutely tragic, given that Linkin Park had only recently launched their seventh album (One More Light), 17 years after releasing their first album (Hybrid Theory). It’s also amplified by the fact that Chester left us all on the birthday of Grunge legend and close friend, Chris Cornell, who took his own life in May.

But it’s no secret that Chester struggled with alcholism and substance abuse for large portions of his life. He was very transparent about his struggles and actively spoke about the battles and demons he had to fight within himself.

CHESTER & IPSWICH TOWN

Chester was a huge fan of his hometown NBA outfit, Phoenix Suns, but when it came to football or soccer, as they call it in the United States, Chester had an affinity for Ipswich Town. Back in April 2009, when Ipswich were competing in the Championship, East Anglian Daily Times published an article explaining how Chester was easily the Tractor Boys’ most famous fan.

According to them, Chester’s dad, Lee Bennington, was close friends with Alan Howard; a now-retired police officer from Suffolk. Lee made a trip to the UK in the early 1990s, and visited Portman Road, alongside Alan, for a few Ipswich Town games. That trip made him fall in love with club and according to Alan, he passed it to his son Chester as well.

“He came on duty with me and went to a couple of football matches at Portman Road and he took an interest in Ipswich Town. The following year I was invited over to Phoenix where he lived and that’s when I first met Chester – he was about 13 or 14,” Alan told the East Anglican Daily Times.

“Chester has never been to a match because every time he comes over to the UK for a tour it’s normally the summer but he follows Ipswich on the internet and he always knows what position they are in the league and he takes an interest in the scores,” he added.

Alan went on to even reveal that Chester had expressed his desire to one day host a concert at Portman Road, where the club plays its home matches. Nonetheless, the club posted a short tribute on Twitter to pay respects to a man that had clearly influenced millions of people around the globe. Ipswich Town fans were also flooding Twitter with plenty of messages for the Linkin Park star.

 

Football

Selangor 3-2 JDT: Amri Yahyah’s late goal seals dramatic win for Red Giants

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Amri Yahyah’s last minute penalty snatched a dramatic win for Selangor as they ran out 3-2 winners over Johor Darul Takzim (JDT) after an entertaining game.

It took a while for anything to get going, although JDT had most of the ball in the early stages of the game. However, Selangor defenders were composed enough to repel any attacks.

Marcos Antonio was also on top of his game, canceling out most Selangor attacks that were launched towards them and JDT’s midfielders were equally up to the task too, as far as protecting their backline is concerned.

But JDT’s game plan went out of the window when a corner kick found an unlikely scorer in Fairuz Abdul Aziz, who bundled in the ball. Haziq Nadzli thought he was able to stop the ball in time, but the officials ruled that the ball crossed the line – handing Selangor a lead, against the run of play.

JDT barely recovered when they kicked off and it resulted in Selangor grabbing another goal immediately. Forkey Doe played a through pass into the box and Marcos failed to get a touch on it as it allowed Amri Yahyah to shoot past Haziq to double the lead.

But the scoreline forced Ulisses Morais to bring on Gonzalo Cabrera and Gabriel Guerra as half-time subs and immediately, JDT looked more threatening on the attack with Guerra spearheading it.

They were relentless in attack and they finally got one back on the 56th minute when Khairul Azhan failed to keep hold of Fazly Mazlan’s shot and it allowed Afiq Fazail to cross it back in for Hazwan Bakri to tap it into the net.

Selangor though could’ve gotten a third had Forkey Doe been much better in his finishing on the 61st minute mark.

On the 69th minute, Selangor paid the price when Marcos dinked the ball from the right and Afiq headed it across goal for substitute Darren Lok to knock the ball into the net for a well-deserved equalizer.

A minute later, Guerra had a glorious chance to hand his team the lead, but after collecting a pass on the right and despite having so mush space in the box, his shot went across goal and nowhere near target.

It was cagey from then until the very final minute when Aidil Zafuan was booked after being guilty of bringing down Forkey Doe inside box.

Amri Yahyah stepped up and showed complete composure to convert the spot-kick and hand his former team a crushing late blow.

Athletics

Khairul Hafiz smashes Tan Sri M. Jegathesan’s 49 year-old 200m record

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Malaysian sprinter Khairul Hafiz officially smashed the national 200m record, en route to winning the event at the ongoing Malaysian Open today.

He clocked an impressive time of 20.90 seconds, which is 0.02 seconds faster than Tan Sri M. Jegathesan’s record from 1968, to finish ahead of Jonathan Nyepa (21.29 seconds) and G. Aravinn Thevarr (21.21 seconds).

More impressively, Khairul finished five metres ahead of his nearest competitor, which undoubtedly makes him the clear favourite to clinch gold at the SEA Games, next month.

The 19 year-old also currently holds the national 100m record (10.18 seconds), after beating former national sprinter Watson Nyambek’s time of 10.30 seconds at the Malaysian Games last year.

Football

Transfer Rumours: Giroud to Dortmund? Correa to Liverpool?

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13 July 2017 – Here’s a round-up of all the hottest transfer rumours from today!

Mbappe to Arsenal?

An interesting report from France Football claims that Arsene Wenger met Monaco starlet Kylian Mbappe for approximately three hours on June 14, which is close to one month ago. Wenger allegedly spoke to Mbappe about Arsenal’s plans for the future and why London would be the perfect place for him to develop his career and potentially emulate the impact made by Thierry Henry. As of now, it’s difficult to see a conclusion to this saga, given that Real Madrid are also equally determined to make Mbappe their bumper signing of the summer. If anything, this report goes to show how Wenger is really willing to spend big and push for a Champions League return in 2018.

