Supporting the national football team

The Malaysia team experienced the worst kind of loss yesterday — we were leading comfortably, and then gave it all away in a span of a few minutes. Well done to the Bahraini players for the great comeback, and commiseration to our players.

(Dear Bahraini players, I hope you enjoy your stay in Malaysia. I would offer to buy you dinner at an Arabic restaurant if I meet any of you personally. Don’t worry, here you won’t get booed, you won’t get your flags trampled on, you won’t get your parents insulted, and you can even take a walk back to your hotel after the game — no armored vehicle needed. That’s the Malaysian Hospitality. Kalau hangpa pi kampung2…orang suruh jadik imam surau lagi).

This entry is not about the game last night or the players. This is about the fans. This is specifically for the supporters of the national team. I don’t care much about club or state team supporters because I am not one.

This is how NOT to be a national team supporter:

1. After Bahrain scored the second goal, Malaysian supporters left the stadium in droves.

2. After the final whistle, the blogosphere went wild with caci maki and maki hamun, especially towards apek and another apek outside the field (ong kim swee). yang lagi teruk kena is apek inside the field, because he had some personal problems lately which have became public (apek, a word of advice: never, ever trust bitches)

This is not how you support a team. You don’t become a supporter by celebrating wins by wearing team colors during celebrations. You become a supporter by standing behind the team, good times and bad. Remember, to give support, you need to lean behind them. Those who run away when the team falls down are not supporters, they are mere cheerleaders.

And you don’t maki hamun the players, personal problem or not.

To apek’s defence, all the goals (except the third one) were hard to save, even buffon atau lev yashin pun lolos kut. There is no point assigning blame to any one person for the loss, just as there’s no point singling out one person as a cause of a win. Bola is a team game. You hang together or get hanged separately.

Please join me to take a short walk down memory lane. Bear with me okay. Sedikit panjang.

I am not much of a football/soccer fan. I stopped following football league results in 1995, though I still enjoyed watching the odd games here and there. It helps that I have two brothers in law who are football fans, so our TV usually shows a game or two on the weekends.

But I do not support a club team anymore (last was Selangor back in 1995, and Arsenal, at about the same time). I missed out all these MU / Chelsea / Manchester City success stories. Back then when I still followed EPL, the kings were Liverpool and Arsenal. Right now, I don’t know the football players, except those who appear in advertisement. I don’t know which club bought whom, for what price.

The only international tournament I still follow is the World Cup, and that is because everyone else is doing it. My knowledge of football is at least a decade old. Ask me about Matthaus, Papin, Baggio — but younger ones, no. I have an encyclopedic knowledge of the 1994 World Cup, but I only watch the final games of subsequent WCs.

I am not much of a football fan (some of you would say I am not a fan at all). However, I am a proud and loyal supporter of the Malaysian team. I used to know all the players in the 1990s, and even made a scrapbook of them. My father gave me a scrapbook (basically a blank notebook) and my mother provided gunting and gam. Ini masa kecik dulu yer. Everyday after the daily newspapers arrived in the mail I would cut up the pictures of football players on the sports section, until my parents told me to wait for one or two days before cutting up the newspapers, so they can read the news first.

Back then, I would bug my father to buy a magazine if it has Zainal Abidin Hassan or Dollah Salleh on the cover. I was a rabidly loyal Selangor supporter, to the point where I won’t lend my pencil to schoolmates who supported the KL team. I used to call them penyokong Kote Lembik. They retaliated by calling the Selangor imported player Pavel Kote Kecik (his name is Pavel Korejcik). It was enough to cause fisticuffs in the schoolyard. We hated Azman Adnan, back then the best striker in the country who played for KL, with a passion. Those were the days.

This was back when the national league was Liga Semi Pro. Almost all the players worked in GLCs, mostly as bank tellers. Even one superstar player drove taxicab for a living. They play the game out of love, not to make money. They were there for the fans. Malaysians would wait for TV3 every Monday at 9.00pm to see the weekly recap of the Liga Semi Pro. We never bothered about foreign leagues.

The only leagues shown on TV were EPL recap after the Semi Pro (Monday 10pm), and Italian League on Sunday afternoon. Masa ni Ryan Giggs was one of the YOUNGEST players in the league.

Real game toksah cerita la, Selangor games routinely drew more than 20,000 people. We were proud of our football even though we were only semi-professional, and there were no money in football. Only sportswear companies like Diadora sponsored the state teams. Not to mention we were past our prime, a few years after the Supermokh-Santokh Singh-Arumugam-Soh Chin Aun golden era.

I scarcely remember the players — from Selangor they were Pavel Korejcik, Karel Stromsik, Robert Dunn, Jayakanthan, Gunalan, Gani Ali. Dollah Salleh and Zainal Abidin Hassan played for Pahang with Fandi Ahmad (an imported Singapore player) forming the most outstanding team in Malaysia alongwith Ahmad Yusof, Zulhamizan Zakaria, Mubin Mokhtar (free kick expert). In Terengganu there were Ariffin Osman. KL has Azman Adnan (who later played for Selangor) and Zoran Nokolic (who had been bought from Selangor, the turncoat) and Shahrin Majid, the small guy with incredible speed. Playing defence for KL was Serbegeth Singh, now known as Shebby Singh on Astro. The best goalkeepers at the time were Khairul Azman who played for Pahang, followed by Hassan Miskam (Johor). Perak had a great midfielder, Azizul Abu Hanifah. There were many more, but let’s stop here.

At the time, the best player — bar none — was Matlan Marjan from Sabah.

