Football is a game of passion, and when passion is at stake, adrenaline runs high. When it comes to football in Malaysia, emotions and adrenaline run even higher as the teams playing in the Malaysian leagues are hugely state based, giving every fan more reason to back their team.
For Sarawak, the surge in fans coming to Sarawak matches is indeed noticeable. The first game against Kuala Lumpur at the beginning of the season saw barely 7,000 fans coming. Yesterday when Sarawak played Kelantan, it was an almost full house. Wikipedia claims that the Sarawak State Stadium holds 40,000 seats, but local press have said it’s a 22,000 seater stadium. Which one is right, I’m not sure. I am however sure that the number of fans coming is increasing as I find myself needing to be at the stadium as early at 7PM despite the game only starting an hour later.
Last weekend’s game saw a huge presence of Kelantan fans, and the previous game against Lions XII also saw not less than 100 away fans turn up. Unfortunately, after both games, there was reports of fighting and unruly behaviour with Sarawak fans being accused as hooligans, while the visiting team fans said to be the victims.
I am sad that people think of us in such way because I have observed that sometimes, the visiting team fans are equally unruly and rude, if not worst.
Which brings me to the security issues at football matches in Malaysia to avoid any untoward incidents from happening. I only have three suggestions, and I hope it could be implemented.
For starters, the police and Federal Reserve Unit (FRU) which are in uniform (not plain cloth please), should be stationed in the terraces with the fans. If they want to watch the game so much (which is always the case), they should be located at the back of the terrace so that they can see what happens in front of them. The current security forces are mostly located on the running track, away from the supporters, and are sadly turning their backs to the supporters. If something happened in the crowd, they’d be among the last to know and it takes time for them to regroup, and enter the terrace to take action.
Secondly, we could start implementing special settings for the away supporters, in which they should be well shielded by the police. Locating about 200-500 seats would be adequate. Tickets could be sold five days before the actual game, and sales is stopped a day before the game to enable the security forces and stadium management to estimate and allocate personal and seating arrangements for them. Unsold tickets would be sold off to the local fans as the size of the seating for the away fans changed in accordance to the number of tickets bought for that special away seats. This way, the traditional mocking and jeering could continue, but at least fights can be avoided. The Football Associations (FAs) should also make it clear that away fans must only seat at the designated area if they want to bring their flag and use their team’s jersey. Tickets can be distributed via fan clubs which I understand are aplenty nowadays.
Note that I was seated among a huge number of Kelantan fans during the Sarawak-Kelantan game, and it wasn’t the best experience because I feared the jeering and mocking from both sides could lead to fights.
Thirdly, fans should realize that what happens during the game, stays in the game. Provocations and name calling are not new in football, regardless of where it is played and while emotions do tend to be intimidated, there is no need to go physical. When the game ends, we should all shake hand and walk out as friends, and not foes.
It is my hope that the behaviour of fans, and the security in stadiums across Malaysia will improve for the better. I’m a huge football fan and I love watching my team play. Unfortunately when fights break out, it simply spoils everything, and it really saddens me to see how we would be punished and bullied on national and international based websites/newspapers afterwards because they would love to sensationalize the bad side of anything.
With that said, ‘Sarawak Selamanya‘. (I would use ‘Sarawak forever’, but it doesn’t sound as nice.)