WRITTEN BY SABRI ZAKEER ALI
September 2018, I pack up my bags and move to Malaysia to experience something new and to follow my dreams.
I realised after arriving that Malaysians were crazy about football, the same way people who support the EPL and La Liga are crazy about their football.
I even found out that football happens to be the national game of Malaysia, though they’re ranked 167th in the FIFA world rankings, considering India who is at the 97th position in the same ranking.
I happened to arrive in Malaysia during the ASEAN (Association Of South East Asian Nations) Football Federation Suzuki Cup 2018 and thought maybe I should go check out the atmosphere of football here in Malaysia to see if it was any different from that in India.
The first match I went for was Malaysia vs Myanmar. The stadium was almost filled, that’s almost 85,000+ people to watch a group stage match, out of which a whole section was filled by one single group of people called the “ULTRAS MALAYA” who came in a pack of 1500, equipped with all forms of flags and drums, enough to set the mood for the whole stadium.
The Ultras have their energy going even 2 hours before the game, setting the mood and the energy for the whole lot who had come to watch this match. When I say a pack of people, we normally think that they are disruptive, but these guys have a fixed set of rules and a code of conduct that they followed from the start to finish of each match.
For every game, they had changes in their chants, bringing multiple new chants that gave a different energy and experience at every match.
Man, it was an awesome first time experience of Malaysian football. The match began, the game was quick, and less than 30 minutes into the game Malaysia scored their first. Stoppage time into the first half they netted the second and two minutes before full time they netted their 3rd and sealed a 3-0 victory. Which also sealed Malaysia’s spot into the semi finals.
Since the expected crowd was 80,000+, it meant that the roads were going to be packed and so was the public transport. The public transport systems had extended their working hours to 1 am in the morning from the usual 11:30 pm in order to get the whole pack back home without causing any ruckus on the roads of Kuala Lumpur. The energy didn’t die at the stadium, it was carried forward to the train station, where people were still chanting and cheering each other, people who didn’t know each other earlier but only have one thing in common and that was the religion of football.
Later that week, 27th November 2018, FAM (Football Association of Malaysia) announced that the tickets for the semi finals will go on sale on 29th and 30th. At 11am 29th November the ticket sale began and within 15 mins 40,000 tickets were sold, the website that handled the sales had difficulties handling the traffic coming into buy tickets for this match. This was indeed a happy and proud moment for Malaysian Football and its fans after they were knocked out from the group stages during the previous Suzuki Cup in 2016. During the next day of sales, the remaining 40,000 tickets were sold out in a matter of minutes. I knew it then, that it was going to be an even bigger and better atmosphere than the previous game.
1st December 2018,
I got ready to head to the stadium at 5:30 pm, for a match that starts at 8:45 pm, and as I got to the train station, I realised that I had forgotten my ticket, I quickly ran back home got it and headed to the stadium once again, entering the venue at 6:30 pm. The stadium was already full. The best seats were taken, the ULTRAS were once again setting the mood for the game.
Louder and more enthusiastic than the last match, topping off the already set benchmark.
The players walk out of the tunnel with their opponents for the day, Thailand, the defending champions and 5 time tournament winner. The national anthem of Thailand plays, the whole stadium pays respect and remains silent till the end of the anthem. The national anthem of Malaysia starts and the whole stadium sings in unison, without a deflection on the energy level they have for the game.
The game begins, in minutes it was clear that the Harimau Malayas (Malaysian Tigers in Malay language) were in the driver’s seat and had their eyes on the prize. Counter attack after counter attack, their defensive line leaving no stone unturned to remain like a wall, the goal keeper more determined than ever.
Soon, the 90 minutes were up and both teams had a clean sheet, which meant that Malaysia needed a draw with goals on their sheet or a win, in their away leg against Thailand in order to advance to the finals of the AFF SUZUKI CUP 2018.
This meant that Team Malaysia needed all the support and motivation they could get at Thailand to cruise through to the finals of the tournament. The ULTRAS MALAYA, seized the opportunity. They set off in packs to Thailand to support their team – by air and by road with all the equipment they need.
5th of December 2018,
I was glued to my phone, watching the game online live from Rajamangala Stadium, Bangkok. The match kicked off, with Malaysia in control of the game. But they were desperate for the win against Thailand and Thailand, desperate for a win against Malaysia.
