HARESH SAYS: Wanting the best - is that too much to ask?

As published in Malay Mail today 

By Haresh Deol

THEY spoke at great lengths with one goal in mind — to resuscitate Malaysian football.

Somewhat poetically, the “boys” of St John’s Institution, class of 1975 to be exact, had gathered in an office at Wisma Paradise in Jalan Ampang that had a nice view of their alma mater. It was there, during their younger days, that they played football in the rain while idolising the likes of the late Datuk Mokhtar Dahari, Datuk Santokh Singh and Datuk Soh Chin Aun.

About two weeks ago, they met to discuss the current state of Malaysian football. This was fresh after Malaysia suffered a humiliating 10-0 beating to United Arab Emirates on Sept 4 — our worst result at an international match to date.

But it was not just another session of coffee shop talk. They had a plan.

“We plan to take over a club or state team and run it. Don’t worry, we will be able to find the resources and teach the others a thing or two about professionalism and dedication,” said Datuk Zarul Ahmad Zulkifl i.
Zarul, who is now Zenith group chairman, joined his 20-odd former classmates as they explored the possibility of running their own team.

“We are tired of the shame Malaysian football has brought us. Football belongs to all. Now, we see only one particular race dominating the sport. I am sure you can find many others, from various backgrounds and races, to play for the country.

“We must be professional in our dealings. Things have changed and so should our mindset in approaching and administrating football.”

Datuk Pardip Kumar Kukreja echoed similar sentiments. The former Johanians were at the Paradise Group executive chairman’s office for the discussion.

“It’s not about being bullish by trying to make a difference.

Instead of just talking, let’s do it. Let’s adopt a team, unearth new talents and help contribute to the national team,” he said.

It looks like the bashing has somewhat turned into a blessing in disguise. It is unifying people from all walks of life to rap the guardians of Malaysian football — the FA of Malaysia (FAM).
Just criticise the national body, no matter how silly it may ound, and one will instantly get cheers.

The same was seen during a football forum at Dewan Melati, Section 7 in Shah Alam last Friday. The “Hala Tuju Bola Sepak Malaysia” event saw a panel comprising the likes of National Coaches Association president B. Satianathan, former international Asmawi Bakiri, Astro Arena host Rizal Hashim (who used to be a Mailsport journalist) and Ultras Malaya leader Alfadli Awaludin, better known as Rambo.

The cheers some of the speakers received beat the likes of politicians. If there was a political party called Parti Anti-FAM, it could very well win at the next general election.
The forum was attended by close to 200 fans, mostly university students, which included several young women.

As the floor was opened for questions, many took the opportunity to hog the microphone. One even went to the extent of sharing his research into the game. Despite the boos, he continued. He wanted to make a point.
The moderator explained efforts made to invite representatives from FAM and the Youth and Sports Ministry provide futile. The only closet “representative” from  the ministry was National Football Development Programme director Safirul Azli Abu Bakar, who shared some insights towards the end of the forum.

Once again, we saw passionate individuals with plenty of ideas — all eager to have a say in something close to our hearts.

The enthusiasm displayed was priceless. Many continued to take shots at FAM as they demanded answers and want to see light at the end of the tunnel. They believed in our capabilities, that Malaysia was capable of achieving more than just glory at the Southeast Asian Games.

The loyalists also wanted to see accountability. Why was it that fans who caused riots are quickly penalised but those who have corroded Malaysian football, despite the millions pumped in, remain in office?

Two wrongs do not make a right, as pointed out by Rizal during the forum. True. The fans shouldn’t have reacted by launching flares and smoke bombs onto the pitch during the Sept 8 match at Shah Alam Stadium between Malaysia and Saudi Arabia.

But what is the right channel, they ask. Emails and tweets to the national body have been ignored. How else can they express themselves?

As Rambo candidly said: “Perhaps the sound of firecrackers lit from the stands is the only way to get their attention.”  He also said: “... vocal coaches are slapped with (FAM’s) articles while vocal fans face Sections (of the law)”, referring to several fans who were arrested over the Shah Alam ruckus.

What the powers-that-be lack is engagement. They often think and speak on behalf of the other stakeholders without understanding their true sentiments. They assume and pretend they know what is best for everyone. They only rely on the feedback and views given by their small circle of friends and believe that is reflective of the majority. They are wrong.

While the number of articles criticising FAM have decreased, the fans have not forgotten. They would remember and remind FAM about the 10-0 fiasco for days, weeks, months or even years to come.

We have a long way to go. The journey to success may seem blurry, but one thing is clear — fans want to see the best in Malaysian football.

Is that too much to ask?

HARESH is executive editor of Malay Mail. He can be reached at haresh@mmail.com.my or on Twitter @HareshDeol


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