Ng Boon Bee Ng was born in Perak, Malaya, on December 17, 1937. He was the third child among four brothers and a sister. As a child, Ng was inspired by Malayan greats such as Wong Peng Soon and Eddy Choong. His father, Ng Hore Loke, was a recreational badminton player. Ng attended St. Michael’s Institution, a school in Ipoh, Malaya. At his school, he participated in various sports such as rugby, football, track and field and of course, badminton which he began playing at the age of 10 years old. Five years later, he started playing football and quickly made his way into the Perak Chinese Team for the Malaya Chinese Football Association Cup. His progress was lightning fast and Ng quickly surpassed his peers. Being extremely talented in sports, he was invited into both the national football team and Perak state rugby team. Six years later, he was named Malaysia’s Football Player of the Year in 1958. From 1958 to 1961, he represented Malaya in the Merdeka Tournament, Asia’s oldest international football tournament.
Ng’s first success in badminton came in 1955 when he became Perak Schoolboy champion in both singles and doubles. He went on to win the Perak Junior Mixed Doubles and Men’s Doubles titles a year later.
In 1957, he began a partnership with Tan Yee Khan on the suggestion of his coach, Thoe Boon Teng. Both of the boys had competed in the Malaysia Combined Schools competition and the shorter Ng and the taller Tan caught the attention of Coach Teng. The newly formed pair made their first appearance on the international stage at the 1957 Malaysia Open and was quickly ousted in the first round. Their prompt exit out of the tournament would be only a small hiccup on their way to greatness.
As early as 1959, Ng was described in the Straits Times as “an aggressive player who does not hesitate to use his smash – his best stroke. He is also fast, strong and seemingly tireless.” Pat Davis described Ng as “a player of concentration, zest and power.” By 1960, the pair had already won the Perak Open and Indonesian Championships.
The year of 1961 was a major crossroads in Ng’s sporting career. After much contemplation, Ng chose to concentrate his efforts on badminton. “I had this ambition of winning the All England and I knew it was within my reach if I put all my efforts into badminton. I even made a promise to Khir Johari [then president of the Badminton Association of Malaya] that we would bring back the Thomas Cup one day.”
In 1965, Ng and Tan decided that they were ready to make their first trip to Europe and try their luck at the All England. The pair had to fundraise and ask for donations to cover a portion of the fare fee. Their efforts were not wasted as the Malaysians easily won their first All England title after beating the scratch pair of Erland Kops of Denmark and Oon Chong Jin of Malaya, in the final. Ng and Tan were the first pair to endFinn Kobberø and Jørgen Hammergaard Hansen’s four-year winning streak at the All England. The following year, the famous Danes would challenge the Malaysians for the All England title but the Malaysians successfully thwarted their attempts with the scores of 9-15, 15-9, 17-15 in the final round.
In 1967, Ng’s 1961 promise to Khir – to win the Thomas Cup for Malaysia - was to become reality. Unfortunately, Malaysia’s long awaited day of glory was mired in controversy when Ng and Tan were involved in what was known as Badminton’s Day of Shame. The final tie of the Thomas Cup between Malaysia and Indonesia was played in front of 12,000 spectators over the course of 2 days in the famous Istora Senayan in Jakarta, Indonesia. By the end of the first day, the Malaysians already established a lead of 3-1. On the second day, Indonesians came back to narrow the gap to 4-3 with the score still in favor of the Malaysians. When the first doubles of that second night took place, heavy favorites, Ng and Tan, easily won the first game 15-2 and were leading the second game with the score of 10-2. The Malaysians were 5 points away from the winning the match and the cup when the spectators sensed the impending loss and started a ruckus. The umpire, Tom Bacher, and tournament referee, Herbert Scheele, tried to calm the crowd down but their efforts were futile. The crowd began flashing light bulbs and throwing things at the Malaysian players. With the Malaysians shaken from the jeering of the crowd, the Indonesians chased back from the 2-10 deficit to win the second game 18-13. Fuelled by the Indonesian pair’s miraculous comeback in the second game, the crowd began setting fires in the stadium. During the interval between the second and third games, Scheele decided to suspend play out of concern for the players’ safety. Scheele suggested evicting the crowd and continuing play behind locked doors in the stadium but the Indonesians refused. The IBF offered both teams to resume play in New Zealand but the Indonesians refused. As a result, the IBF decided to award the tie and thus the Thomas Cup to Malaysia with the tie score of 6-3.