Olivier Giroud to Borussia Dortmund?

According to the Mirror, Olivier Giroud is being earmarked by Borussia Dortmund as an ideal replacement for the outgoing Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Giroud’s first chances are a major doubt now, given that Arsenal signed Lacazette last week. But the Frenchman appears to be more than happy to stay and work hard for a first team role. That said, if Dortmund come knocking with the promise of a decent contract, first-team football, and the opportunity to play in the Champions League, it’s difficult to see Giroud saying no, isn’t it? The World Cup, after all, is happening next summer.

Ryan Bertrand to Manchester City?

Pep Guardiola, still reeling from the frustrations of missing out on Dani Alves, is reportedly prepared to make an offer for Southampton’s Ryan Bertrand. On paper, it’s difficult to compare both players, but Bertrand isn’t exactly a poor choice. He’s played in the Premier League for years and has been rather consistent in recent times too. The Saints are not keen on letting him go, but according to Daily Mail, an offer of around 30 million pounds could be more than enough to convince them.

Angel Correa to Liverpool?

It’s hard to imagine why Liverpool would need any more wingers but Foot Mercato claim that they’ve tabled a five-year offer for Atletico Madrid’s Angel Correa. This rumour is highly unlikely for two reasons. Atletico Madrid won’t be keen on letting anyone go until January, when their transfer ban is lifted. But more importantly, Liverpool have got plenty of options on the flanks, now that even Mohammed Salah has joined them. Having said that, there are no doubts over Correa’s quality as an attacker and he would certainly make Jurgen Klopp’s side a better one.

Riyad Mahrez to AS Roma?

Just over a year ago, Riyad Mahrez was easily one of the most wanted players in Europe, but he has now resigned to fact that a Premier League offer is very unlikely at this juncture. But according to Sky Sport Italia, Serie A giants AS Roma are prepared to offer him an escape route from Leicester City at this juncture. Craig Shakespeare recently urged Mahrez to be a professional should no offer come in, but even he’d know that there’s very little point in trying to keep a player who wants to leave. If a decent offer comes in, expect Leicester to take the deal.

Football

Pahang 0-2 Johor DT: Is this the end of Tok Gajah’s title challenge?

Johor DT’s hopes of winning a fourth consecutive Malaysia Super League title was handed a major boost today after they clinched a crucial 2-0 away win over rivals Pahang.

Goals from Gonzalo Cabrera and Natxo Insa were more than enough for the Southern Tigers to beat Pahang for the third time this year, in front of a decent crowd at the Darul Makmur Stadium in Kuantan.

Within two minutes into the game, Mohammad Ghaddar showed excellent awareness to find Gonzalo Cabrera from the left edge of the box, and Cabrera made no mistakes by firing home to make it 1-0 on the night.

Pahang attempted to muster a quick comeback, but they struggled to create tangible chances in the final third, with the likes of Matheus Alves and Mohamadou Sumareh being marked carefully by JDT players.

The second half was far more eventful, with Ghaddar’s goal being disallowed for a foul on Jae Won on the 46th minute. The comeback was almost achieved 20 minutes later when Matheus’s header found the back of the net. Unfortunately for the home side, it was ruled out for offside.

Two fresh players in Nurridzuan Abu Hassan and Joseph Kalang Tie were introduced to help Pahang salvage the game, but a late strike from ex-Levante man Natxo Insa effectively killed the game, allowing Ulisses Morais’ men to clinch their 11th victory of the season.

END OF PAHANG’S TITLE HOPES?

The outcome of this match means Johor DT are now 12 points ahead of Pahang on the Malaysia Super League table. Kedah have pipped Pahang to second spot on the table, and their nine-point gap means they are now JDT’s closest challenger, with seven games left in the season.

For Dollah Salleh and his men, this defeat comes as yet another frustrating facet of their season. They started the season strongly, losing only twice in their first nine games, besides clinching big wins over Penang (6-1) and T-Team (5-0). But midway through April, their form dipped heavily, resulting in them dropping points in five of their last six games, including tonight’s defeat.

12 points is a huge gap – its equivalent to four defeats. An optimists will tell you that nothing is impossible in football, but unless JDT go through a tragic turn of events in the next few months, it’s difficult to see them losing four out of their last seven games. They lost the FA Cup final in dramatic fashion against Kedah and their MSL title hopes are probably over. Time for the Elephants to completely switch their attention towards the Malaysia Cup?

FULL MSL RESULTS (11/7/2017)

Sarawak 1-3 Felda United
Pahang 0-2 Johor DT
Penang 0-2 PKNS FC
Melaka United 2-4 Kedah
T-Team 3-1 Kelantan
Perak 0-1 Selangor

Health & Fitness

Monster iSport Victory Review: Your ultimate workout earphones

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Let’s face it. There are a few things you look for when it comes to finding the perfect earphones for your workout, travel and leisure goals. Durability comes into the picture, alongside external aesthetics, sound quality, and technological features that make the entire process of listening to music a transcendental one. The primary requirement though, is always, and has always been comfort.

So we recently put Monster’s premier wireless headphones – iSport Victory – to test and we were left relatively impressed by the entire package, including the price.

THE AESTHETICS?

The design is sporty, with deft touches of familiarity in the form of fins on the earbuds. It’s available in three colours – green, black and blue, while the entire package comes with three different sizes of ear tips. This particular addition alone allows you to custom fit the earbuds into your ears to ensure maximum comfort, based on the size and shape of your ear.

