BY ZULHILMI ZAINAL Follow on Twitter
The inaugural edition of the Challenge Cup this season has introduced several changes, most noticeably the opportunity for clubs who do not qualify for the prestigious Malaysia Cup to still take part in a competitive season-ending tournament.
But one more minor change might have flown under the radar; the earlier kick-off time of the night matches.
Until the 2016 season, night matches in Malaysia's top two tiers had kicked off at 8.45 pm, especially matches held in West Malaysia. But beginning in 2016, the kick off time for night matches was pushed to 9.00 pm in order to accomodate the request of its official television broadcaster; Media Prima.
The later time was not particularly a welcome change, especially for newspaper journalists and reporters, who were left with a shorter window of time to file their match reports, post-match interviews and mixed zone chats with players. Certain sections of the fans too, although they were not as inconvenienced by the change as the journalists were, felt that an earlier kick-off made more sense than the 9 pm start time.
But no noticeable complaint was ever made to competitions organiser Football Malaysia LLP (FMLLP), and even when Media Prima ceased to shoulder the role of exclusive match broadcaster in 2018, the 9 pm time was retained.
The return of Malaysian satellite television broadcaster Astro to the domestic competitions' fray midway through the Challenge Cup this year, saw them broadcasting the matches on their local sports channel Astro Arena, and with this the kick-off time, at least for matches that they showed on television, also changed.
In round four of the group stage, the JDT II-ATM match, which was played at night and broadcast live on Astro Arena, kicked off at 8.15 pm instead of the usual 9 pm. This was kept all the way to the first leg final match last Monday, when UKM FC hosted Terengganu FC II at the Shah Alam Stadium.
Although the latest change may have been received warmly by the media and fans, strangely enough, the earlier kick-off time has not been as eagerly received by those who perhaps matter the most in the equation; the coaches and the players.
Goal asked Terengganu II boss Tengku Hazman Raja Hassan his thoughts on the matter, and he responded frankly:
"To me, the earlier kick-off time is a little inconvenient for the coaches and players, especially the Muslim ones. Perhaps it's not a problem to those who are not Muslims.
"We have to reach the stadium by 6 pm, it leaves us too little time to go through the warm-ups, and things can get a little messy and out of hand," answered Hazman.
This sentiment was later echoed by UKM head coach Sulaiman Hussin, when he was posed the same question.
Muslims are required to perform the dusk, or 'Maghrib' prayer daily between around 7.15 pm to 8, and although the prayer itself takes no longer than 15 minutes, it is understandable how professional players and coaches in the country, majority of whom are Muslims, can feel rushed in order to get everything in order by 8.15 pm.
FMLLP revealed on Wednesday that they have sat down with fan representatives in order to discuss the 2019 match fixtures, and maybe they ought to do the same with the broadcasters, players and coaches unions and media representatives on the issue of kick-off time, to make sure everyone is on the same page.
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