B. TINAGARAN had it all going for him. A pioneer with the MIFA football team since 2014, the centreback helped the team win two M3 League titles (2013 and 2016).
When the team were rebadged as Petaling Jaya City, he was right in the middle of the fray, as the Phoenix finished runners-up in the 2018 Premier League to win promotion to the Super League.
Last year, he even captained the team as the rookies kept their place in the top echelon by finishing eight in the 12-team league. In November, however, his world came crashing. An innocuous medical test following a football injury saw him being diagnosed with cancer. The centreback felt pain on his thigh during a friendly match between PJ City against the national Under-22 team. He thought that he had pulled his groin muscle but a routine test revealed the worst news ever.
The scan results showed that he had a tumour on his thigh and was diagnosed with stage four bone cancer, or Ewing’s sarcoma.
The 28-year-old was devastated.
Tinagaran admits he did not expect his health to go south when he was actively playing football just five months ago.
He said he hopes his episode will be a lesson to all footballers in the country and that players need to be prepared for any eventuality.
“It was supposed to be a routine MRI scan but a 15-minute session ended up being way longer as the technician spotted something odd during the scan. I was told to undergo an ultra-sound scan and X-ray as well before the doctor revealed the bad news, ” said Tina.
“I took me some time to accept it and mentally lift myself and get ready for treatment. I was hoping that all this is a nightmare and I would wake up and all would be fine.
“But I had to eventually accept the reality. It was not easy but I had the support of my wife and family. They were affected by the news of my illness too but they all decided to be strong for me.”
“I hope my plight will be a lesson for footballers. Players don’t have a long career and they need to plan for when they retire but now we all need to keep an eye on our health as well.” Tina is currently undergoing chemotherapy back in his hometown in Penang, having spent almost RM100,000 for his treatment.
He said the PJ City management and his teammates with Phoenix, the Professional Footballers Association of Malaysia (PFAM) and M-League footballers had all donated to fund his treatment.
He hopes to make a full recovery and get back to playing football as several footballers have recovered from cancer and returned to the pitch.
Former Bulgarian international and Aston Villa midfielder Stiliyan Petrov was diagnosed with leukaemia in 2012 and after three years of battling the disease, he made his return in 2016 before transitioning into a coaching role at the club that lasted a year.
France international Eric Abidal was diagnosed with liver cancer in 2011 and had to undergo an array of treatment including a liver transplant. The Barcelona fullback continued playing for three more years before retiring in 2014.
Closer to home in Malaysia, Pahang goalkeeper Sharbinee Allawee was diagnosed with stage two blood cancer in 2017. The 2010 AFF Suzuki Cup and 2009 Laos SEA Games winner made a full recovery after six cycles of chemotherapy and returned to football in 2018.
“I know that there are plenty of athletes, especially footballers, who have made a full recovery from cancer and returned to play. I hope to achieve the same but, at the same time, I want to focus on my treatment, ” said the Penangite who has featured in the M-League for nine years since 2011.
“I was told I need a steel implant to replace my thigh bone... it might affect my ability to play so I’m thinking of taking a coaching licence.
“I still love football and I think I can still contribute to Malaysian football.”
PJ City secretary-general S. Ganesh said Tina is a role model for the younger generation due to his grit and determination.
“He’s one of the pioneer players of the team when we started and a hard worker. He just gets on with his job without any fuss and was our Mr. Reliable when he was playing, ” said Ganesh.
“We will miss his fighting spirit on the pitch and we wish him a swift recovery from his illness. We will keep an eye on him and assist him where ever possible.”