After a very eventful day in Johor, Sunday’s S.League match at Pasir Gudang Stadium between Harimau Muda B and the Courts Young Lions was finally abandoned almost an hour after it had first been stopped by referee Muhd Taqi Jahari following incidents of crowd unrest.
It had been a bizarre day to begin with as a major storm crashed down around 2p.m, bringing with it squally showers and heavy downpours, along with lightning. At that stage, the possibility of postponement loomed large.
But once the rain eased and the lightning abated, players from both sides took to the field at around 4p.m for their routine warm-up.
Minutes before kick-off and with rain still persistent, a large contingent of Harimau Muda “Ultras” arrived in the stadium. Numbering at least a hundre, the Malaysia scarf-waving fans took up a large section of the stands behind one goal.
As it transpired, scarves were not all they were carrying with them, as everyone present would soon find out.
Harimau Muda looked mostly in charge against a relaxed Young Lions side, but neither could break the deadlock in the first-half.
However, only two minutes into the second half, dangerous winger Iskandar Hanapiah, who had created a number of first-half chances, fashioned a telling one for team-mate, Faizat Ghazli to put them 1-0 up.
Young Lions had looked less than dangerous in the first half, though they did manage to trouble the defence when Sherif El-Masri burst through their ranks at least twice. But three men on the line stopped him once and the other time, he dwelt too long on the ball and lost his momentum.
But the Canadian was to be the focus of attention soon enough.
In the 75th minute, he benefitted from some poor defending, with the home defence caught ball-watching as Nur Ridho’s cross reached him out wide on the left.The Canadian picked his spot from 15 yards and finished adroitly to level the scores.
The Ultras were not impressed, of course, but were further incensed two minutes later when El Masri scored again from a cross by the same man, Nur.
But the flag-waving fans weren’t directing their disapproval at the defenders; rather, they took exception to the way El-Masri had celebrated his second goal.
Flares began to rain down on the goalmouth, accompanied by smoke bombs and most of this was detrimental to the Harimau Muda goalkeeper Ramdhan Hamid as much as to the Young Lions players looking to extend their lead.
The flares began to litter the pitch and despite security officers being situated alongside the miscreants in the stands, no action was taken by them.
Ramdhan even removed one flare himself so that he could see the play, as the smoke continued to billow.
After trying patiently to continue the game, referee Taqi indicated to both teams that they should leave the field for their own safety.
Once this happened, the Ultras stood firm as they sang passionately, while sending more flares and smoke bombs goal-wards. They also sent fireworks into the sky as their bombardment continued.
Talks amongst officials were conducted for some considerable time, with some trying to negotiate with the Ultras to find a solution to the impasse.
After it had apparently been established that El Masri’s celebrations were the root cause of the problem, senior Courts Young Lions officials including coach, Aide Iskandar, tried to approach the recalcitrant fans by walking towards them.
Towards the end, El Masri himself was conducted to the area close to where the Ultras were standing and he tried to show his remorse with some conciliatory gestures.
After many long discussions and false starts among ground and club official, and even the police force, a decision was made to abandon the match once and for all, long after the teams had left the field.
The crowd took some time to disperse and sections of both home and away supporters had to be guided out of the stadium separately by police and security personnel.
Aide Iskandar and his players were kept in their dressing room until it was safe for them to depart, hence no comments were forthcoming from the Courts Young Lions coach.
Harimau Muda coach Razip Ismail, on the other hand, was free to offer his thoughts, on the game itself at least.
“After a slow start I think we dominated the game, but we lacked the essential sharpness up front,” he remarked.
“We conceded both goals due to a lack of concentration and our left-back was at fault both times. He failed to close down his man and I’m not blaming any of the players in the goalmouth for not clearing the two crosses.
“We are disorganised at the back still and that is our main problem. We wanted to win this game and were disappointed not to beat Hougang last week as well when we were short of players.
“We didn’t have much recovery time after that game and now we have another quick turnaround before our next game here against Brunei DPMM on Thursday.
“There’s nothing I can say about the abandoning of the game as it will be all decided later, after the referee puts in his report.”
The Young Lions had a few fans on hand, but they would have left Pasir Gudang puzzled at how their team had been denied a rare victory, thanks largely to the antics of some of the home team’s loyal fans.
After the game had been called off, all the Harimau Muda players made their way to where the Ultras were standing and stood quietly together as their fans sang the Malaysian national anthem for their benefit.