And an error forced an own goal by Malaysia, which meant that Thailand was now in the drivers seat to the finals. All hope wasn’t lost for Malaysia, they still had a solid 65+ minutes in the game to get back in track. In the 28th minute, the 20 year old, Muhammed Syahmi, ripped the ball from outside the penalty box, right into the top left corner and in goes the ball to level the playing field for Malaysia.
A world class goal.
Thailand is awarded with an indirect free kick right outside the penalty box, the whistle goes, Thailand takes the shot, crosses into the wall formed few yards from the goal post. There’s some confusion, there’s a clear and then a head into the goal. This did not look good for Malaysia as once again Thailand was in the driver’s seat. The Harimaus didn’t lose hope, they kept fighting.
Malaysia sees a gap in the Thailand defence. Players open, clear pass to Norshahrul, he takes his time, controls the ball, second touch he volleys the ball into the goal and it cruises to the back of the net. GOAL for Malaysia! Their fate was sealed. All they had to do was defend for another 15 minutes and they were going into the finals. Which is exactly what happened and they were victorious.
One last roll of the dice
Everyone was eagerly waiting for the tickets to go on sale for the finals between Malaysia and Vietnam. FAM announced that 20,000 tickets will be sold on 7th December and other 20,000 on 8th December online and 40,000 tickets were to be sold over the counter on 9th December. They also announced that special priority will be given to the fans that went to support the Harimaus in Thailand.
On 7th December, the tickets goes on sale at 9am, and within 10 minutes the opening 20,000 tickets are already sold out. Due to high demand an extra 10,000 tickets were made available and all sold out in minutes. This meant that the next day there were only 10,000 tickets up for grabs.
8:45 am, 8th December 2018,
My alarm goes off and I glue myself to my phone, load the ticket website. At 9am the button changes to buy tickets, almost immediately “error cannot load page.” Refresh, refresh, refresh. Finally make it to the next page, without even waiting for it to load, I enter the details, accept the terms and conditions, key in my ID details and quickly move on to the next page. Like a miracle I made it to the payments page and voila I had 4 tickets to my name. Miracle because my friends had been on their phones, laptop and even tablets, some with 3 devices trying to buy tickets but were unsuccessful.
The FAM had made a disheartening announcement that over the counter one person could only buy 2 tickets, which meant that thousands of people would fly in to the stadium premises to buy tickets for the most awaited game of the year, with some even sleeping over night in front of the counter. At the break of dawn, there were tens and thousands of people lined up in front of the counters. The police had deployed officers in riot gear to control the crowd.
In a matter of hours all 40,000 tickets were sold. Verbal fights broke out, people got hurt due to the large number of people around but fortunately no one was badly hurt.
10th of December, 11 am
I got onto the metro towards the stadium to collect my set of tickets. Arriving at the stadium premises, it was shocking to see it so quiet, considering the number of people that were there the day before and for the match before.
I make my way to the counter to collect my tickets, with the grin on my face widening with every step I took, and finally I had my tickets
Indeed it was their house, the house of TEAM MALAYSIA, Harimau Malayas.
The most awaited match day of the year, the first leg of the Finals of AFF SUZUKI CUP 2018. My friends and I got to the stadium as early as we could and yet the stadium was already mostly filled. At that time I really thought that the stadium and FAM (FOOTBALL ASSOCIATION MALAYSIA) needed to make changes to their system of seating by providing seat numbers, since finding seats to watch the game was nearly impossible.
The ULTRAS MALAYA had outdone themselves once again, beating their performance by a mile from the previous match.
Without further delay the first leg of the finals between Malaysia and Vietnam was underway. Malaysia seemed to have things under control, even though Vietnam was clearly playing a tough game against the Malayas. Not too long into the first half, at the 22nd minute Vietnam scored their first goal as a result of a weak clearance from the Malayan side, and not too long after that, Vietnam scored again at the 25th minute mark, clearly taking away all hopes of grabbing the cup. Malaysia doesn’t lose hope, they try their best, creating chances for goals but missing it by an inch a few times. Finally at the 36th minute mark, Malaysia wins a free kick at a dangerous position near the Vietnam box. The whistle blows and there goes a beautiful cross into the penalty box and Defensive midfielder, Shahrul gets a clear header into the back of the net, bringing back hopes for Malaysia to go with our head held high into the second leg of the finals.
Not far off into the second half, 21 year old forward, Safawi Rasid takes the free kick from the borderline of the penalty box, with a beautiful curve, away from the safety of the goal keeper goes in the equaliser for Malaysia. The crowd goes wild.
