BY ZULHILMI ZAINAL Follow on Twitter
In early May, Malaysians voted for a change of government in the country's 14th general election, the first time since its independence in 1957 that the federal government will be run by another coalition party.
The new government has promised reforms across all of its institutions, and Malaysian sports especially football are also expected to be affected by the recent political change.
The more forward-thinking section of football fans in the country has long spoken out against the state funding received by Malaysian clubs, and the lack of initiative in moving towards self-sufficiency and sustainability in the Malaysian game.
Last Thursday, Goal managed to speak to three representatives of a group of Selangor fans who have been pushing for a partial fan takeover of their team. Naming themselves Koperasi Penyokong Bolasepak Selangor Berhad (Selangor Football Supporters' Cooperative Limited), or KOPSEL, the group is in the process of establishing a cooperative for Selangor supporters, for the purpose of funding the team and gaining administrative control of the Red Giants' operations.
KOPSEL's plan is to get Selangor supporters to join the cooperative by paying an annual fee, and to use the pooled money to 'buy into' the Selangor FA (FAS) committee that runs their Super League team operations; essentially by providing a part of the club funding for a say in the club management.
Members who pay their annual fee will in return receive season passes and merchandise, and are able to contest for seats in the cooperative board.
They are still in the midst of completing their registration process with the Malaysia Co-operative Societies Commission of Malaysia (SKM), and in December last year they held their first preliminary board election, nominating their first nine board members.
They declined to reveal the details for fear of 'unnerving' the stakeholders, but so far they have presented their plans to the team board, representatives of incoming FAS president the crown prince of the state of Selangor, Tengku Amir Shah Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah, as well as the state government officials.
Perjumpaan dengan penyokong Selangor & KOPSEL (Koperasi Penyokong Bola Sepak Selangor) untuk mengetahui lebih lanjut tentang model pemilikan penyokong (fan ownership) @_KOPSEL dan @ultraSel_ inshaAllah ada jalan pic.twitter.com/9IC9tv5jG2
— Amirudin Shari (@AmirudinShari) May 22, 2018
KOPSEL's meeting with Selangor state government executive councillor Amirudin Shari in May
Now comes the hard part.
Unlike in developed countries, Malaysians have fewer options when forming sporting organisations, according to Hafiz Khairuddin, 27, one of the KOPSEL board members met by Goal.
"We can choose between forming a company, an association, or a cooperative. A cooperative is the most suitable mode for now. There are more ways to form such an enterprise overseas, but our laws only allow for these three modes."
They are also limited in the way they can collect annual funds from their members, as according to the 1993 Cooperative Act, they can only collect a one-time membership fee from each member, which will then have to be returned if a member quits.
"We have appealed so that a special dispensation can be made for KOPSEL, to allow us to collect annual fees," said Hafiz 's associate, Shahmi Amir, 25.
When asked whether the annual fee will be an amount that is affordable to the fans, Shahmi responded bluntly:
"I was told that currently Selangor spend between RM800,000 to RM1.2 million monthly in the Super League. That is around RM12 million for the whole year.
"And mind you, this is not a star-studded side; we have 12, 13 young players on the roster. So you see why the annual fee cannot be too low.
"However, if we manage to pull in a lot of members, there is a possibility that the amount will be reduced. Bayern Munich for example have around 284,000 members. It's only logical to bring down the amount of the annual fee if we hit a high membership figure," explained Shahmi.
Hafiz clarified that if the push for fan-ownership succeeds at Selangor, the changes will take place gradually.
"We have to be realistic," he noted. "It won't be a 100 per cent takeover from the get go.
"We're thinking of starting with a 10 per cent of financial contribution and involvement."
But the organisation does not want to dwell on the difficulties that they are facing, especially when such a venture has never been undertaken in Malaysia. To them, what is most important at this juncture is their fellow supporters' acceptance of fan ownership.
"We can't promise anyone that it will succeed," explained Shahmi. "But the concept of fan ownership is not alien overseas. For example, Barcelona and Real Madrid in Spain employ the socio membership concept, while almost all Bundesliga clubs are majority-owned by their fans.
"We believe that fan-ownership is a long-term solution to the predicaments that the team has been facing these past two years, such as overdue wage payment and stadium use. This entails the proper management of on and off-the-pitch matters.
"I don't like to use the word 'convincing' the Selangor fans, as what we've been doing is actually trying to educate them. We have held our first annual general meeting and talks with the other supporters with the purpose of seeing whether they are ready for this.
"We need to change the mindset; it's not so much 'what's in it for me?' They see the great clubs, Barcelona, Borrusia Dortmund, but do they know how much money their fans contribute to the teams? The supporters need to realise that the rise and fall of a football club depend on their fans' involvement and contributions.
"Football administrators in the country constantly say 'football belongs to the people', and this is what fan-ownership is; an attempt to translate that catchphrase into action."
Hafiz however emphasised that the monetary contribution planned by the cooperative is not what is most important in the initiative. Instead, he said that the fans will be coming in to provide transparency in the running of the club.
"We have to be honest, we aren't going to be able to provide all of the funding needed by the club. But what we want to initiate is the proper way of club management and sustainable spending. We want the supporters to champion professionalism, integrity and also privatisation at the team.
"Plus, these, as well as a visible fanbase are what potential sponsors look for in a football club as asssurance before they commit to anything," he noted.
But apart from initiating best administrative practices, they also have another, more intangible target to achieve; getting their fellow supporters' acceptance and involvement, according to another KOPSEL board member Suhaimi Zulkifli, 25.
(l - r) Hafiz, Shahmi and Suhaimi of KOPSEL. Photo by Zulhilmi Zainal
"If the current Selangor management can see eye to eye with us on fan-ownership, and the fans want to get involved in fan-ownership, we will count that as our first success.
"It is imperative that we have the backing of everyone who calls themselves a Selangor fan, because without their support, any attempt at changes will fail. Take the example of Pahang, they never tried their hands at fan-ownership of course, but in 2016 they tried to privatise the club. However, the attempt lasted for only one season and they then cancelled it. Why did it fail? Because there were those at the team who did not believe in the effort and did not want to see it succeed," he remarked.
Resistance against the idea sometimes comes from where they expect it the least, according to Hafiz.
"When we went to SKM to discuss our registration," said Hafiz, "One of the officers asked us, 'Why bother doing this? What's so wrong with a football club receiving state funding?'
"It was so mind boggling, I couldn't believe what I heard! This is the mindset; aversion to change, that we have to confront head-on with our initiative."
Shahmi called for the Red Giants fans to be brave, by comparing their initiative to the recent general election in the country.
"Of course it sounds somewhat too good to be true, but Selangor fans must believe that they have it in them to join KOPSEL's initiative, and to see it succeed. I mean, no one believed that the Malaysian electorate would succeed in voting out the unpopular federal former government, but they did just that, didn't they? Great things begin with belief.
"Malaysian football fans, and Selangor fans specifically too must take advantage of the new political climate, by banding together and unionising for the causes that we support, instead of expecting the government to help us with everything, especially with the funding," he urged.
KOPSEL's undertaking may sound audacious, even crazy, to fans in the country, but if there is one Malaysian team whose fans are gutsy enough to do something that has not been done before, it could be argued that it's the Selangor fans.
After all they once drew praise from Malaysian champions Johor Darul Ta'zim (JDT) owner Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim, who in 2015 described their exploits as "legendary".