‘Six of the Best: Malaysian Sporting Icons’ is a must-have book

“Would you mind doing a book review?” asked long-time friend, former colleague, and author, Bob Holmes, over drinks recently.

I was happy to oblige, as I have always enjoyed reading his sports articles and books, especially ‘Yanks, Shanks, and Jurgen’.

A friend asked Holmes to write a book about Malaysian sporting heroes to be a part of his ‘Six of the Best’ series, which includes ‘Mat Salleh Authors on Malaysia’ and ‘Train Journeys in Malaysia’.

Holmes’ assignment was to write ‘Six of the Best: Malaysian Sporting Icons’.

Born in Nottingham, England, Holmes has lived and worked in Malaysia since 1995. He is well-versed in the local sporting culture and superstars, partly because he worked on the sports desk of a local newspaper for 20 years, and partly because he is a sports freak.

While he has written books on football, rugby, and other sports, this is Holmes’ second book purely about Malaysians – although we do get a mention in two of his football books.

His first Malaysian book was a biography of Malaysia’s golfing legend, V. Nellan, which he co-authored with another doyen of Malaysian journalism, P.C. Shivadas.

Sadly, Nellan died on May 16, 2020, weeks before the launch of his book, ‘Legend’. (

Before we continue, a confession. Twentytwo13 provided Holmes with some background information, including links to several of our articles.

He also had help from other news websites in his research.

The icons included in Holmes’ latest tome are Nellan, Datuk Mokhtar Dahari (football), Datuk Nicol David (squash), Datuk Lee Chong Wei (badminton), Tan Sri Dr M. Jegathesan (athletics) and Datuk Azizulhasni Awang (cycling).

The book covers the period from the 1960s to the present, and provides an insightful look at what made these six such great champions.

“It was hard to narrow the list down to six legends,” confessed Holmes. “I could probably have written another 10 stories.

“Malaysia has such a rich history in sports, and it was a joy to write. I particularly loved the chapter about Mokhtar. He was amazing.

“This book is a passion project, and I hope it shows.”

Indeed, Holmes waxes lyrical about Super Mokh’s exploits, whom he believes lived up to his moniker of ‘The Asian Maradona’.

“I lived in Malaysia for nearly 30 years. My big regret is that I did not see Mokhtar play in the flesh,” said Holmes.

The book’s central focus is how sports played a defining part in Malaysia’s identity.

As Holmes demonstrates, Malaysians have used sports to express their love for their nation.

The book also examines how Malaysians of all ethnic and cultural backgrounds come together through sports.

Holmes describes the national football team from Mokhtar’s era as such: “He lived and played in a different social, sporting, geopolitical, and dare it to be said, a more innocent age. The national team comprised all races.”

Holmes had the chance to interview three of the icons in the book – Nellan, Jegathesan, and Azizulhasni.

He presented squash queen Nicol with a copy of the book, and she expressed her delight in being a part of it.

The chapter on Jegathesan – ‘The Flying Doctor’ – was the most interesting, as the good doctor shared some anecdotes and memories that may not be as well-known as some of the other stories in the book.

The book is far from perfect, as it suffers from a lack of photographs.

But if you want a collection of some of Malaysia’s most outstanding sporting icons, this is a must-have.

Although an easy read – you can finish it in one sitting – it gives you a deeper understanding of the complex and fascinating world of Malaysian sports and is chock-a-block with inspiring tales of what can be achieved through tenacity and hard work.

‘Six of the Best: Malaysian Sporting Icons’ is available in major bookstores.