His partnership with Tan catapulted the pair into the international spotlight as one of the most dominant Men’s Doubles pairs of the 1960s and arguably of the century. They collected title after title in an endless fashion for a decade. Ng and Tan were record titleholders at the Malaysia Open with 6 titles (1961, 1963 and 4 consecutive titles from 1964 to 1968), 2 consecutive Asian Games (1962, 1966), 3 consecutive Southeast Asian Games (1961, 1965, 1967 – not held in 1963), the first Badminton Asia Championships in 1962, and 5 Singapore Opens (1963, 1964, 1965, 1967, 1968). They also held the record for winning 2 Scottish World Invitation Tournaments (1965, 1966), 2 Danish Opens (1966, 1967) and 2 much-coveted All England titles (1965, 1966). Ng’s very successful partnership with Tan ended when the latter had to retire due to a serious injury sustained during the Southeast Asian Peninsula Games in 1969. Ng then partnered Punch Gunalan until his retirement in 1973.
His partnership with Gunalan led to numerous titles. They won the 1969 and 1971 US Opens, 1970 Asian Games, 1970 Commonwealth Games, 1971 Canada Open, 2 Danish and German Opens both in 1971 and 1972. In the 1970 Asian Games and 1971 Canada Open, Ng also won a title in Mixed Doubles with Sylvia Ng. Ng and Gunalan also won the 1971 All England after soundly beating Indonesians, Rudy Hartono and Indra Gunawan, 15-5, 15-3.
Ng was named captain of the Malaysian team during the 1970 Thomas Cup campaign in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The Indonesians exacted their revenge by defeating the Malaysian defending champions on home soil. The tie score of the final round was 7-2. The 1970 Thomas Cup would be Ng’s fourth and last appearance at badminton’s most coveted team event.
Ng’s last notable result was a silver medal at the 1972 Olympic Games in which badminton was a demonstration sport as a one-day event. Ng and Gunalan narrowly lost to Indonesians, Ade Chandra and Christian Hadinata, 4-15, 15-2, 11-15 in the final.
After his retirement from international competition, Ng coached youngsters and managed a pro shop at the Ipoh Swimming Club. He even coached tennis for a few years. When remarking about his winning streak in the 1960s, Ng once said “Those were the good old days. It was the happiest time of my life - beating those people and winning the titles. I represented the country about 30 times from 1960 to 1969. Most of it was when I partnered Yee Khan. The Danish Open, Glasgow, Germany and Indonesia - we won everything, including the Thomas Cup.”
When asked about his partnership with Ng, Tan Yee Khan said, “When we were playing, everything was heavy – the wooden racquet, the bags, the shoes. We used more energy. Now, the speed of the game has increased and the scoring format is different. But the style of the game has not changed that much.”
During and after his career, Ng received countless awards. In 1968, Ng was elected Malaysia’s Sportsman of the Year ahead of 18 other candidates in various sports. Ng was made a member of the Order of the Defender of the Realm, a Malaysian Federal Award in 1972. The International Badminton Federation honoured Ng’s achievements by inducting him into its Hall of Fame in 1998. Ten years later, Ng Boon Bee became a recipient of the Darjah Dato’ Paduka Tuanku Ja’afar (DPTJ) award in 2008. Lastly, Ng was inducted into Malaysia’s Olympic Council Hall of Fame in December 2015.
Ng Boon Bee and his wife, Tong Yee Cheng, have a son named Thomas after the famous cup and a daughter named Gillian.
1968 – Malaysia’s Sportsman of the Year
1972 – Ahli Mangku Negara (Member of the Order of the Defender of the Realm)
1998 – IBF Hall of Fame
2008 – Darjah Dato’ Paduka Tuanku Ja’afar (DPTJ)
2015 – Olympic Council of Malaysia Hall of Fame
BIBLIOGRAPHY & REFERENCES
Badminton Handbook (Bernd-Volker Brahms)
Encyclopaedia of Badminton (Pat Davis)
Guinness Book of Badminton (Pat Davis)
The Straits Times
-- by Yves Lacroix