It’s been four years.
That’s how fast time flies, while we pick ourselves and continue pushing boundaries in our daily lives. So much has happened in Malaysian sports, since we lost arguably one of the most iconic hockey player this country has ever produced, Chua Boon Huat. But memories of his contributions and legacy, continue to accompany us till today.
Local hockey fans will have plenty to remember of him, given that he amassed over 321 caps for the Speedy Tigers but Chua Boon Huat also played a role, albeit a minor one, in a game that has been dubbed as the ‘greatest play-off match’ by The Telegraph.
Chua’s first foreign stint arrived in 2002, when he joined Red and White Munich in the German Hockey League, after impressing for Malaysia at the Hockey World Cup and the Asian Games. It was a short three-month stint, but he set the league alight by scoring seven goals in nine matches – which certainly did not go unnoticed.
“The German Bundesliga Club Red & White Munich and their manager Hans Baumgartner requested Chua to play for their club in the German Bundesliga! After a few matches Chua was already known amongst German top-class teams as one of the most dangerous strikers,” former Malaysian hockey boss Paul Lissek told renowned journalist Satwant Singh Dhaliwal back in 2013.
A few years later, Chua signed for Teddington HC in England’s National Hockey League, where all the drama unfolded in 2005. Chua’s new team were a regular fixture in the top flight but they found themselves in a horrible situation on the league standings after a bad start to the season. Thankfully, their decision to alter the coaching set-up midway through the season, coupled with the return of Jason Laslett and the signing of Chua Boon Huat helped them secure a relegation play-off fixture against East Grinstead.
The Division Two champions were visibly the in-form team, heading into the two-match play-off tie. However, spurred on by Chua Boon Huat, Teddington were 3-0 up at one point of their first match against East Grinstead. Chua bagged two-goals in that temporary blitzkrieg. Unfortunately for Teddington, their counterparts bounced back in style to seal a 6-4 win.
In the second game, Teddington showcased their superiority in the early stages of the game, yet again. They were 4-0 ahead at one point, which meant 8-6 on aggregate, with only 15 minutes left on the clock. But the turning point of the game was undoubtedly Mark Williamson’s yellow card, with nine minutes left to be played. East Grinstead capitalized on their numerical advantage and smashed in two goals to make 8-8 on aggregate and drag the game into extra-time.
But the Division Two champs turned on the style and completely dominated the extra time period, before eventually finding the winner through Kwan Browne, who effectively took East Grinstead into the top flight.
“That is still my favourite moment. The way it was done was just brilliant. We just managed to find a gap back to take the game into overtime with two late goals and eventually found the penalty corner winner. For me personally, I scored six of them and it was a really nice occasion. The best thing about it is that East Grinstead are now one of the top teams in Europe,” Browne told Telegraph Sport back in 2014, over nine years after the match.
No one saw it coming. The topsy-turvy nature of the game was absolutely unprecedented and caught everyone by surprise. Even more so, when you consider that Teddington had a big lead in both matches – a 3-0 lead in the first one before they lost 6-4 and a 4-0 lead in the second one before eventually losing the tie 9-8 on aggregate.
The match didn’t end too well for Chua Boon Huat and his Teddington teammates as they have failed to gain promotion into the top flight since that fateful match. However, Chua’s impact in the second half of that season as well as his performance in the final left a long-lasting impression amongst fans of the club that was formed way back in 1871.
Two years later, Chua received another offer to play for Teddington, who were now playing in the Eastern Conference. However, it failed to materialize, with Malaysia Hockey Confederation (MHC) deciding that all national team players should remain in the country to prepare for the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup as well as the Olympic qualifiers.
When he passed away in 2013, English hockey star Ben Hawes posted a tribute on social media – acknowledging the impact Chua had during his short stint with Teddington. “Sad to hear of Chua Boon Huat’s passing. A great player for Malaysia (and Teddington). Best wishes to family and friends,” he said.
As I said, it’s been four years. But every single time our Speedy Tigers get on the field, you can’t help but picture his iconic ponytail gliding around, urging our boys forward.
Rest in peace, Chua. You are still missed.