Dez Corkhill: The silent 2.5 million

The Managing Editor of Astro Arena reflects on the lukewarm coverage of the thrilling FA Cup final between Pahang and Felda United

GOALBY    DEZ CORKHILL     Follow on Twitter

Dear Reader.  We need your help in an on-going investigation.  How can 2.5 million people be so ignored by many of Malaysia's various Press corps.
Everywhere you look in the Press at the moment, there's a build up to the FIFA World Cup in Brazil. Neymar's tumble, Sneider's MMA fitness regime, Raheem Sterling's sudden elevation into a "must-have-in-the-team" talent, the stories surrounding players most have only ever seen on TV are everywhere. Everywhere. You'd think the FIFA World Cup was the only football competition in the world. 
It's not. And while it may be heretical to say so, I'm not a lone voice. 
On Saturday, 2.5 Million people stopped what they were doing to watch Astro's coverage of the ERA Malaysia FA Cup Final between Pahang and Felda United. That's 2.5 with five zeroes. And that doesn't include those who watched on free-to-air which probably doubled the total. 
That figure is significantly more than will watch any single FIFA World Cup game in Malaysia. That is a lot of people giving up their Saturday night's to watch domestic football. The domestic game is - statistically - infinitely more popular than any International Leagues or Cup.
And those 2.5 million were treated to a thriller. I guarantee that you will not see as good a goal all year as Faizol Hussein's equaliser for Pahang in the 79th minute. It was a strike of stunning accuracy, power and timing. If it had been the left foot of Lukas Podolski, the papers would have been screaming "Goal of the Century". But instead it was hidden deep inside the back pages. Malaysian football - despite being watched by 2.5 million - is deemed secondary sports news by most outside Astro Arena.

Not-withstanding the fact that this was a rip roaring game with the woodwork rattled twice, both goalkeepers making excellent saves, close to 60,000 being on hand to watch the game, and all settled with a dramatic last minute winner, the biggest story in sport that weekend barely made a ripple in the consciousness of the written Press. 
After 15 years in Southeast Asia, it remains a mystery to me just how the local game is seemingly so down the list of priorities of many decision makers, while statistics and viewing figures scream that the local game is far more watched than any International League. But perceptions can be hard to change.
Astro Arena was set up to try to close that perception gap and, with the launch of Arena Radio last Saturday, progress is being made. Even Sarimah and The Rod on Mix FM were talking about it - and they never talk local football. 
Astro, and Astro Arena in particular, are staunch supporters of local sport and try to celebrate it as much as we can. We also can't ignore the World game, and are adding Malay commentary on TV or radio for all matches during the World Cup.  
But the FIFA World Cup, for Arena's viewers, is secondary.  Domestically we're building up to the most thrilling finale to a Super league season ever. Tuesday night's results meant that what was a four team race for the title is effectively now a two team slug-fest between Selangor and Johor Darul Ta'zim.
Both still have to play Kelantan who are themselves chasing a top three berth. The league will reach a head on June 25th when Johor Darul Ta'zim travel to Kuching to take on Sarawak, whilst Selangor are "away" to PKNS. 
That same night, The FIFA World Cup features such gems as Bosnia vs Iran, Honduras vs Switzerland - they're loving that in Kuala Terengganu ! - plus the slightly more attractive Nigeria vs Argentina and  Ecuador vs France match-ups.
I have not the slightest doubt that if Johor are still in sight of the title, Astro Arena will attract close to two million viewers. The World Cup games - admittedly on a different platform - will not.
Stand by for some epic football and a thrilling culmination to the season. And I'm not talking about Brazil here - this is all on your own doorstep.

Dez Corkhill is the managing Editor of Astro Arena - the Malay-language sports Channel that broadcasts Malaysian Domestic football. He is also an English language commentator on the Malaysian League for Astro Arena and Starhub in Singapore, and has commentated on Asian Football Leagues from Singapore to India via Indonesia and Malaysia for the past decade.