RIP Joe Dorai: Journalist with a football heart

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Suresh Nair

IF there was an eighth day of a work week, the late iconic Singapore football journalist Joe Dorai would’ve volunteered to come to office with his little notebook and pen.

He was simply infectious about football, especially during the heydays of Malaysia Cup, and the legendary word goes around Times House (the bedrock headquarters of Singapore Press Holdings) that good ‘ole Joe seldom took a day’s leave, too, as he enjoyed working every 365 days!

Unmatched. Unparallelled. Unequalled. Unsurpassable.

He just never wanted to be second to none in football journalism, on both sides of the Causeway, and brought in an almost matchless string of “scoops” every working day simply because he tirelessly worked the grounds from Farrer Park, Sembawang, Bedok to Jalan Besar Stadium and National Stadium and had an unique reservoir of contacts, from players, coaches, referees and team officials.

Joe Dorai was one of a sporting kind and he passed on Saturday after fighting prolonged illness and went down with a collapsed lung. He was 77, and leaves behind wife, Mary, son Andrew and daughters Angelene and Anita.

“He had a heart attack earlier this year but recovered, only to fight against a prolonged series of respiratory setbacks,” says daughter Angelene, with tears welling in her eyes. “Finally, we advised him to go and he let it go early Saturday morning. He passed on having given his best shot to family, work and friends.”

 The late Dorai rose from the newspaper ranks. He joined The Straits Times in 1958 as a 17-year-old production worker and later contributed football reports. In 1968, he became a full-fledged sports reporter, earning S$260 a month, including a transport allowance, and got to cover the highs and lows of Singapore football until he retired in 1998, after an exceptional 40-year Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) career.

LOVE FOR FOOTBALL

His love for football was unimaginable and he continued working for Singapore Pools, the only legalised sports-betting company, and finally called it a day in late 2015 as deputy manager of sports betting.

He was, in a nutshell, the fiery football-maniac and once confessed that he was happy to have been able to pursue his lifelong passion for the beautiful “bola” game.

His endearing passion for football started when he was a schoolboy and he was a striker for St Joseph’s Institution, one of the traditional schoolboy powerhouses. He later ran Farrer Park United, one of Singapore’s best amateur clubs, in the football heartland of Farrer Park, his urban kampung, where he spend majority of his childhood days.

The late Football Association of Singapore (FAS) chairman Nadesan Ganesan, popularly known as “Mr Kallang Roar”, affectionately nicknamed Dorai as “cockroach” because of his extraordinary penchant for striking out football articles.

“Every time Mr Ganesan opened his mouth, I would crawl up from somewhere and write a story,”  Dorai once recalled in a media interview. “Ganesan kept shaking his head many times and baptised me as the ‘cockroach’.”

Former Straits Times Sports Editor Godfrey Robert, who worked with Dorai as a colleague in the 1960s and as boss in the 1980s, says: “Joe Dorai will be remembered as a great newshound, a go-getter for news who sees no boundaries in the search for the real meat of any story. He also has a good relationship with players and coaches and the entire football fraternity, locally and regionally.”

Former New Straits Times (NST) sports editor Datuk Lazarus Rokk, who was bestowed the Darjah Indera Mahkota Pahang (DIMP) by Sultan of Pahang last year, remembers Dorai as the “authority on Singapore football”. He says: “He always covered football matches at the Singapore National Stadium from the VIP Box, never from the press box. He was like the authority on Football Association of Singapore (FAS).  He was never arrogant. He was warm, friendly and jovial.”

Malaysian football legend Dato’ Peter Velappan, who served as the General Secretary of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) from 1978 to 2007, says: “Joe was not only a dear friend of mine but also an outstanding sports writer. He was friendly, likeable and a very sincere friend. I shall miss him very much. May God bless his soul.”

FUNNY INCIDENT

Award-winning former Singapore coach Jita Singh, who won the Malaysia Cup in 1980, recalls a “nostalgically funny” incident between Joe Dorai (The Straits Times) and Jeffrey Low (The New Nation), who both reported on regional football for three decades from the mid-1960s.

It was April 1972 and Singapore’s first and only three-week tour of England (the ‘Land of Football’) and Jita recalled how the two top sports-writers allegedly fought in the train to Aldgate, a weekend market in the East end of London.

“They quarreled and later appeared to exchange blows in the train. We were shocked at two journalists messing around and we wondered if either of them would ever write about the incident in the newspaper,” says Jita, who was then a 23-year-old newcomer fullback with the Lions. “It apparently never happened, maybe they made a deal as they were home-stay room-mates!”

Lawyer Jeffrey Beh, the former FAS Chairman of Referees Committee (FASRC), salutes: “Although small in stature, he was very big in presence. Joe Dorai, in my mind, is a reporter who writes as he sees it without any bias. He had passion in his vocation and his passing is a big loss to the sporting community.”

Seak Poh Leong, former Singapore skipper from 1973-76 and ex-national coach from 1987 to 88, recalls how Dorai “combined football management and football writing rather extraordinarily”. He explains: “It boils down to passion and I remember the Farrer Park United days, when I played for the club. He was a grassroots football leader who was well liked by almost everyone.”

Former police officer K. Kandasamy, who served over two decades as personal security officer to the late Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, describes Dorai as a “highly respected sports gentleman”.

“He was humble, simple, friendly and he spoke only when spoken to. He never spoke out of topic and got along with everyone. He only spoke on sports matters and never got involved in other matters. I hugely respected him,” adds Kandasamy, who was assistant team manager when the Lions won the unique Malaysia Cup “Double” in 1994 – the Malaysian League and Malaysia Cup.

HEART LIKE FOOTBALL

Canagasabai Kunalan, Sportsman of the Year in both 1968 and 1969, who ran the 100m at the 1968 Mexico City Olympic Games, says: “He’s a gentleman reporter. Never pushy or looking to get away with fake news. As a family man, Joe was a dedicated father to three great children.”

Dorai, whose heart is probably shaped like a football, once said the 1965 Lions team was stronger than the 1977 team and the 1994 team, which won the “Double”. He reasons: “”Although they say the 1994 team was the ‘Dream Team’, if you compare player for player, without the expatriates in 1994, the 1965 team was much better in terms of individual skills, tactics and  teamwork.”

In an interview with The Sunday Times, he said: “We were quite impressive at Jalan Besar Stadium in the 1960s. Every Malaysian state team that came to Jalan Besar was beaten because we had such good players: Goalkeeper Wilfred Skinner, fullback Lee Wah Chin, midfielder Majid Ariff. In attack, we had Rahim Omar, Quah Kim Swee.

“Singapore was very strong at that time. Malaysians were just getting into the football scene in 1965. They were mainly state teams like Selangor, Negri Sembilan and Malacca. To do a comparison, it was like primary school versus secondary school.”

RIP Joe Dorai. In my mind you’re unmatched, unparalleled, unequalled and unsurpassable.

I came to sports journalism in the late 1970s and I will never forget your football passion as you never wanted to be second to none in football journalism, mind you, on both sides of the Causeway.

You’re one of a football kind.

A legend of a football writer, who will rest in peace with a ball closest to heart.

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