Saturday, 30 July 2011

Malaysian fans still behind team despite failure

THE curtain has come down on Malaysia’s bid to qualify for the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil.
But no one can forget the electrifying atmosphere created by the sellout 90,000 crowd at the National Stadium in Bukit Jalil as Malaysia drew 1-1 with Singapore in the return leg of the Asian Zone World Cup qualifiers on Thursday.

Singapore advanced to the third round 6-4 on aggregate but the Malaysian fans were not disheartened and did not leave their seats until after the final whistle.

Had it been a few years earlier, not only would it have been difficult for Malaysia to fill the stadium but most would have deserted the team well before the final whistle.

The mindset of many football fans has changed since national coach Datuk K. Rajagopal led the national Under-23 boys to the 2009 SEA Games gold medal in Laos after a lapse of 20 years.

Yes, the good times are back for Malaysian football. Many believe that the 90,000 turnout on Thursday was the best ever in Malaysian football history.

The fans are beginning to have faith in the Harimau Malaya squad and the show of support was overwhelming considering that this was just a “qualifying round” match.

The nation was at a standstill as the two nations revived their age-old footballing rivalry. Even Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak saw it fit to personally call up Rajagopal to convey his message of encouragement to the players.

It was good to see the whole nation standing united and rallying behind the team.

For the FA of Malaysia (FAM), it’s back to the drawing board after failing for the 11th consecutive time to get past the second round since they began competing in the World Cup qualifying rounds in 1974.

Apart from figuring out how to break the qualifying jinx the next time around, there are some grave concerns which FAM had better look into as far as fan behaviour, security and crowd control are concerned.

It’s well and good to have the fans turning up in full force and becoming the “12th man”.

But when they start behaving like, to borrow a phrase used by Professor McGonaggal from the Harry Porter movie, blithering idiots, then something needs to be done urgently.

It is simply annoying to have the game disrupted by “laser ray” lights being shone onto the playing field and at opposing goalkeepers.

This is not the first time it has happened. The FAM must act fast to put a stop to such practices and nab the culprits before their idiotic behaviour lands Malaysia in trouble with the world governing body, FIFA.

It’s best that FAM tighten up their security measures before FIFA take drastic action, including forcing Malaysia to play their matches in empty stadiums or at neutral venues.

It’s also sad to see fans showing disrespect when the national anthems of the participating countries are played at the stadium.
Let us all rise, stand at attention, and show that we are civilised people who respect the anthems of not only our country, but that of our rivals as well.

Let’s display a sense of sportsmanship, please.

Our fans must also learn to differentiate between sports and politics. Last week, a section of the crowd had jeered Israeli midfielder Yossi Benayoun when his Chelsea team played against the Malaysian Selection in a friendly at the same venue.

This has led to Chelsea lodging a formal complaint with the FAM, who in turn have apologised for the fans’ unsporting behaviour.

As for security matters, something needs to be done to prevent ticket-less fans from gaining entry into the stadium.

On Thursday, hundreds of fans with valid tickets had to sit on the aisles as their seats had been “taken up”.

This could prove disastrous because in case of an emergency, there would be no clear passage for fans to leave the stadium and this could even result in a stampede of the Hillsborough or Heysel proportion.

FAM should also look into hiring more wardens for matches of such magnitude.

Their presence will be a big help in ensuring the smooth flow of fans in and out of the stadium.

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