Photo Credit: Monster

The cable is a real beauty, though there is a safety rationale behind it too. This particular earphones features a newly-designed twisted, reflective cable that makes your outdoor workout experience a tad more safer, especially at night. It’s also ultra-slim, light and isolates noise – giving you a wholesome listening experience.

Photo Credit: MegaObzor.com

The incline remote control and mic is positioned near your chin, once you get the earphones attached to your ears. There’s a central button that multitasks – it handles pairing, power as well as call management. And as with most earphones out there, the plus and minus button deals with volume and track selection.

Photo Credit: Monster

On top of the device itself, you get a small pouch as well as a USB cable for charging purposes. Monster claims that the battery life of this device is around eight hours, and that’s approximately the amount of time I got from the device as well.

Most importantly, it’s sweat proof.

Photo Credit: Monster

THE EXPERIENCE?

I spent a week on the iSport Victory – predominantly in the gym, as well as several outdoor runs. The major concern for any wireless earphones is always bluetooth connectivity. And a quick Google search will tell you that some other users have had connectivity issues with the iSport Victory. Having said that, I had no issues with connectivity throughout the entire week. Though it took me a while to figure out the initial process of pairing my device to it, everything else sailed smoothly after that. I’ll leave it for you to interpret this one.

Photo Credit: headphonereview.com

The key thing to take into consideration is that this is a workout earphone, so it’s not designed to belt out Beethoven’s 9th Symphony with crystal-clear sound quality. But that’s not to say that the iSport Victory compromises on sound quality – in fact, it’s pretty good. A large chunk of tracks on my workout playlists are either electronic music with heavy basses or hip hop tracks with the proverbial tough drum beats. Both genres worked pretty well on the iSport Victory.

Photo Credit: ixbt.com

This is due in no small part to the Pure Monster Sound feature, which comes with two mode – warm-up and sport. In essence, the former features more sub-bass and is less louder, while the latter seems to amplify the high-mids and sounds significantly louder. If you’re into listening to David Bowie or even Bob Dylan during your workouts, go for the warm-up mode. But if you’re the Flume or Childish Gambino type, it’s got to be the sport mode.

CONCERNS?

It’s a tad too idealistic to expect everything to be perfect, but my only concern with the iSport Victory is the incline remote control. It’s a bit too close to the chin, which can make it uncomfortable at times. On top of that, it’s easy to accidentally switch to another track while you’re trying to increase or decrease the volume. Sure, this is a feature that’s predominant on a number of other workout earphones too, but it’s still an annoying feature nonetheless. Also, it’d be even better if the iSport Victory was available in several other colours, including Red.

Photo Credit: superg.ru

To make things easier for you, here’s  quick summary of the pros and cons of the iSport Victory:

PROS

  1. Unparalled comfort
  2. Sporty, sleek design
  3. Good sound quality
  4. Durable and sweat-proof

CONS

  1. Position of incline remote control
  2. Dual-function of ‘plus and minus’ button
  3. Limited colour choices
Photo Credit: headphonereview.com

CONCLUSION?

At RM588, the iSport Victory is evidently on the higher end of things. But it’s probably justifiable for several reasons. The sound quality is amazing, given that it’s a workout earphone that weighs only about 15 grams. The exterior quality of it is good, especially the thin, sleek and reflective cable. Most importantly, it’s comfortable. When you’re working out, the last thing you’d want is discomfort in your ears. The ear-hooks and secure and fit – never once did they shift or move around during my runs. If you’re looking for a comfortable workout earphones that packs enough punch to belt a reasonable version of Queen’s ‘We Are The Champions’ while you power through your 10km run on the treadmill, few options are better than the iSport Victory.

Football

Dez Corkhill: Why prioritizing SEA Games gold is detrimental to Malaysian football

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Malaysian football’s obsession with winning gold at the SEA Games later this year (and indeed at every SEA Games) is a huge impediment to what is surely the real target for the sport – that of ensuring that a FIFA ranking of 167 is a nadir, rather than a regular occurrence.

Time after time over the last 15-years whilst observing football in South east Asia, I have seen a desire for success at Junior International football level repeatedly given priority over senior level professional football. Surely that is the wrong way?

HARIMAU MUDA FOCUS – Judged to be unsuccessful

A desperate situation in Malaysia around 2007 saw the start of the Harimau Muda project with a team of young players being parachuted into first the Malaysian League structure, then into the Singapore S.League, followed by seasons in Slovakia and then Australia’s state league structure. It initially helped produce a SEA Games victory in 2009 and an ASEAN Championship a year later, but ultimately did not result in an ever-improving generation of talented footballers. Indeed, Malaysia’s FIFA rankings have plummeted to new depths.

Photo Credit: FourFourTwo

The Harimau Muda (as they were known) experiment – for all their exposure and the undoubted good work done by the coaching staff – didn’t help elevate Malaysia to a new level of competence. Nazirul Naim and Irfan Fazail were the stand-out players in recent under-23 teams. Lebanon’s Rabih Ataya in an Asian Cup qualifier recently roasted Nazirul, whilst Irfan has had injury woes and slipped off the international radar completely. Essentially, you cannot accurately predict that a good young player will become a top senior.

When the Harimau Muda project was dropped, I hoped that it meant that the focus on age-restricted teams would lessen and that senior football would receive critical attention. But witness the hullabaloo surrounding the non/late appearance for attendance of many of Malaysia Under 23’s football squad for a training camp ahead of this month’s AFC under-23 qualification tournament in Bangkok (and also the most likely participants for Malaysia’s SEA Games team) and it’s clear that junior international football – to many – is seen as more important than senior professional football.

