Friday, May 27, 2005

LURING BACK THE FANS (27/05/2005 - The Malay Mail)

Publication : MM
Date : 27/05/2005

MALAYSIANS' passion for sports is unquestionable.
However, the issue is raised over whether sports are worthy or
justifying of their support.
At Shah Alam Stadium last Sunday, the 80,000-odd fans who thronged the
venue to watch the fourth edition Sultan of Selangor's Cup, indeed proved
sports are still very much alive here.
Sports, soccer in particular, may not be at their best now, but that
Sunday, soccer fans turned up in full force hours before the first match
at 8.30pm between the Selangor veterans and their Singapore counterparts,
followed by the Selangor and Singapore League Selection game.
The roads leading to the stadium were jammed with buses, cars and
motorcycles. With the car parks full, vehicles were seen parked in every
nook and corner, while the fans were painted in the famous yellow-and-red
This festive atmosphere was a scene missing in Malaysian sports for
some time now.
If my memory serves me right, the last time Malaysians came to support
one team in droves was in 1989 for the SEA Games soccer final-cum-closing
ceremony at Merdeka Stadium, where the national side - coached by
Englishman Trevor Hartley - beat Singapore 3-1.
Even the rain that evening did not deter fans from cheering the
Malaysian team to victory.
But last Sunday, it was not only the Selangor fans who packed Shah Alam
Stadium to the brim, but also other Malaysians who were there to
reminisce about the old rivalry between Selangor and Singapore dating
back to the early 1900s and also to watch the stars of yesteryears who
have given them so many memorable moments.
And they were not disappointed as not only the veterans entertained
them, despite being much slower now, the regular match also saw Selangor
beat Singapore 3-1.
Though many may argue that more than 30,000 tickets were given free and
Indonesian fans also made up the number - as they came to cheer their
countrymen Elie Aiboy and Bambang Pamungkus - Malaysian sports have for a
long time not seen something like what transpired last Sunday.
Yes, there were about 90,000 at the National Stadium in Bukit Jalil for
the Malaysia Cup final between Terengganu and Perak in 2001, but the
support then was divided.
Youth and Sports Minister Datuk Azalina Othman, who was present for
Sunday's match, must have surely got goosebumps and left wondering when
she will see another packed stadium again, but this time cheering for a
Malaysian team.
But one thing is for sure, Malaysian fans will be there to lend their
support when they know a good thing is about to take place because they
are a passionate lot when it comes to giving their backing.
Malaysian fans have one too many times been faced with disappointment
after disppointment that they have become sceptical of Malaysian sports
in general.
But last Sunday provided a ray of hope the fans will be there if a
decent performance can be expected.
The publicity and promotions generated by the organisers, coupled with
visiting the districts to entice residents to attend the match by
providing transport, saw a turnout from all corners of Selangor.
Selangor coach Dollah Salleh said the crowd and atmosphere inspired his
team to rise to the occasion and hoped the fans would also be there for
their Premier League matches.
This actually works both ways.
While a full crowd can inspire the players to rise to the occasion, a
decent performance by the team week in and out will also see the fans
turning up in droves to support them.
The national team play Singapore in their annual clash on a
home-and-away basis next month, with the first leg in Singapore on June 4
and the return leg at Penang's City Stadium four days later.
Would it be asking to much for the fans to display the same spirit and
atmosphere on June 8, as in Shah Alam last Sunday, while the national
team can repay their support by producing a commendable performance?

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