Laughter broke out on every table every other minute. Honorific titles were left outside the door as it rained smiles, hugs and friendly banter among good friends at the Oriental Pearl Restaurant in Bukit Jalil.
It was a reunion of sorts – former teammates reminiscing the good old times, spouses blushing at the antics of their loved ones and a history lesson for the younger ones.
That was the scene at Hong Chin’s 50th anniversary celebration on July 21.
The football club based in Brickfields, Kuala Lumpur is proud of its rich history. It saw some of the nation’s best, including Reduan Abdullah and Khalid Ali, playing for the club during their early days.
Datuk Santokh Singh never played for the club but made his presence felt as guests lined up to greet the legendary player and his beloved other half Datin Taljit Kaur.
Hong Chin was a formidable team in the Selangor league. And 50 years on, they remain active in the domestic scene – a feat only a handful of football teams can boast of.
So what do the words Hong Chin stand for?
Tan Kim Chuan, 68, says Hong Chin is derived from the names of two of the founding members.
“The club has been around but it was the late Charlie Tan who formalised it in 1968. Hong Chin is from the names of two of the early members but in Cantonese it also means ‘forever onwards’,” said Tan.
And who is the late Charlie Tan?
“He was once a staff member at University Malaya and played an instrumental role in financing and leading the club to what it is today,” added Tan.
“Every member had fond memories of Charlie Tan. His generosity and commitment saw the club grow by leaps and bounds.”
It made plenty of sense why conversations throughout the night revolved around Charlie Tan. The deep gratitude was seen for the man who remains dearly in the hearts of the members.
The other thing that was repeated thoroughly throughout the night was how “muhibbah” the members were back then.
Datuk Dina Rizal recalled an incident in 1970 when he was playing for the team.
“We were up against Starlight, a team of Indian players who mainly hailed from Sentul Pasar. You didn’t want to mess with them. I was the only Indian playing for Hong Chin and was a winger.
“Each time I ran, the Starlight fans would threaten me, saying how could an Indian boy play for the Chinese team. My team members knew things would become tense as we were leading 1-0. They even got a bike ready for me outside the stadium and told me to run to the bike as soon as the final whistle was blown. When the referee signalled the end of the game, I took off my jersey and ran to the bike, hopped on it and sped off to my house in Brickfields. I knew a fight had erupted.
“Several hours later two of my teammates came to my house to check on me. I was more worried about them as I knew they got involved in the brawl but they were worried about me instead. Now that’s brotherhood,” Dina added.
“We were always there for each other and that spirit is something I will treasure forever.”
The “muhibbah” spirit was not restricted to the tales of yesteryear. Guests were entertained by the band Nova, whose singer Fadzilah belted several Mandarin and Cantonese songs including famous Canto-rock band Beyond’s hit ‘Hei foon nei’.
It was sheer fun as members hoped to regroup for another night of merry-making next year.
Staying true to their motto, Hong Chin members continue to keep the football spirit alive in their own way.