A major part of any football team’s success is match attendance by the fans. This goes two ways, as gate receipt generates the team’s income, and a full stadium is also a matter of pride for any successful outfit. This is the reality that must also be faced by Malaysian teams, if the country's football dreams of going further than where it is now. However, there is a rather unique peculiarity that takes place in the supporting culture of Malaysian football; a lot of football fans in this country support two teams in the same competition.
To explain this more clearly, let us list the names of teams competing in the Malaysian leagues; Johor Darul Takzim, Johor FA, Terengganu, T-Team (official name: Persatuan Bolasepak Daerah Kuala Terengganu), Selangor and PKNS Selangor. Spot the pattern here? Yes, most of these teams play in the same three areas, and are supported by the same sets of fans.
Without sounding too judgmental, let us ask, why does this happen? One reason is that in Malaysian football, there is a demand for more teams, but there are not enough stadiums in the country for the teams to play at. So a number of teams have to share stadiums, which means that they also have to ‘share’ fans from the same areas. And except for Selangor and PKNS, the teams are under the management of the same two state FAs. However, PKNS is a club that is affiliated under the Selangor FA, so it cannot be stated that PKNS are completely free from the shadow of Selangor.
Secondly, we Malaysian fans are not yet at that stage where we support our teams and attend matches whether they are losing or winning. We want to win. When our teams lose, match attendance will drop. But it is not every year that our respective teams win silverware (unless you’re a Kelantan fan). In a way, it is a matter of probability; we have a 1/X chance of winning a cup when we support one team, so when we support two teams, the probability goes up to 2/X. Three teams make it 3/X, and so on. See, Additional Mathematicss does have its use outside the classroom, so stay in school, kids.
Selangor fans have no issues filling up the stands.
The fact that Malaysian teams usually carry the name of the states they are based in, also makes it easier for Malaysian fans, who are traditionally state-loyal, to carry on this practice. “Ehh, if you squint hard enough, they are practically the same team what;” this attitude has given rise to the ‘abang-adik’ (brotherly) relationship among a lot of teams in Malaysia.
However, the more observant fans might have noticed that the same attitude described above is also what is called ‘glory-hunting’, which is scorned in more established supporting cultures abroad. Basically, glory-hunters are those who do not support their local team, preferring a more successful team in the same league or abroad; or those who only show up at the stadium when their team is winning.
But a small number of fans seem to agree to this notion, and refuse to follow this tradition. A Johor FA fan who does not want to be named said: “Just because JDT has the Johor name in it, and it is also run by Persatuan Bolasepak Negeri Johor (PBNJ), it doesn’t mean that it is Johor. Although we are in the Premier League, we are still the real Johor. And honestly, I am upset that PBNJ and Johor fans are putting more focus on JDT than on Johor.”
The same sentiment was also expressed by a Selangor fan who only wants to be known as Firdaus, who moves in a Selangor fan group. Recently, when Selangor were knocked out of the Malaysia Cup early while PKNS advanced to the quarterfinals, his group was embroiled in a series of events that ended up with them being criticised from the unlikeliest of sources.
“A PKNS representative ‘invited’ us to come support them for their match against Pahang with free admission. We have no problem with PKNS FC, but we don’t see ourselves as glory-hunters, so we politely declined their offer through our Facebook page, and even advised them to look for real, paying, supporters instead of resorting to giving away free tickets. But somehow other Selangor fans took offence with our refusal, and bashed us for being arrogant and for being disloyal to the Selangor name. We totally didn’t see that coming.”
The Manchester Derby never saw both groups of fans seeing eye to eye.
When asked whether he regrets the decision, he simply replied with two questions; “Do you think Manchester United fans would suffer supporting (Manchester) City, now that United are not doing well? Do Inter fans also support Milan?”
And indeed, there is truth behind the questions. In addition to the four teams, usually fans of teams that are based in the same area hate one another with the burning rage of a thousand suns. Liverpool and Everton, Tottenham and Arsenal, Roma and Lazio, Bayern Munich and 1860 Munich, just to name a few. Now the point is not to promote hatred and violence, but our way of supporting is rather odd when compared to the global norm, isn’t it?
Or maybe this oddity is what we should promote abroad, instead. We should teach fans in Europe that there is no need to hate their neighbours just because he supports the other team, when there are many other legitimate reasons to hate his guts. Now that’s the Malaysian way. But in all seriousness, there is also the fact that our kind of support stems from the fact that we identify ourselves by state more than we do by town, unlike fans in Europe and that the popularity of local football is not yet at the point where two teams from the same area can draw two different sets of crowds. Another way to see this is we as fans in Malaysia don’t hate our local rivals, we even help them by supporting them. Now if that doesn’t give you that warm, fuzzy feeling, then nothing else will.
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