UNDER-23 TEAM – A development squad and no more

To me, the under 23’s are a junior team which, in the bigger picture, are a snap-shot of how the future might look for the all-important National Team. The under-23’s are, or should be seen as, a development team and nothing more.

For the under-23’s coaching team, it is a huge impediment that they can’t get access to players for as long as they’d like as their jobs and reputations that are on the line. But the general hoo-ha about it strikes me as an incredibly ‘cart-before-horse’ reaction. At a time when the league and Malaysia Cup are in full-swing, players are being asked to be away from the clubs who pay their wages for a two-week camp, plus a one-week tournament for what is, after all, a junior representative team.

Photo Credit: ESPN FC

It has always seemed slightly bizarre to this outside observer that such emphasis is placed on junior teams (which is what the under 23’s are). A junior event, simply, should not be interfering with, and absolutely not taking precedence over, senior activities – which is what the Malaysia Super League and Malaysia Cup are. It is putting the cart before the horse.

It would be nice – and a fillip – if Malaysia could do well in one, or both tournaments, but the under 23’s are not the National Team. They are a junior team. This is not a club vs. country issue; it is a senior vs. junior issue in which the senior team should, logically, get precedence every single time. In Malaysia (and Singapore) they don’t.

HOW SEPARATION FROM SENIOR FOOTBALL CAUSES PROBLEMS

In my early years in South East Asia, I worked in a part-time capacity on the Coaching staff at Geylang United in Singapore. Geylang – coached by ex Kuala Lumpur centre back Scott O’Donell – had a reputation for unearthing, developing and giving game time to young players. In the team, I worked with current Singapore International Goalkeeper Hassan Sunny, former Johor centre back Baihakki Khaizan and a young winger called Jamil Ali – all of whom were teenagers who regularly played in a team that finished second to Steve Darby’s Home United. All three massively benefitted from working with some experienced internationals such as Hasrin Jailaini and Lim Tong Hai, and working alongside four excellent foreigners including Alex Duric, Brendan Santalab (currently with Western Sydney Wanderers) and now-broadcaster, PJ Roberts.

Photo Credit: Goal

At the end of that 2003 season, Singapore introduced a Harimau Muda equivalent called ‘The Young Lions’. Hassan, Bai and Jamil Ali were taken from Geylang who, deprived of three very important players, slipped to seventh in that season. O’Donell – a respected young coach – was sacked, and Geylang have never recovered their previous lofty position. Young Lions had a couple of strong years with a third place finish in 2004 and 2006 as many of their players had, like Hassan and Bai, been recruited from club teams and had a strong grounding. Since 2007, when Young Lions started taking players from their own development teams rather than from clubs, the team has never finished higher than 9th in a 12-team league.

A strong Geylang had been good for club football in Singapore. As they weakened, so did the league. Taking the young players away from the clubs meant that once the ‘experienced’ Young Lions players moved on, they subsequently struggled to compete and were regularly bottom of the table. Worse, having a ‘junior team’ in the S League has discredited it. Singapore, to this day, persists with an experiment when it is clearly failing. The Singapore National Team – like Malaysia – is close to its lowest ever FIFA ranking.

Prioritising youth over serious senior professional football has not worked in Singapore, and it did not work in Malaysia. To prioritise SEA Games success for an age-restricted junior team ahead of developing a strong senior professional league is simply not a recipe designed to produce a happy outcome.

Photo Credit: ESPN FC

JUNIOR NATIONAL TEAMS – AT OTHER PEOPLE’S EXPENSE

Additionally – and importantly – the paymasters of, for example, Adam Nor Azlin at Selangor, Arif Farhan Isa and Amirul Hisyam at Kedah, do not have their best interests served by losing players for a long period of time – especially at such a crucial time in the season. If it’s a senior international event and a gap exists in the league calendar, then a longish camp is understandable. But we’re talking about junior events.

It’s also a valid argument that a defender such as Arif Farhan benefits far more from training alongside team-mate, Zac Anderson, than he does at any under-23 camp. Arif will learn far more facing Sandro in training each day, than he will in facing an under-23 team-mate, or even another under-23 team. Certainly Safawi Rasid will learn more alongside Gabby Guerra and Mohammad Ghaddar than playing with lads of his own age and size.

And for those in the squad not regularly playing in their state or club first team would also learn an awful lot more if they played regularly in a strong, competitive, open-age league. If he’s not a regular in the first team, then there’s nowhere else for a player to get quality match-time. The President’s Cup competition is haphazard, and sending him on loan to another senior club is a non-starter simply because there aren’t enough clubs in the Malaysian football pyramid.

Photo Credit: Bola.com

Another thing that mystifies me is why so much time and money is invested/spent sending junior teams abroad so often. The Malaysian under-23 team have recently undertaken a three-match tour of China. In March, they were in Dubai. What was the cost of these two trips? Could this money be better directed in organizing a decent league structure or even a proper National Football Training Centre? We don’t have a permanent football training camp for national teams in Malaysia. It’s pertinent to ask why not?

Hindsight is easy, but it has long seemed to me as though focus on the junior international sphere is putting the cart before the horse. Focus on age group national teams simply doesn’t expose players to enough ‘tough’ competition football, and insisting long weeks are spent in camps rather than learning their trade amongst experienced professionals is counterproductive. The money spent on those foreign jaunts if re-directed to a proper training camp useful 52 weeks a year would have been a better investment.

