Friday, April 25, 2014 - 12:05
IT has been two decades since the Malaysian League (M-League) went fully professional after having been semi-pro from 1989 to 1993. However, stadium management, security control, marketing and field management have hardly reached a state of satisfaction.
Except for the Tan Sri Hassan Yunos Stadium, aka Larkin Stadium, that underwent a major facelift this season, many of the new stadiums, including the National Stadium, are nowhere near top quality.
The pitches are badly maintained while the stadiums are in poor shape, hardly befitting the professional status of the M-League.
It comes as no surprise that many foreign teams that have come to play friendly matches in Malaysia have complained about our football pitches. One team, Barcelona, even refused to play at the National Stadium at the eleventh hour and played at the Shah Alam Stadium instead.
When Malaysia was picked to host the 1997 World Youth Cup, FIFA gave its approval to the pitch quality and facilities at the stadiums in Kuching, Kuantan, Johor Baru, Alor Setar, Kangar and Shah Alam.
However, the condition of the stadiums in most of these venues has deteriorated because of poor management, which is a crying shame.
At the time, Perak Stadium failed to be approved for the tournament because of poor pitch conditions.
Having witnessed two Premier League matches at the Goodison Park Stadium last week, where Everton played Crystal Palace and Manchester United, I was mesmerised by the 44,000-capacity stadium and the way it is managed.
Everton FC is one of the oldest club in English football with just average capacity and facilities compared with those of the newer and bigger clubs.
But the way it manages its football pitch, security on match days, the sale of tickets and seating arrangements (despite the cramped stadium) is simply excellent, not to mention the ever-friendly and helpful stewards.
Many of our football clubs will do well to learn a thing or two from Everton FC on how to manage their stadiums.
Despite being located in a residential area, like most stadiums in England, the traffic and crowd management was par excellence on the match days.
Besides, the police on duty had a horse unit assisting the club’s stewards.
Both the matches I watched drew capacity crowds and there was hardly any sign of trouble as fans moved into the stadium in an orderly fashion and in just 15 minutes after the game, the stadium had cleared and locked up.
The club’s security stewards inside the stadium were not intimidating but firm in handling the crowds.
There were stewards on the terraces to guide the fans to their seats and also to ensure that there was order.
There was also CCTV around the stadium to monitor any signs of crowd trouble or misbehaviour.
Opposing fans from Crystal Palace and Manchester United were only given a maximum of 2,000 tickets to keep them manageable while extra security was placed on their terraces.
There was definitely no throwing of flares onto the pitch, which is fast becoming a fad in Malaysia, as fans from both teams cheered their respective teams in a sporting manner and at times when rivalry set in, they exchanged friendly banter in the spirit of the game.
Despite the tight seating conditions, I certainly enjoyed both matches and was impressed at the way they ended incident-free especially the match against Manchester United when David Moyes was returning to Goodison Park for the first time after having left Everton this season after spending eleven years with the Evertonians.
Preparations for the matches involved the groundsmen painstakingly replacing grass that had come off during the warmups or after the first half. But what surprised me were the robot-like rollers manned by groundsmen coming onto the field immediately after the final whistle.
As the fans were making their way out of the stadium, work had already began to prepare the pitch for the next match – that is efficiency and professionalism at the highest level.
While making my way out of the stadium, I could not help but think of the situation in Malaysian football.
I remember thinking the same thoughts after having watched other league matches in England previously, including after the UEFA Euro 1996.
Is it too much to ask for the same thing here or must I resign myself to the fact that Malaysian football administrators are simply not good enough to make the game what it is supposed to be — professional to the core.