AWESOME: For a long time, Penang was highly respected as one of the top four in the Malaya Cup and inter-state football. It was up there alongside kingpins Selangor and Singapore, as well as northern rival, Perak.
Today, teams like Kuala Terengganu T-Team, PKNS, Sime Darby FC, Felda United, Muar MC, Pos Malaysia, Police and Betaria are holding their own against established state teams in the Super League and Premier League but Penang is, sadly, no longer around, laments A. Shukor Rahman
For the past few years, Penang football has gone MIA (missing in action).
To many local fans, the Penang state team no longer exists. Some say the team has long been dead and gone.
Yet I can still recall an era spanning the 1950s to the 70s when Penang was among the top teams in inter-state football.
Today, the "Keramat roar" is just a memory and the City Stadium has only been hosting athletics meets and social functions.
There are reports that the Football Association of Penang (FAP) still owes a whopping sum to the Penang Island Municipal Council, the stadium owners.
Even the Datuk Keramat Padang, for many years the popular venue for Third Division matches, today stands forlorn -- only good for holding pasar malam.
The 1950s saw Penang producing players such as the country's first Olympian, Yeap Cheng Eng, Yeang Kah Chong, Tan Swee Hock, Wong Kam Poh, Yap Hin Hean, Liew Fee Yuen, Lee Ah Loke, the Pang brothers -- Siang Teik and Siang Hock, Aziz Ahmad, Ariff Ariffin, the Chuah brothers -- Poh Aun and Poh Beng, P. Murad, Buang Rawi, Shaikh Omar Isa, Djamal Djanas and Jalil Che Din.
The 1960s saw the arrival of Ibrahim Mydin, M. Kuppan, Ishak Ahmad, G. Vasu, James Raju, Boey Cheong Liam, Zain Rahman, Said Salleh, Yeap Kim Hock, Koay Ban Chuan, A. Arumugam, Latiff Aziz, Ahmad Musa, Teo Peng Chooi and Hassanuddin Harun.
In the early 1960s, winger S. Govindarajoo could not break into the Penang team but became a star with Selangor.
Another Penang-born winger, Abdul Rahman Daie, was only chosen for Penang after making a name for himself playing in Singapore, followed by a stint in Perak.
Since the early 1950s, the tall and well-built Aziz Ahmad was a real menace as centre-forward with his powerful shots and deadly headers and was Penang's top goal-getter in 1953 and 1954.
He scored the winning goal when Penang defeated Singapore 3-2 in the 1953 Malaya Cup final in Ipoh.
He was past his prime in October 1963, but still helped himself to seven goals when Penang trounced Perlis 13-0 in a Malaysia Cup tie at the City Stadium.
The good-looking Siang Teik started as an inside forward for the state and was the "brains" behind practically every attack.
A veteran of several campaigns, he was the most seasoned player in the team by 1961, and moved back to the heart of the defence.
He took over as captain when Cheng Eng retired and proved to be an inspiring skipper.
The early 1960s also saw a glittering array of "stars".
Selangor had Abdul Ghani, Arthur Koh, S. Lourdes, Abdullah Noordin, Edwin Dutton, Stanley Gabriel, and Govindarajoo.
Perak had goalkeeper Yusof Bakar, Yee Seng Choy, Ahmad Nazari, Kamaruddin Ahmad, Foo Fook Chuan, Kabri Yusof and Hamzah Hakim.
Kedah had Osman Ali, Syed Hood and Lim Ban Chiang, while Singapore had the likes of Rahim Omar, Quah Kim Swee, Majid Ariff and Ali Astar.
Kelantan had Mohamad Che Su, Awang Isa, Hamid Ghani and Nik Leh Nik Man while Malacca had the Choe brothers, Robert and Richard.
By 1965, veterans such as Siang Teik and Aziz made way as Penang rebuilt.
M. Kuppan took over as captain with Yeap Kim Hock, James Raju and Ibrahim Mydin the only other survivors.
Newcomers included Soo-Toh Kim Poh, Zainal Ghani, Abu Hassan Mohamad, K. Linganath and Kim Lean Kong.