A NEED FOR IN-DEPTH COMPETITION

The real solution is surely to have true competition in Malaysia club football. Good quality competition. Strong leagues with multiple layers in an organised pyramid incorporating formalised promotion and relegation. Young players may do well against players of their own age, but that doesn’t help them when they come up against an experienced, gnarly veteran who doesn’t fall for fancy feints and isn’t intimidated by raw pace, and who is willing to kick a youngster up in the air when the ref isn’t looking.

Photo Credit: ESPN FC

I have long argued that Malaysia’s focus should be on developing a strong, multi-layered league so that the national team – whatever the age range – are the in-form cream of the crop and not a pre-selected group identified at 14 as future internationals. I would also argue that age restriction leagues should end at 18. After 18, you are considered physically mature enough to play in senior (men’s or women’s) football. But there are precious few places to play. There are precious few genuine local clubs to train at and play for.

SEA GAMES GOLD – A distraction

But most importantly, please, please, please, forget about junior tournaments such as the SEA Games being an important target. For as long as the SEA Games football is an age-restricted event, then the tournament is no more than a glorified junior event. Focus on winning a junior event will deflect attention, and resource, from senior events, which need to take priority.

It’s nice to win the SEA Games, but if the REAL target is getting a senior team good enough to play in Asian Cups and, later, World Cups, then SEA Games gold must become a secondary target, whilst strengthening and adding depth to the domestic league structure to ensure that when players are called up to national selection they are battle-hardened and good enough to cope must be the target.

Continue to prioritise youth teams ahead of solid senior club development, and No. 167 on the FIFA Rankings is going to be a serial occurrence.

AthleticsHigh Jump

Exclusive: Nauraj Singh talks about SEA Games, Usain Bolt and upcoming Worlds

At 193 cm, it’s little surprise that Nauraj Singh Randhawa is taking the high jump arena by storm.

Back in April, Nauraj set a new national record for high jump at the 2017 Singapore Open. After recording his personal best at 2.29 m in 2016, he took it up a notch to set the new record at 2.30 m at the 2017 Singapore Open.

Just over a week ago, the 25-year-old made national headlines again as won his his first European title in Barcelona. Nauraj bagged gold after clearing 2.21 m at the Barcelona International Athletics Championships.

His victory at Barcelona sent Australia’s Brandon Starc to second place (2.15m) and Spain’s Miguel Angel Sancho Rubio to third place (2.11m). A few days later, he clinched his second European gold medal by clearing 2.21m to win the Memorial Cansino meet in Castellon.

Having said that, it is not fair to credit all his success and glory to his towering height, it is a combination of years of hard work, resilience, determination, and the will to make it.

However, starting out at the age of 9, Nauraj was more interested in sports like football, sepak takraw, running, and gymnastics.

It was his school PE (Physical Exercise) teacher who saw massive potential in that young boy and convinced him to switch to high jump instead. The rest, as they say, is history.

Despite his hectic schedule, Nauraj took time to speak to FourthOfficial.com to discuss his plans for the 2017 Kuala Lumpur SEA Games, his knack for breaking records, and how he keeps everything in balance.

FO: First of all, Nauraj, tell us a little bit about yourself.

Nauraj: I’m a person with principals which I inherit a lot off my dad growing up (not as great as my dad but i do follow most of them). And I can be very superstitious about particular things, somethings just simply don’t change. haha. I have believes and I believe in God.

FO: How or when did you realise you had the knack for high jumps? Were you very active as a child?

Nauraj: High jumping goes back to primary school. At that time, I was 9 and I was more interested in sports like football and speak takraw and running and some form of gymnastics. But then after the age of 9, other students begin running faster than me. It was then that my PE teacher, En Syed Isa, convinced me to become a high jumper as I was obviously taller than all the other 9 year olds. That’s when high jump started.

FO: When did you decide pursue it professionally? Who was your biggest motivator?

Nauraj: I made my first MSSM (Malaysian Schools Sports Council) debut at the age of 15 and managed to win a bronze medal there. I also won a bronze the following year. At the MSSM, national junior coach from Uzbek, Alim Ahmedjanov potential in me and made necessary arrangements for me to gain a place in BJSS. So in August 2008, (I was 16 at this time) I took up an offer to move to Bukit Jalil and pursue my athletic career there, since things were not going well for me back in JB anyway. My parents, particularly my dad, had been my motivation.

Photo: Roslan Khamis

FO: How did you balance all your training with your studies and social life?

Nauraj: It is definitely difficult to find the balance between studies and social life when you’re being trained as an athlete, especially when you’re trying to be a professional one. You can’t always have it all. There’s always going to be a time where you need to set priorities straight and do what’s best for that time. The circle of friends I have is only a handful, and they are mostly sports related people. As years went by, that circle became smaller. But being in sports gives me an opportunity to meet new and interesting people all around. As for now, I’m putting my studies on hold. I don’t want to put myself in a position where I would one day regret that I should have prioritised my sports more during the pinnacle years of my career.

Photo: Nauraj Instagram

FO: You also have knack for breaking records. Do you carefully plan it, or do you just give it your best and see what happens?

Nauraj: Personally to me a record is never owned. Its just a delusional mark which states a performance that others have yet to reach. Records don’t matter to me. What matters to me is progression. Progression which I make from year to year and that I’m constantly finding way and methods to simply be better than I was yesterday.

FO: Your current personal best is at 2.30m, which you set in Singapore. Do you intend to break that record in the 2017 SEA Games?

Nauraj: Yes I do intend to break that mark, but I dont know when or where is that going to be. I can’t focus on the outcome of a competition but what I can do is focus on the process that’s going to bring that outcome. I’m going to do my part right and find consistency and put in the work and effort. If i do these things well enough, the numbers will follow.