And let’s talk about Matlan Marjan. In 1991 (or was it 1992?), Malaysia played the national England team in a friendly. It was a big deal for me, since it was the first international game involving the national team that I watched live. Few days before the game, I was following the news with much anticipation, even to the point that I prayed to Allah after daily Solat that someone would buy me a ticket and take me to see the game at Stadium Merdeka (this was before Stadium Shah Alam or Bukit Jalil). Barring a miracle, it was quite unlikely since I was 9 at the time, and Malaysian fans were grabbing the seats like crazy.

Everyday the newspaper would show a fullpage profile of the English players, and we would ooh and aah, and would bring the sports pages to share with our friends at school. In the age before corporate sponsorships and Airasia, it was quite rare for Malaysia to play at the international level, let alone against a top European team. The England team at the time was at their peak; they just won the third place at WC 1990, with their striker Gary Lineker being the top scorer.

The England team didn’t disappoint. They fielded their top 11, all in top form, including Lineker, goalkeeper [nama suda lupa] and midfielder John Salako. And I would get sooo excited to see the short malay players I saw in the weekly Liga Semi Pro would come together and match skills with the tall and imposing mat salleh I knew from the EPL telecasts. What a mismatch, but what the hell, it was fun, and I was proud.

Then the day came. I remember watching the 8 o’clock news on RTM1, thinking, woii dah la tu cerita perang Bosnia, orang nak tengok Bola nih. And then the telecast began. Pengulas no other than Zainal Abidin Rawop, on loan from Tv3. Only this man could give ulasan for such an important game. (ZAR deserves a Datukship. Every Malaysian football fan grew up listening to him. If the top scorer gets the Golden Boot, then Zainal should get a Golden Microphone award, like the one given to Yun…oops…Anuar Zain.)

I was in front of the TV with my team colors (Selangor). I could only afford merah kuning because my family was not as well-off back then, and we didn’t have much money to spend on jerseys. I put on a Selangor cap. After Zainal Abidin Rawop was done with the opening fillers, the teams — Malaysia and England — stood for the anthem. The stadium was FULL. It was amusing to see the England guys looked so tall and imposing, dwarfing the Malaysian players. The only big guy on our team was Zainal Abidin Hassan.

I remember (but my recollection might be inaccurate) that the starting goalie was Hassan Miskam (what??? not Khairul Azman?), maybe ada Azizul Abu Hanifah, Azman Adnan, Zainal and Dollah for sure, Ahmad Yusof maybe, and the hero of the Bajau, Matlan Marjan (betul ke dia orang Bajau, aku main sebat jer. Sori lah ye kalau silap).

After the first whistle, we didnt have to wait a minute until Gary Lineker scored a goal through the clueless Hassan Miskam. Yup, one minute into the game and already England 1 Malaysia 0. The England team was so dominating the game it was hilarious. We couldn’t even get possession, let alone make attempts on their goal. For the first half, the England keeper makan gaji buta. At half time the score was England 3 Malaysia 0. All goals were scored by Gary Lineker.

Yet the Malaysian fans were jubilant. Zainal Abidin Rawop didnt have to try very hard to keep their interests alive. Nobody left the stadium. I enjoyed tremendously the experience of watching the national team got trounced (well, not the trouncing part, but the game itself). Malaysian players were schooled by Lineker and co., but it didn’t matter — we were proud!

And in second half, Hassan Miskam were substituted by Khairul Azman. At least some sense prevailed. Whether Khairul Azman was any good against Lineker was another matter. Turned out he was marginally better than Hassan: Lineker scored only one goal in the second half. So Lineker scored four goals total. No other England players scored.

But one Malaysian player scored. And that is the pride of Bajau people Matlan Marjan (again apologies to Bajau if he is not Bajau, i just made things up). This Sabahan lad scored two goals in the second half. The first goal is typical, I can’t remember how it was. But the second goal was magic. He dribbled through two players and the goalie and then placed the ball at the back of the net with such graceful movement. The goal that made me and many Malaysians jump that night.

We didn’t expect that this tiny lad can gelecek all those big mat salleh and the goalkeeper (who until that time didn’t earn his keep) and scored. Bear in mind that Malaysian possession was only about 30% the whole game, and it’s quite rare for our strikers to break into the England penalty area.

Of course, after the game some people whispered that the England players were just being good sportsmen and that Lineker exercised some restraint and that the defenders and the goalie just “let” Matlan Marjan the king of Bajau (apologies!) score both goals to save face in front of the home crowd. BUT IT DOESN’T MATTER. Matlan Marjan scored two beautiful goals against the mighty England team and we were jubilant. The next day Matlan Marjan were hailed as a national hero, the reincarnation of Super Mokh, a “world-class” player, the slayer of the English, macam2 lagi lah. Just because two goals which were probably given away by the amused Englishmen, so we wouldn’t look so pathetic. BUT IT DOESN’T MATTER. We were proud.

(Matlan Marjan went on to be the captain of the national team. Too bad his career was cut short due to bribery cases).

And that night, I made a pact with myself. Come rain or sunshine, come hailstorms and thunderstorms. Malaysia team, I will be by your side.

I am not Ultras Malaya, I haven’t been to a stadium in ages, I don’t know the players’ names, I don’t know the Ultras Malaya chant (though it sounds cool), I don’t wear the blue or yellow jersey (though it looks cool), I don’t know which player plays in which team, which player married which artis, I don’t know who is in Harimau muda and who is in Harimau tua and who is in both, and for that I am sorry for not being a better football fan.

But–and this is the word of a man, who came of age watching Matlan Marjan salvaged our pride by scoring two goals against the mighty England team in 1992; who saved us from the indignity of being helplessly trounced by one of the top football teams in the world–the sacred pact I made with myself stays intact, that until the day I die, I will support the Malaysia football team.


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