Story accusing Ultras Malaya of assaulting Vietnamese fans retracted, but the damage is done

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AFF
Sometimes, taking down a published online story alone is not enough to halt the far-reaching consequences.


BY        ZULHILMI ZAINAL       Follow on Twitter


Just one day before Malaysia took on Vietnam in the first leg 2018 AFF Championship final match in Kuala Lumpur, a news report emerged that a number of the travelling fans were accosted by the home fans at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport.

The news, published by one of Vietnam's biggest news portal, Zing.vn named Ultras Malaya, Malaysia's most prominent and vocal supporting group, as the culprit of the incident, although no footage nor recording of it was published along with the story. 

Malaysia fans, 2018 AFF Suzuki Cup

Photo from AFF

According to the story, some of the 80 Vietnam fans in the group were assaulted at the terminal on their way to the busses, before airport security intervened. It quoted a Vietnamese supporter by the name of Nguyen Cong Quyen.

Goal contacted a top member of Ultras Malaya, and although he declined to be interviewed, he vehemently denied their members' involvement in the alleged incident, saying that doing so would only attract trouble for them when they travel to Hanoi for the second leg this weekend, in the form of reprisals by the home fans.

We then arranged for a Zing reporter to get the leader's contact details in order to get the supporters group's side of the story, but on Monday evening the group leader said he has not been contacted by anyone from the organisation.

More damningly, another Vietnamese reporter told Goal hours before the match that the claim might have been a false one.

But the damage is done.

The original Zing story has been taken down on the day of the match, but it has since been rewritten and republished by several other Vietnamese online publications.

These stories also related the 2014 AFF Championship Malaysia vs Vietnam semi-finals incident, when a number of Vietnam fans were assaulted by the home fans at the Shah Alam Stadium. The ultras are also erroneously blamed for the violent disturbance.

A casual check on the tournament's social media pages meanwhile revealed that Vietnam fans are already aware of the story on the supposed attack at the airport.

It is understandable why Ultras Malaya are easy targets to careless reporters local and abroad. The nature of their movement is brash, loud, eye-catching and intimidating, making their brand of support a lot more easily-identifiable in the terraces. But more importantly, they are definitely no angels. They have previously engaged in fiery illegal protests against the Malaysian FA's mismanagement which perhaps have made it a little too convenient for casual observers to mix up their fervour with an imaginary propensity for violence.

Ultras Malaya - Malaysia

Ultras Malaya's protest during the friendly against Philippines on March 1, 2014. Photo from ceritasemasa.com

Ultras Malaya's current focus seems to be more on securing their flights and match tickets for the away leg, than on any safety concerns that may arise in Hanoi. Although no one who understands them well will even attempt to discourage them from travelling to support the Harimau Malaya this weekend, perhaps this time around they should be more wary, no thanks to some irresponsible journalism, which has painted an enormous target on their collective back.

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