KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 14 — The family of Serbegeth “Shebby” Singh bid their final farewell to a beloved husband and a father here this evening, still grieving over his sudden death while cycling two days ago.
But they might have drawn some comfort in that they were not alone in their heartache at losing the former Malaysian football personality even as the Covid-19 pandemic continues.
Thanks to a relaxation in movement restriction as Malaysia segues into Covid recovery phase, hundreds of distant relatives, friends and fans were able to pay their last respects and tribute to the 61-year-old who endeared himself to aficionados of the beautiful game with his punchy comments as a football pundit, long after retiring from professionally playing on the pitch.
Serbegeth, who hailed from Johor, was cremated at the Shamshan Bhoomi Hall on Jalan Loke Yew in the national capital city, befitting of a football player who rose to stardom as one of the golden generation that gave Kuala Lumpur’s football club three back-to-back Malaysia Cup, the most coveted silverware in the local tournament.
He was also known as that sturdy centreback who donned the national shirt proudly, having played in three Asian Games in 1982, 1986 and 1990, and won his first international accolade as a SEA Games gold medallist in 1989.
After retiring from professional football, Serbegeth went on to become the sport’s professional commentator. He was likely Malaysia’s most celebrated international football commentator, often invited to speak for the game’s biggest tournaments, including the World Cup and the European Cup.
If his days as a Kuala Lumpur player had won him adoration among baby boomers and later “Generation X”, it was his punditry that endeared him with the younger generation of football fanatics.
“I came from Pahang to pay my last respect. Took the day off from work to drive down here. I mean for a Sikh, if we miss a wedding we can still make up for it later,” said a man at the wake, wanting to be known only as a distant “friend”.
“But this is the last time I get to pay my respects,” he added.
Regular friends and relatives were not the only ones that rushed to pay their last tribute.
Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin, who once helmed the sports portfolio and an avid football fan himself, and Youth and Sports Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Faizal Azumu were among the hundreds that attended Serbegeth’s funeral wake, testimony of the man’s importance to the sport Malaysians love the most.
Khairy was seen at the wake at around 2pm while Ahmad Faizal came shortly after.
Both of them had been Serbegeth’s colleagues, albeit in different periods of his post-football career.
Serbegeth had worked with Ahmad Faizal during his stint with Perak Football Association while Khairy had reportedly sought his advice on various occasions during his days as president of the Football Association of Malaysia.
“I think the nation will grieve his passing,” Ahmad Faizal told reporters.
At his wake, Serbegeth was surrounded by close family and friends who gathered inside a peach-coloured wake hall as the granthi, a Sikh religious minister, recited prayers.
The grief was palpable, but there were few tears. That's likely because the Sikhs believe in the ‘Antam Sanskaar’, which translates as “the last rite of passage”, is a ritual that celebrates the soul, instead of one that encourages grieving and mourning.
In Sikhism, death is seen as a perfectly natural process, and only the physical body that dies while the soul lives on through transmigration and reincarnation.
A woman whom Malay Mail spoke to at the funeral said she believes Serbegeth’s life captured that ethos well.
“I think he led a cheerful and energetic life, and he wouldn’t want his family to be sad,” said the woman who only wanted to be known as a distant relative.
Serbegeth’s remains were cremated at about 4pm. He was 61 when he died, ostensibly from heart complications while cycling in Kledang, Johor last Wednesday.