I recently read an article from legendary former Kedah coach Robert Alberts on the difference in the football culture between Malaysia and Indonesia. He mentioned that Malaysia has the organisation and infrastructure that Indonesia lacks while Indonesia has the footballing culture that Malaysia lacks.
It led me to think that if he is complaining about Malaysia lacking football culture, what would he say about Singapore’s football culture then? What exactly is this football culture that we speak of? A culture of supporting your local club whole-heartedly, crowding the home stadium, going to away matches, singing songs and cheering?
In Singapore and Malaysia, there was partisan following for the state and respective national teams until the 90s at least. Singapore withdrew from Malaysian football competitions in 1995 after Malaysian football was rocked by a match fixing scandal in 1994 which led to the sacking and suspension of many coaches and players.
Singapore went on to form a professional league of their own which pulled in good crowds until about the 2000s where they started declining to the poor turnout that we see today. In Malaysia, the quality of the league was affected by the match fixing scandal.
The quality that there was in the Malaysian game declined quickly just as the interest dropped as well. Generally, in Malaysian football, the interest and support has ebbed and flowed. There are certain clubs that enjoy very good following; Malaysia Cup and FA Cup semi-finals and finals are almost always played to full houses. However, there are clubs who have enjoyed mixed support connected to the team’s results in that season; attendances are poor when results are poor and attendances become much better when the results are good.
The support for the Singapore and Malaysian national teams are linked to results as well. When the Singapore national team was doing better, they received better support from fans as opposed to now when at all levels, Singapore is struggling. It’s the same for Malaysia. The support the national team is receiving now is phenomenal. It is the best it has been in a long time and that is because there is a sense of pride at what the team is achieving and the way they are playing. There is also a renewed sense of hope for the immediate future.
With Indonesia, I refute claims that they are only fully supportive of their local teams. They have a very big following for European clubs, especially Italian clubs. Indonesia has a very big population and therefore have many more football fans than in Singapore and Malaysia combined. They are very passionate about football and get behind their local teams as well as European clubs regardless of how their team is doing.
Indonesian football is not at its best right now and have seen better times but still never fail in pulling in big crowds for their local league and national team matches. This is where the difference is between the fans in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia. The fans in Singapore and Malaysia will more likely stick through thick and thin with their favourite European club miles away from home than their local club whereas their Indonesian counterparts will stick by their favourite European club and local club at the same time.
I do not agree that because of the greater coverage of European football on TV, the support for local football has been hit in Singapore and Malaysia. Partly, better marketing of the local teams and league could help in an increase in fan following. An increase in the quality of the football in the league would help too. If there is more money pumped into the local game, together with one or two big name signings near the end of their career, the crowds could be pulled in. However, the biggest pulling factor is the sense of belonging between the fans and the clubs. Local clubs have got to do more to engage with local residents from youth to grassroots level.
Written by Rasvinder Singh
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