FO: How are you preparing for the SEA Games; are you training in Malaysia or outside?

Nauraj: Preparations are going as planned. My coach Alex Stewart has put in a plan for me for the entire season from last october and we are just following it. This year is a year filled with travelling and prior to 2017 KL SEA Games. I’ll make my first ever World Championships debut in London this August, and that’s the highlight of my season.

Photo: Mic.org

FO: Do you think you’ll get gold in the high jump events like you did in 2013 and 2015? 

Nauraj: I believe there’s not a competitor in this world who walks into a competition without having eyes on the price. Everyone wants to win. High jump is very technical and it’s actually an event where anything can happen on the day. So it’s going to be a battle – may the best man win! But I can tell you this, Malaysia is going to be strong in high jump.

FO: Vanity test: Who is better? Navraj or Lee Hup Wei?

Nauraj: Well, we’re both good! Hup Wei has been my senior and idol since I joined BJSS in 2008. He’s taught me a lot throughout my career and he’s got heaps of experience.

Photo: Utusan

FO: Who is your biggest inspiration in life?

Nauraj: Usain bolt. He’s a legend. Winning is easy, the tough part is keeping the momentum going. I’ve researched a lot about him, and learned what happens behind the scenes. We all see him as a champion but there’s so much that goes on behind the scenes, and I respect him for that.

Football

Exclusive: “Pyongyang is safe enough” – Latest updates on DPR Korea vs Malaysia

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Conflicts – it’s the trickiest aspect of Asian football, really. Asia is an incredible melting pot of cultures, traditions, languages and beliefs – which can sometimes be complex, especially when it involves issues related to diplomacy.

And as the bastion of football on this continent, the Asian Football Confederation is, more often than not, thrown right into the mix as well. On the surface, the AFC promotes and encourages the development of the beautiful game in Asia. But they’re also somewhat of a neutral bridge that negotiates with the best and worst of multiculturalism.

Photo Credit: Berita Harian

We sat down with AFC Secretary-General, Datuk Windsor John Paul recently and it didn’t take long for him to describe the complexities of being a unifying factor in the largest continent on the planet.

MALAYSIA VS NORTH KOREA

Earlier this year in February, AFC were thrown into yet another diplomatic row, after the death of DPR Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s brother sparked massive political tension with Malaysia. Just a month before that, both nations were drawn into Group B of the Asian Cup qualifiers, alongside Hong Kong and Lebanon.

The Tigers were scheduled to face DPR Korea in Pyongyang on the 28th of March, but given that both nations imposed travel bans on each other at that juncture, AFC opted to postpone the match indefinitely, due to security concerns.

It was then rescheduled for June 8, with the AFC initially suggesting that the match would take place in a neutral venue. But following the Malaysian government’s decision to lift the travel ban on DPR Korea in May, the AFC publicly confirmed via a statement that the fixture would be played in Pyongyang.

https://www.fourthofficial.com/2017/46298/course-worried-safee-sali-playing-north-korea-pyongyang/

This announcement sparked major outbursts in Malaysia, with individuals like Safee Sali and even Tunku Ismail ibni Sultan Ibrahim all coming out in public to express their concern.  “Even with the assurance given, we are still worried,” Safee told Harian Metro. TMJ on the other hand, criticized the central government for lifting the travel ban. “However, to date the government has not issued a travel ban, just a travel advisory, and that is not a strong enough reason for AFC to switch the original match venue to a neutral one,” he said.

Merely days later, a fresh plot twist emerged as AFC opted to postpone the game again, due to geo-political tension around the Korean peninsula. This time around, it had nothing to do with Malaysia. Increasing political tension between DPR Korea, the United States of America and South Korea was undoubtedly a cause for concern. “The game will now be re-scheduled for the next best available FIFA match-day which is Thursday, October 5, 2017,” the statement added. 

WHAT’S NEXT?

According to Datuk Windsor, the match is likely to be held in Pyongyang on the 5th of October, barring any severe escalations in geo-political tension on the Korean peninsula. But AFC have also established several yardsticks to evaluate the situation, before the final greenlight is handed out.

https://www.fourthofficial.com/2017/46723/geo-political-tension-forces-afc-postpone-north-korea-vs-malaysia/

“The competitions committee has made a decision to play the match on the 5th of October, because that is the last available date. But we’ve also informed both Malaysia and DPR Korea that we are going to monitor the situation through three different events.

“First is the AFC Cup match that will be played in Pyongyang, when our season resumes in August. The second one will be the AFC U-23 qualifiers – DPR Korea are hosting Group G in Pyongyang later this month. Thirdly, there’s the DPR Korea vs Lebanon match. If these three matches are organized well without any issues, how can we stop them from hosting the Malaysia fixture?” he explained.

AFC’S STANCE?

The decision may sound controversial, given that the fixture had been postponed twice and mass media hype around the conflict has been colossal. Should the green light be given for the match to take place in Pyongyang, it wouldn’t be surprising to see different stakeholders in Malaysian football voicing their disagreement with the decision. The situation though, according to Datuk Windsor, demands a rational evaluation of various factors.

“The first postponement happened because of clear political tension between both governments. Ambassadors were withdrawn and there was so much of things happening at that point. It would have been foolish to continue, because no one could offer any guarantees. The second postponement was due to tension in the Korean peninsula, based on reports we retrieved from external consultants.

