The so-called black magic was just a facade. It was all about psychological warfare and strategies to put Sarawak on the footballing map of Malaysia. We were underdogs and I had to think of all ways to boost our spirits and rattle our opponents. – Awang Mahyan, coach of the Sarawak Ngap Sayot team
CONCERNED: Mahyan (centre) taking a look at an injured Sarawak player in the second leg of Malaysia Cup semi-final against Kedah on neutral turf in Singapore, 1988.
OUTSIDE the packed Darul Aman Stadium in Kedah, tens of thousands of local fans were baying for the blood of the Sarawak team.
The frenzy was sparked by the sudden and unexpected appearance of a black cat on the pitch. But who let the dark-furred feline out? It seemed a moot point at the time. There were only speculations as to who the real culprit was – nobody knew for sure! And cats don’t talk.
Before long, insults, hurled at the Sarawak players from the stands, turned ballistic while inside the locker room, Mayan’s boys – 20 of them – kept their composure amidst salvos of fiery put-downs:
“Go back to your longhouses. Go back, you jungle people who still live on trees! Bomoh! Don’t play black magic, play real football.”
It was nothing new, actually. The incensed screams from the Kedah fans did little to unsettle the Sarawakians who had met a section of spectators while warming up earlier, and they knew what to expect. They had grown used to the highly-charged partisan atmosphere during away matches.
This time around, a place in the final of the pretigious Malaysia Cup was on the line and to get this far, Sarawak had defeated teams whose fans had called them worst names.
The players knew they had a tough match ahead against Kedah, one of the hot-shot sides, but they also knew this was the first time ever in the competition that they had shed their “fall guy” tag. They were no longer the laughing stock – and it was a welcome morale booster.
From lowly whipping boys who had had to collect goals by the gunnysacks – six, 10 and even 12 goals to nil – in hugely embarrassing drubbings at the hands (or feet) of many peninsular sides, they had risen to become a most feared side, powered by the rousing Ngap Sayot (eat all) battlecry.
And at the heart of this unorthodox resurgence was the equally unconventional and non-conformist Awang Mahyan Awang Mohamed, who, despite being appointed Sarawak coach just three months earlier, managed to imbue an indomitable self-belief in the team – a feat all those who came before him had failed to achieve.
Before the match, Mahyan came through the door and passed the players a seemingly ordinary plastic mineral bottle containing clear fluid. Each of them took a mouthful.
“Don’t shake hands with your opponents. Hug them instead and pat on their shoulders three times. Three times! No more, no less,” instructed Mahyan, then just 38 years old and whose claim to footballing fame was a very elementary coaching certificate.
After a pep talk, he reminded the players not to forget what he had told them earlier – no shaking hands, only hugs, and pats on the shoulders.
Armed with the Ngap Sayot spirit, the Sarawak team took to the field to face their opponents who were backed up by fanatical fans jamming every nook and cranny of the stadium.
That was September 1988. Sarawak were facing Kedah in the first semi-final leg of the Malaysia Cup – and they did as instructed. The players had full confidence in their coach’s “dark power” – just like the rest of the Sarawakian fans.
Mahyan, dubbed flamboyant and maverick by the media, had an even less flattering nickname – black magic coach – discourtesy of peninsular football coaches, players and fans.
In the three years – between June 4, 1988 and 1990 – while he was coach with the Football Association of Sarawak (FAS), tales of ‘black magic football’ surfaced and spread like wildfire among Sarawak fans, on TV, in bars or pubs, or open air eateries whenever Sarawak were playing at home or away.
Speculations and rumours dogged Mahyan wherever he went. But whether fact or fiction, his Ngap Sayot battlecry and mysterious “black magic” did propel Sarawak’s football to the next level.
Though shortlived, those were magical and glorious days that constituted an important chapter in the history of Sarawak football where stories that emerged at the time have become legends today.
AWANG MAHYAN … taking Sarawak out of footballing obscurity in the 1980s.
Just a facade
Two decades on, the enigmatic Mahyan still could not hide his mischievous smile when reminiscing how some people were so quick to equate his brand of football coaching with that of a “black magic coach” and how this eventful part of his life had unwittingly helped him script an interesting chapter of FAS history.
Still carefree and easy-going, Mahyan shrugs off his “black magic coach” moniker with a hearty laugh.
“What’s all the fuss about?” he gaffawed.
Indeed, while it was magic to others, it was all about mind games to Mahyan.
“Black magic was just a facade. It was all about psychological warfare and strategies to put Sarawak on the footballing map of Malaysia. We were underdogs and I had to think of all ways to boost our spirits and rattle our opponents,” he told thesundaypost.
Mind games were played not only on the opposing players but also on his own.