With both teams desperately trying to make their journey to the title easier, they try hard and fast to secure a good result at this leg to make their next leg easier but the match ends at a draw. Malaysia 2-2 Vietnam.
This match was a special one for Malaysia which had brought in the worlds oldest leader / prime minister along with his wife and the young sports & youth minister of Malaysia to watch the game.
This was a very crucial game for Malaysia and Vietnam as the next match to be held in Vietnam would decide the champions of the 2018 AFF SUZUKI CUP. If Malaysia scores and draw with Vietnam, they win. If it’s a clean sheet for both sides then Vietnam wins and if Malaysia wins the game then they are the champions. I really couldn’t understand this form of the tournament where they had 2 legs of semi finals and finals. It’s nerve wrecking and nail biting to have to go through 2 sessions of 90 mins and that too of very crucial matches, like one wasn’t enough.
Any how, the match date and venue was set, Malaysian fans were all set to go to Vietnam to support the Harimaus. To their surprise AirAsia announces special fare of just RM 35 for the fans to go to Vietnam and another surprise with the national petroleum company of Malaysia Petronas announcing that the fuel would be sponsored by them. That’s how much the country loves their football team and supports its fans.
The stage was set, fans flying into My Dinh National Stadium in Hanoi, Vietnam. This was it, do or die day for both Teams, Malaysia and Vietnam. The match is on, 40,000 fans in the stadium, thousands glued to their TV, mobile and other devices. Not far from kick off, the veteran player, Nguyen Anh Duc perfectly placed a left footed volley, 6 minutes into the game. Since it was towards the beginning of the game Malaysia didn’t lose hope, they went forward to create multiple chances. Chances after chances, but luck was not in their favour, it was either a close one or a save from the Vietnamese goal keeper and the 90 minutes were up, clean sheet for Vietnam but a heartbreaking loss for Malaysia.
Yet the Malaysian fans kept their energy up and continued to cheer for their team in good spirits. The game came to an end but the chants of the Harimau Fans and Ultras Malaya didn’t come to an end. They kept going, even after their exit from the stadium.
CROUCHING TIGER HIDDEN TALENT – GET TO KNOWN THE TEAM
Now that all the nail biting was over for the time being, let’s get into some stats of Malaysian football and their team. The team has one of the lowest average age for a national team where in most of their players are 25 and below. Youngest of whom is the 19 year old midfielder Akhyar Rashid. Great skills, good control over the ball, great potential for the future of Team Malaysia.
Attacking midfielder, Mohamadou Sumareh, from Gambia was the first player to be called into the Malaysia national team since the 1960s who has neither ancestors who are Malaysian born, nor was he born in Malaysia, nor were any of his parents Malaysian. He was awarded the citizenship of Malaysia in April of 2018 after having lived in Malaysia for over 5 years. Since then he has made 10 appearances for the national team and scored 3 goals.
As of now Malaysia is ranked 168th in the FIFA world rankings, their lowest being 178th (March 2018) but being able to climb to 168th by the end of the year, shows improvement in both game and skills on the international front. Their highest ranking was 75 back in 1993, that is over 25 years ago. Since then there have been multiple changes in coaching and change in team players.
The Malaysian national team has not qualified for the FIFA World Cup till date, which is soon to change (fingers crossed). They did however qualify into the Olympic Games back in 1972 and went until the group stages and were knocked out. The team has qualified for the AFC Asian cup on several occasions but never passed the group stages still date. However their highest honour is the AFF Championship (ASEAN FOOTBALL FEDERATION CHAMPIONSHIP) wherein they were the champions in 2010 and runners up in 1996,2014 and 2018.
They have made multiple appearances in the Southeastern Asian Games and have won the title 3 times. Since 2001, the U-23 football team has been the one that represents Malaysia in the Asian games, Southeast Asian games and since 1992 in the Olympic Games.
The history of Team Malaysia in the international front doesn’t really look good but they are improving, the skills they have shown during this AFF Suzuki Cup is no less than any other team in the world. They might not be the best but they have a potential to move up the ranks in FIFA, maybe even see an appearance in the FIFA World Cup soon. They have a young, motivated and enthusiastic team that can and should achieve a lot for their nation.
Know your Nomad
Hi, Yadu here.
I been following Sabri’s Insta stories while the tournament was on and I been really intrigued by the passion that the Malay fans were showing. I really wanted to do a story on it and Sabri was kind enough to share his experiences with us. Thank you so much for this well written article and long may the amazing fans and the team continue in playing amazing football and hopefully winning some trophies.