For the first time, Penang also preferred the services of four Australians from the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) which participated in the local league.
They were John Leather, Clive Warren, Vic Probert and Alan Peacock.
Football fan Sulaiman Ibrahim, of Jalan Perak, recalled that there were rumours that the four Australian airmen were actually based in Hong Kong and were flown back to Penang by the RAAF for state and league matches.
The late 60s saw the emergence of Aziz's nephews, the Abdullah brothers -- Namat and Shaharuddin. At his peak, Shaharuddin was a prolific goal-getter and many fans still remember his stylish flying kicks when the ball often ended in the back of the net.
In this respect, a few even put him ahead of the great Mokhtar Dahari.
Penang made the Malaysia Cup final in 1968 to face mighty Selangor but nobody expected it to be a massacre.
Selangor romped home 8-1 in one of the most one-sided finals ever.
This led to some fans saying Selangor must have had some powerful "black magic".
The 1970s heralded the arrival of the Bakar brothers - Ali and Isa, Shukor Salleh, Mohamad Bakar, Cheah Peng Chean, Khalil Hashim, Desmond David, Ooi Hock Kheng, Nik Hassan, N. Baskaran, Teoh Yit Huat and Gopal Krishnan.
In 1974, Penang heroically knocked Singapore out in the semifinal to face northern rival Perak in the final.
Namat Abdullah led Penang to a 2-1 victory in what was to be the state's last Malaysia Cup final victory.
The Penang line-up was Desmond David in goal, Namat Abdullah, Ooi Hock Kheng, Shukor Salleh, Nik Hassan, T. Gopal Krishnan, Ali Bakar, Isa Bakar, Mohamad Bakar, Shaharuddin Abdullah and Khalil Hashim.
Up to the late 1950s, almost all the big matches were played at Victoria Green, home of the Chinese Recreation Club, before the City Stadium was built in 1956.
Today, the Polo Ground has become the venue for Third Division matches but it is not as popular as the Datuk Keramat Padang.
The league competition run by the FAP had three divisions and was undoubtedly the best run in the country until the 1980s when the programme could not be completed as scheduled. After that, the league went downhill.
Some of the well-known FAP officials then were Loh Hoot Yeang, who was president for many years, A.S. Mohamad Mydin, Tan Cheng Hoe, Yaakob Syed and Haris Hussain.
Datuk David Choong was president in 1962 when Penang made the FAM Cup final, but lost 3-4 to Selangor in a pulsating contest on May 12 before a capacity crowd at the City Stadium.
To the delight of the home fans, Ibrahim Mydin put Penang ahead, only for Govindarajoo to equalise.
It was 1-1 at half-time. Ho Yuen Meng then put Selangor ahead, but Ibrahim levelled for Penang.
Then veteran winger Chuah Poh Beng put Penang in the lead but Abdul Ghani Minhat saved Selangor with his equaliser.
At full-time the score stood at 3-3. In extra-time, Ghani intercepted a corner to net the winner for Selangor.
Zainal Abidin Noor, who played for Perak and Penang in the 1960s, said Malaysian football has changed drastically compared with his playing days.
"There was hardly any monetary incentives then and we used to order our boots from local cobblers such as Chip Bee in Chulia Street.
"Today, young players have branded boots costing RM300 or more and strut around as if they are Barcelona or Real Madrid stars.
"But football standards today have gone downhill," he said.
Can Penang ever hope to scale the lofty heights of yesteryear?
Football fan Chang Chuen Bin believes that it would take a lot of effort and time as the rot had set in for quite a long spell.
Locals, he said, seemed to have lost interest in inter-state football.
Bookies, were also a big problem. Many, he said, have yet to glimpse the light at the end of the tunnel.
But veteran Datuk Shukor Salleh is hopeful that Penang may come good again in the future.
"The problem is money. Money is everything today and once you can get sufficient funds, Penang can start making her way back.
"However, getting funds from the FAM alone will not be enough.
"We can see that other state teams are also facing financial problems.
"Things have changed tremendously since the last two decades.
"We used to play for the love of the game but players today will put money foremost in their consideration."