Photo Credit: AFC

“We organised a meeting between FAM officials and DPR Korea officials in Bahrain, on the sidelines of the AFC Congress, recently. DPR Korea officials invited them as well as members of Malaysian media to visit Pyongyang at their own convenience and select their preferred hotel, visit the training ground and check all the security arrangements.

“But as I said, we will monitor DPR Korea, up until their match against Lebanon. Hosting a game in Pyongyang is not the issue. It’s relatively safe and secure. We’ve held matches there before, and there were no issues. What we are closely monitoring is the regional security. Malaysia has already lifted the travel ban on DPR Korea, so there’s clearance from the government for the match to take place.

“At the end of the day, we are bound by rules and regulations. If DPR Korea checks all the boxes, then the match has to go on in Pyongyang. The AFC is an international organization. We can’t be swayed by emotions and fears,” he added.

TOOL OF DIPLOMACY?

Having worked in Asian football for decades, Datuk Windsor is undoubtedly well-versed with the various complexities in trying to bring these nations together. But he claims the process isn’t about acknowledging the existence of a conflict. To him, it’s about instantly analysing the role football can play in bridging these conflicts.

Photo Credit: AFC

“Sometimes, things go out of our control and there’s nothing we can do about that. You can wake up on a random day and find out that Saudi Arabia, UAE and Bahrain have cut off diplomatic ties with Qatar.

“But I’ve always believed in football’s ability to foster positive relations. Two nations could be in conflict with each other, but in football, they have to still play on the pitch. They still have to take the customary photograph. It doesn’t matter if it’s on a neutral venue. Thing is, they are still forced to deal with each other on the field.

“Just over two months ago, South Korea played North Korea in the Women’s AFC Asian Cup qualifiers in Pyongyang. For the first time in decades, the South Korean flag was raised while the national anthem was being played in Pyongyang. Take a moment to think and digest that. That’s the power of football,” he added.

Football

Exclusive: Karathu talks about dodging Tamil Tigers and surviving Uzbek-Tajik border

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As I drove into the street where Datuk M. Karathu lived in, it dawned upon me that his housing area was a perfect fit for the charisma and class that embodies the 74 year-old football coach. It was quaint, it was old-school, but it was also timeless. Seconds later, I was greeted by the usual warm smile of a man who has contributed the last five decades of his life to Malaysian football.

I’ve interviewed him on a couple of other occasions, but meeting him still gives me tiny doses of goosebumps. He has told me stories of what it was like to play in the first few Malaysia Cup tournaments, back in the 60s. He has told me stories of what it was like to deal and cope with the challenges of managing Kelantan FA during its glory days, not too long ago. But this particular interview was going to be different.

While he is widely known for his achievements in Malaysian football, Karathu is also one of the few Malaysian coaches to have had stints abroad. The first one happened in 1999, when he officially took over the Sri Lankan national team job for a year. Right after that, he travelled to Tajikistan for a short stint a Technical Director, before spending two years with Woodlands Wellington in Singapore. I was going to have very little time with the man, so I got right into it, as soon as we both settled down in his living room.

FO: Do you miss football Datuk?

Karathu: Professionally, I suppose. You can never take it out of me. I’m not coaching any team at the moment, but I continue to indulge myself in plenty of football every single day. It’s just who I am.

FO: What do you mean by indulge?

Karathu: I closely follow European football on television. And I still catch most of the big Malaysia Super League matches – they can be fun and exciting, you know. I’m following the ongoing Confederations Cup as well. In fact, I was up earlier this morning to watch the Portugal vs Chile match. You can always learn something new when you watch top teams play. That gets me excited!

Photo Credit: Arena

FO: You’ve been in the game so long, both as a player and as a coach. Calling it ‘long’ is an understatement – you were there since the early 60s. But how do you still get excited over football? How does one maintain that child-esque sense of excitement?

Karathu: It’s simple. I never assume or think that I have enough knowledge. No matter how long you are in football, you can never know enough. Ideas and tactics are constantly evolving. It’s the biggest problem I have with coaches here in Malaysia at times. They get too comfortable and assume they have enough knowledge to understand football in its entirety. No one wants to look outside the country and see the wide range of ideas that exists out there.

FO: Is that why you chose to go abroad and coach Sri Lanka back in 2001? To experience a football culture that was completely different?

Karathu: To a certain extent, yes. I was approached by Datuk Peter Vellapan, who was spearheading Asian Football Confederation at that point, and he told me Sri Lanka were interested in getting me on board. I was already a coaching instructor at that point, and I had gone on multiple trips abroad to train coaches. The challenge in Sri Lanka was tied closely to that. In South Asia, they were deemed as the fourth best team, behind India, Pakistan and Maldives. And so my job wasn’t only to coach the national team, it was about trying to help the country’s football system flourish. I was really attracted by that prospect.

Photo Credit: Datuk M. Karathu

FO: But what was it like though?

Karathu: It was difficult because there was plenty of unrest in the country at that point. The Tamil Tigers were still heavily battling Sri Lankan troops and that complicated my job to a certain extent. I couldn’t call-up players of Tamil descent – all of whom were based in Jaffna at that point. They couldn’t cross over to attend selections and neither was I able to cross over into Jaffna to select them. And even in Colombo, where I was based, things could get pretty scary at times. Security was tight all the time. My wife followed me to Sri Lanka and in the first few weeks, I use to drive around. But police officers used to stop me at checkpoints and it was difficult because I didn’t speak Singhalese. Thankfully, the Sri Lankan FA president, who was also the Deputy Inspector General of Sri Lanka’s police force, eventually got me a driver. Otherwise, it will a fulfilling stint, albeit a short one.

