The writer recalls the time he made his first trip to the All-England Badminton Championships in 1965.
How time has flown!
I was retelling a few stories of my trips to the All-England Badminton Championships during the 1960s over the Chinese New Year holidays during my 70th birthday lunch when my son Yi Liang said: “Pa, why don’t you write about them?”
Well, it is now 50 years to the day since I won the All-England singles title on March 26, 1966. And thinking about it, it may not be good enough to just tell stories, as a story should contain a lesson to be learned and shared, or a memory worth treasuring.
After distilling my experiences, these are some of the stories which may be worth sharing.
I made my first trip to the All-England Badminton Championships in 1965 after receiving an invitation from the Badminton Association of England.
At the time, the Badminton Association of Malaysia (BAM) had no money, and when I left Malaysia two weeks early on my own to get acclimatised for such an important championship, I left with no funds or supplies from BAM, except for four Fred Perry sports shirts with the Malaysian crest sewn on the front of each shirt.
When I arrived, I had no idea where I would be staying or practising – we didn’t call it training back then. Fortunately, I had great help and to this day I am very grateful to Dr Lee Kin Tat.
He is a Singaporean and was a student in the Imperial College at the time. He was also a very good badminton singles player, having played in the All-England many times, defeating the great Danish player Erland Kops once.
I stayed at his Westbourne Terrace flat during the 1965 and 1966 All-England Championships and we practised at the All-England Badminton Club in Wimbledon at our own expense. One week later, Ng Boon Bee, Tan Yee Khan, Yew Cheng Hoe and Billie Ng came to join me.
There was no manager, no coaches, no doctor – we had almost nothing. We managed ourselves, but we had great help from Kin Tat and fellow Malaysians in London.
Without their genuine assistance, it would have been very difficult for us. With this in mind, I would like to thank them all for the hospitality shown to me in the run-up to the 1966 All-England tournament.
During the 1966 All-England the five of us – Boon Bee, Yee Khan, Cheng Hoe, Billie Ng and myself – were so short of funds that we could not afford to rent two double rooms in a cheap hotel. We finally found one hotel which was willing to cram all five of us in a room that was just slightly bigger than a double room.
We travelled to the practice sessions using public transport or getting lifts from friends.
With that said, it is worth remembering that during the 1965-1968 period, Malaysia was continuously represented in the men’s singles and doubles final, a record which still stands today. To me, the All-England Badminton Championships is still the most prestigious badminton competition because of its rich history and traditions.
So, why am I sharing these stories? I have two reasons for doing so.
The first is to thank Kin Tat and all the Malaysians who helped us during this period. The second is to speak out to the aspiring young players of today to say that the BAM has come a long way as it can now provide all of you with facilities and incentives that we in the 1960s would die for. So make full use of these wonderful incentives and opportunities that the BAM has provided, and never let go.
Most of your prize money, income and endorsement money flow directly to you and only you. You have first-class coaches, with the BAM footing the bill for your halls, shuttlecocks, medical treatment, sports medicine facilities and doctors – almost everything is free for a player.
Some of you will say, yes I have been training extremely hard and giving my all. Perhaps most of you have. Just in case, try to answer these three questions truthfully.
How often have you said to your coaches and trainers, “I didn’t have enough training today.”
How often have you discussed, debated and argued with your coaches that your game is not sharp enough, and how often have you explored ways to improve your game with them?
How often have you entertained the thought that you can beat Lin Dan, Chen Long, Lee Chong Wei or Carolina Marin?
So, to you young aspiring shuttlers in your quest to be the best, grab these opportunities and remember what philosopher Baruch Spinoza said – that “all things excellent are as difficult as they are rare”.
Tan Aik Huang won the All-England singles championship 50 years ago today during a spell when he reached the singles final four years in succession. He was also the l