The untold story of a kampung hero from Sentul - Coach Guna
This was written by Thomas Samuel, former Flames Football Club honorary secretary, as a tribute to Gunasegaran A/L Sambosivam aka Coach Guna who passed away in May, 2021.
Heroism is more often associated with people who put others first, even at their own peril. Their actions are not selfish and often in the interest of others, be it an individual, a community or even a nation.
In recent times, I have lost many of my ‘heroes’. I will greatly miss doyens of the media fraternity and legends in their own right like Datuk Ahmad Talib, Datuk Wong Sai Wan and Tan Sri Lim Kok Wing who were illustrious sons of this soil. They were all eminent personalities and tributes to them have never stopped coming. They all deserve every bit of the recognition.
During these times of uncertainty and hardship to many, it is consoling to reminiscent the great moments of people close and dear.
Without a moment of disrespect to these great men, there will be many who will continue to express and write tributes of these prominent personalities.
However, I wish to humbly pay tribute here to a ‘kampung’ hero who deserve some mention for his selfless contributions to the misplaced youths of Sentul. It’s been more than a month since the passing of a true kampung hero, Gunasegaran A/L P. Sambosivam or better known as Coach Guna.
Just like many other local village heroes, Guna may not be a familiar name to many Malaysians. However, if you mention the name Coach Guna from Flames Football Club in Sentul, you will be surprised how many young and current and former residents in and around Sentul and Jalan Ipoh know and adore this man.
Coach Guna or Guna Anna (big brother) as he is fondly known, who turned 65 on April 6, 2021, passed away a month later. He met with an accident a year ago and had been bedridden since. His passing was a sad day for the community in Sentul and in particular the youths of yesteryear.
Many would have ended up in jail, maimed or even dead if not for the untiring sacrifices by this man in guiding and moulding these youths to focus their energy on sports, and in particular, football. Many of them are now responsible citizens of this country.
Sentul was known to be a notorious place throughout the 70s till the 90s. Eight out of 10 Indian youths from Sentul were linked to the many gangs thriving during that time. Poverty, poor education and squatter settlements were the main reasons many of these youths got involved in gangsterism, delinquency, fights, drugs and other negative elements.
Coach Guna was the saviour to many of these youths who are now proud parents, grandparents and living a decent and comfortable life of their own. Ask any one of them and they will sing praises of this kind soul from Sentul and how he managed to take many of them away from gangsterism and a life of crime.
Tharma Kumaran, 47, a successful businessman and politician, paid tribute to Guna.
"I am extremely indebted to Guna Anna for who I am today. If he did not pick me up from the streets of Sentul and disciplined me, I dread to think where I will be today," said Tharma.
"He will always remain in my heart and soul for saving me from the clutches of evil. He was my guardian angel by being there each time I got involved with bad company. He took great care in protecting many of us from falling into any act of crime. He treated all of us as his own children and our parents were more than grateful for his efforts to keep us safe.”
Faarhad Masraf, another successful football administrator, was shocked to hear of Coach Guna’s demise.
“It is a very sad day for all of us in Sentul. I was just 16 years old and mixing around with bad company in Sentul when Coach Guna picked me up to play football for the junior team of Flames Football Club," said Faarhad.
"The rest is history as I got myself committed and involved in football and now it is my career. Coach Guna used to come to my house to pick me up for trainings and my father would walk me back after every training session at the Railway Recreation Club field in Jalan Ipoh. That was how I was protected from being caught in the infamous web of notorious Sentul.”
Former Deputy Minister of Education, Datuk P. Kamalanathan was another close friend of Guna and was an active committee member of Flames Football Club for many years.
“Guna was instrumental in playing a big role to reform the youths of Sentul. He is very passionate about the welfare of the community and sacrifices his time, effort and money to go out of his way to help those in need," said Kamalanathan.
"Every time there is a fire or a flood, Guna will be the first person at the scene to offer any help he can. Together we have gone around to seek donations for these victims from the business community in Sentul. His level of sympathy is beyond reason to any race that is affected by these unexpected tragedies. My deepest condolence to his wife and children for their great loss,” said Kamalanathan.
I am blessed to have had a very close and personal relationship with Guna over the years and I respect him as my big brother. We have gone through many challenges managing a football team and trying to keep our players and the youths of Sentul out of dangers way.
He is a brother and a friend whom I am going to miss terribly. His demise is a loss to the community and his act of kindness is going to be a tough act to be emulated.
Guna’s proudest moment was when a small ‘kampung’ football team achieved its greatest feat by emerging as the Champions of the Selangor Super League in 2005.
The coveted trophy was the highest achievement any football team in the state can achieve then. It basically means, Flames FC was the best football team in Selangor.
It was an exceptional feat after 25 years of hard work. It speaks volumes of the passion and commitment Guna had put in to reach the pinnacle of success as the manager, coach and president of Flames FC.
Guna’s saddest moment was when the football team lost its playing field at Jalan Ipoh (formerly known as the Railway Recreation Club Jalan Ipoh) to development by a corporate entity.
Both Guna, myself and the local community stood together to object to this takeover of a public playing filed for more than 12 years. We walked in and out of the developer’s office many times to appeal for the filed be left alone for the benefit of the residents in Sentul.
We staged a couple of protests to convey our objections to the take-over of the field. We raised the matter in the media and lobbied for higher authorities intervention to stop the takeover.
But all these failed and the field was barricaded and fenced up in 2008.
It was a sad day for sports in Sentul as many youths, residents and senior citizens were deprived of a playing field or an open space for their daily recreational activities. Guna was heartbroken as he failed to save the field and took it very personally that he had failed the youths and community in Sentul.
Sentul was never the same again after we lost the field to t he greed of money for commercial development.
Guna’s passion to help others did not stop at Sentul. As an employee of Tenaga Nasional Berhad (TNB) in Bangsar, he was a committee member of the TNB temple and was actively involved in Hindu temple matters around Bangsar. He was also a volunteer at the temple in Batu Caves. Guna was also actively involved in the Football Association of Selangor.
Guna loved children and the youths. Four times a year he used to collect donation from well-wishers and host orphanages to a sumptuous lunch where the children’s birthdays are celebrated. The children always look forward to these events with so much of joy and hope.
Guna was a man with a big heart. Always being in front or the first person to offer help when someone is in need. He has helped many people and I am sure all of them will miss him.
Many of his friends will miss him dearly because of his simple approach to life and his sincerity in wanting to help others.
To his wife, daughters and son, your father or Appa as you called him, was a wonderful man.
He touched many lives and helped many people. I am sure you will all miss him so dearly.
On behalf of Flames Football Club, all your Appa’s friends and even the strangers he had touched in one way or another, we extend our deepest condolence to you. He was a great human being who touched many hearts and souls. He will be missed.
And to my dear big brother Guna, thank you for being my confidante and for sharing your wisdom in my journey of life. Though you are in a better place far away, you will always be close to my heart and our bond will never fade away.
Rest in peace big brother Guna till we meet again in God’s beautiful garden.