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Mat Noh: The quiet gentleman who let his feet do the talking

He was publicity-shy, yet he often came under the media spotlight for his silky footballing skills.

He was monosyllabic with replies, so you came away with many questions unanswered.

He preferred the low profile, always slipping away from reporters and photographers, in both victory and defeat.

In short, gentleman footballer Mohamed Noh Hussein, of Malaysia Cup fame, was a man of few words who enjoyed letting his feet do the talking.

Superlatives from the sports fraternity flowed in WhatsApp messages and chat-group exchanges when Noh, 67, the stylish winger who dazzled down the right flank at the National Stadium and beyond, died yesterday from a heart attack.

Noh was with the national team for less than 10 years, quitting in 1981 after Singapore’s Malaysia Cup final loss to Selangor. But he left behind a legacy for posterity with his supreme ability and innate talent.

A key part of honing his footballing skills was the close attention of the late legendary coach Choo Seng Quee.

He turned the Tanjong Katong Secondary School star player (also a school sepak takraw stalwart) into a national icon via clubs such as Burnley United, Singapore Marble and Toa Payoh United.

The hallowed pitches of Farrer Park and Jalan Besar Stadium used to be the playgrounds for the Noh-Choo partnership to blossom, before Noh broke into the national team in the mid-70s and “lent his voice” to the deafening Kallang Roar.

Often hugging the right touchline as he made his mazy runs with the ball, his accurate crosses were the main source for strikers such as Dollah Kassim, Arshad Khamis and Quah Kim Song to poach goals.

Said Quah, 69: “He was a phenomenal winger, stylish in his movements and sensational in his deliveries.

“A quiet gentleman on and off the field, he was a disciplined player who always gave of his best.

“I salute him as an exemplary personality and a perfect national teammate.”

Samsudin Rahmat, 70, who played alongside Noh with the national team and Singapore Malays, said: “He was the ideal role model for aspiring footballers. He was a coach’s delight for he never gave any problems.

“Always well-behaved and among the first for training, Noh was a fast learner and a great buddy to his teammates.”

I had met Noh multiple times during his playing days, but never since he retired from football, even missing him at a social gathering for Malaysia Cuppers because he chose to be a recluse.

PRIVACY

He valued privacy, so he was not a reporter’s delight in a sense, for he gave away little.

At one interview outside the Jalan Besar Stadium in the late 70s, I came away with little to report because I could hardly get past “yes” and “no” responses.

In fact, once in the office of The Straits Times, whose marketing department he worked for after his career at Malaysian Airlines System, I tried to engage him in a conversation as a colleague. Still he remained reticent, but there was a certain politeness about him.

However, volumes have been written about Noh – the poster boy of Singapore football – whose grandmother was Japanese – because he had extraordinary talent that mesmerised opponents and wooed the crowds.

Dubbed “Allan Clarke”, the inside forward of Leeds United and England fame, Noh is well remembered for scoring the winning goal from the penalty spot in the first round of a World Cup qualifier against Malaysia on March 6, 1977.

That statistic gets starker, when you consider that he has recorded more assists than goals.

Quah, often the beneficiary, will vouch for that because “Noh’s telepathic floaters from the right flank have often been inch-perfect”.

That special skill does not make headlines. Goalscorers grab those, and the quiet Noh was happy to let others take the limelight.



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