23 September 2018 was the first time my 7 year old son set foot into a stadium to watch football. With the recent surge in interest that he has shown for the beautiful game, stemming from watching hockey final between Malaysia vs Japan during the Asia Games, (yes, it’s confusing but you know kids) I felt the time was right for his first trip. An initiation into the unforgiving world of being a football fan.
So what’s the first time like? Well, let’s start with a problem that is not unusual in Malaysian football. Chaotic ticket sales.
I’d like to believe that there is a good and valid reason for tickets to start selling at 1.30pm for a 4.30pm game. On a Sunday. In a much publicized highly anticipated match. Please tell me there’s a good reason. If the tickets were sold earlier in the morning, I myself was willing to go buy them early morning, go back home, eat lunch at home, get ready with my son and make our way back to stadium before kick-off. I’d do all that just to ensure my son wouldn’t have to endure the unpleasant process of buying footy match tickets in Malaysia. But having said that, I have to inform that the atmosphere at the ticket counters were quite serene at 3pm when we bought our tickets. Until this moment, I have no idea why I bought my 7 year old son the RM15 ticket. Must be the serenity that caught my brain off guard. Little would I know of the near carnage around the same vicinity prior to kick-off. When will we learn. Oh just remembered, we are on forever learning mode.
Thailand 4 – Malaysia 2
In previous years this scoreline would’ve been normal. But now is not ‘previous years’. Now is a well organized football development platform. Now is an intensive program that has been proven to produce results. Now is a package that is touted to create the foundation for a world cup team. Much is expected from this young side. Maybe a bit too much. Just because they’ve gone through an intensive football program for 4 full years from the age of 12 doesn’t mean they can waltz through the tournament and become champions. They’re not supersaiya footballers. Even Korea and Japan with development programs that are at least 5 times older would not start any tournament confidently claiming they’ll win it. But what I did expect from the team was a performance twice better than what was displayed. Is that too much? The hype around the program itself was enough to justify that it should have been more than that.
It was easy to pick the reasons for the lost. Woeful defending, outplayed in midfield and red card.
The Thais started as they did against Japan. Scored early. Only this time they finished the game the winning side. The high enthusiasm I had after seeing Harith Haikal’s name displayed on the starting list started to evaporate after his contribution to Thailand’s 1st goal. And it vanished completely after about 25 minutes into the game. If this was the same player that I saw discussed across my timelines then I was disappointed. I’ve never seen him play. But in this Thai game he looked out of sorts. Clearly needed more time to recuperate. Eventually subbed off but damaged already done. The red card we got against Tajikistan may not have affected the end result but this one undoubtedly did. When I first saw the challenge I just went “Whoa, that’s a really bad challenge!”. Then the ref went straight for his back pocket and I just said to my son “No arguing that decision.” However, after watching the replay later that night, I have to say that Luqman was unlucky. But you need to realize that when you go into a challenge with your studs showing then a ref’s gotta do what a ref’s gotta do. He needs to carry out his duty and protect every player.
But why were we unable to play ‘our game’? I’d bet my lifesavings that our boys must’ve played against opponents many times better than this Thai side. And did well. So why couldn’t we play against the Thais in our home ground in front of a big crowd support?
I put it down to that. Key word here is big crowd support. With all the previous trainings and matches being played under closed environment, at least that’s how I feel about that, this is probably the first time they’re playing a competitive match in front of a big home crowd. Some showed jitters and some may have tried a bit too hard. Can’t really judge but that’s how I see it. Nerves played a very important part.
For my son, this was another ending that he hadn’t hoped for. Well, he’s learning. But then he decided to pop the dreaded question, “Ayah, kenapa Hakim dah doa pun tapi jadi macam ni?”. Being the good father that I am, I did what any father would do when faced with this situation. I bought him a RM20 Harimau Malaya t-shirt and gave him a day off school.
Next up is Japan. Before this tournament started, my view of our team is that we are equal to all the other teams involved. No more feeling inferior. That I still believe. With Japan unexpectedly drawing 0-0 against Tajikistan, our hope re-ignited. Next game is winner takes all.
Please win it boys. Do it for Malaysia. Do it for yourselves.
Text: Faizal Jabar
Image: Hafis Abd Aziz