FO: If it was going well, why did you leave after just one year?

Karathu: Sri Lankan football visibly needed time to grow and expand and I did my best to train and produce good local coaches to boost youth development in the country. But safety was always a concern at the back of my head, especially since my wife was there with me. I was often invited to dinners in big hotels, but I tried to avoid them, because these popular spots could be targeted by members of the Tamil Tigers. So after one year, my wife and I decided that moving back to Malaysia was the best decision. But don’t get me wrong, I learned a lot during my stint with Sri Lanka and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Photo Credit: Datuk M. Karathu

FO: But you jumped from Sri Lanka to Tajikistan, where you were a technical director for approximately six months. That’s a huge jump, no? Sri Lanka in approximately four hours away by plane. Tajikistan is as far as the moon! What influenced that particular decision?

Karathu: You wouldn’t believe it. I had to fly from Kuala Lumpur to Moscow, before taking another flight from Moscow to Tashkent in Uzbekistan. Then I took a car ride across the border between Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, which was heavily militarised. Once I was in Tajikistan, I had to take a short 40-minute flight to the capital – Dushanbe. The process was tiring! But I had been to Tajikistan once prior to that, where I conducted a course for new coaches. About a month after that, Peter came to me and said the president of Tajikistan FA was impressed and wanted me to become their Technical Director. It was a good opportunity for me to test myself in a new environment, so I jumped at it.

FO: Sri Lanka was dealing with Tamil Tigers when you went there. On the other hand, Tajikistan was dealing with political unrest when you arrived, no? You do have a knack of picking hot spots!

Karathu: Haha maybe! Tajikistan was completely new for me. They had been independent for about 10 years when I went but anti-Russian sentiments were still prevalent. And because of political unrest, most areas were heavily militarized, including the border. When I crossed the border between Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, I really feared for my security. There were men with guns everywhere and they kept asking me for information on what I was going to do in Dushanbe. But once I explained, it was fine. In the city itself, I stayed in a hotel and was advised against going out after 10 for security reasons.

Photo Credit: ESPN FC

FO: How did you deal with the differences thought? Language barrier, cultural differences, food? 

Karathu: Good thing is I was given an interpreter, who spoke perfect English. I can’t recall her name now, but she helped me a lot during my stay there. I can’t remember any now, but I did learn some basic Tajik words when I was there. One positive thing was the friendship I formed with India’s ambassador to Tajikistan! I’d go over to his place for Indian food every now and then, but otherwise, I coped perfectly fine with local food. It wasn’t too bad, you know!

FO: If the food was good, what made you leave after six months? Haha jokes aside, what fueled your decision to leave?

Karathu: Tajikistan was a fresh project. There were barely any plans in place over there, so I had to go and help them build a strong base. I’d like to think I did a decent job, but there was too much of politics at play there. So it was difficult to push and implement large scale plans and policies. At the same time, Perak had just sacked Karl-Heinz Weigang at that point, and they needed a coach for the Malaysia Cup. They got in touch with me and it was a project that caught my attention. So that played some part in my decision to leave Dushanbe.

Photo Credit: TRWFC

FO: Some of these things you’ve said today is absolutely incredible. But few Malaysian coaches can say similar things. Why do you think Malaysian coaches are not too fond of going abroad?

Karathu: I think the reasons are pretty mixed. On one hand, I think our local coaches don’t have a good grasp of the English language. It sounds simple, but it’s such an important thing if you have aspirations of coaching abroad. But you can’t blame the coaches only. The stature of Malaysian football means that it’s always difficult for our coaches to market themselves abroad. I was lucky to have landed those opportunities. It’s a lot easier if you come from England, Spain or Brazil. These are huge footballing nations, and I’ve seen coaches with very little understanding of the game, get appointed by virtue of being from Europe or South America. 

FO: But surely some of these foreign coaches have some form of pedigree?

Karathu: True. But a lot of them are also average. It’s a matter of perception. Look at the Malaysia Premier League last year. Top two teams were Melaka United and PKNS FC and both teams were coached by locals. In the Malaysia Super League, barring JDT, who have most of the country’s best players, the other three teams in the top four were all coached by locals. The quality is there, but at the end of the day, it’s all about perception. Over here, decisions are made by individuals who don’t quite understand football. They think ‘if I hire a foreign coach, it would create hype around the team’. But none of this benefits the team, if the coach is not good enough or doesn’t understand what it takes to succeed in Malaysia. 

Photo Credit: Datuk M. Karathu

FO: How do we change this perception though? How do we inculcate a culture that prioritizes quality?

Karathu: I really don’t know. It’s such a tricky situation and it’s not easy. On one hand, you’ve got match-fixing, on the other hand you’ve got agents and foreign talents, be it players or coaches, looking to make money. Then you also have corrupted individuals in football associations. It’s all connected. So how do you stop it? How do you educate people to stay true to the values of football? It’s difficult. 

FO: And yet you still love football?

Karathu: There’s so much more to it and it’s a strong part of my blood and DNA. I’ve lived and breathed the game all my life. 

FO: One final question. You’ve been away from professional football for a while now. Are you officially retired? Or will we see you back in football soon?

Karathu: Haha I’m always open to opportunities. But I’m at a stage where I will only accept and consider offers that are good. When I say good, I mean being able to make decisions regarding the team, without any interference. It’s difficult when you are not given the freedom to make decisions. But I still keep myself involved with football via open football clinics or charity football programs. And I’m happy for the time being. But you can never say never, if the right opportunity comes along.

 

What are your thoughts on Datuk M. Karathu’s story? Let us know by commenting below!