Malaysia needed the Ultras at Shah Alam

Before the SEA Games started, everyone in Southeast Asia knew that the team that beat Thailand would be the one celebrating a gold medal.

The Thais were always the favourites heading into the tournament. In fact, these days the Thais are the favourites heading into any tournament in Southeast Asia. From youth to senior level, Thailand are producing talented players that know how to win on the regional stage.

It is this winning mentality that others need to learn from.

It was in evidence once again on Tuesday evening as Thailand defeated Malaysia 1-0 in the final of the SEA Games to take gold. A first half mistake from the otherwise impressive Haziq Nadzli gave the northerners the goal and Malaysia just could not find their way back into the game, though they gave everything.

At the moment, this will have to do for Malaysia. In terms of talent, Thailand are ahead of the entire region. Giving them a tough game but losing narrowly is no disgrace. Thailand are better than Malaysia.

Home advantage helps. The atmosphere in the Shah Alam Stadium in the semi-final victory over Indonesia was special. There were 80,000 fans with as much passion as the players, shouting, singing and giving their all for Malaysia.

Sadly, Ultras Malaya, the hardcore and fiery main supporting group, decided to boycott the final.

This was in protest against the ticketing system – or lack of it – used for the final. Instead of the usual online sales, fans had to go to the stadium to get tickets. many went and did not get any. It was chaos.

In this modern digital age, there should be no issues. We have all become used to shopping online and making fans spend hours to go and get a ticket in order to spend hours supporting the team is not the right policy.

Yet, this is what happened until relatively recently. When I was younger in England and wanted to watch my team play in a big game, I had to go and get tickets myself. Everyone did.

For the biggest games, people used to camp out all night in order to be one of the first in line. At some point in time, it also became possible to call and get tickets sent in the post but when time is short, the only reliable method was to go.

Looking back now, it seems a little crazy but this has been the method of selling tickets for the majority of time in football history.

Fans were right to be angry however. In the modern age, this method is inconvenient and it is also an indictment of organisers that this could not be put in place.

There was always a pretty good chance that Malaysia would reach the final and measures should have been put in place.

More could have been done to sell packages ahead of the tournament and more could have been done to sell final tickets before and after the semi-final. That would have enabled those Malaysian fans that came to Shah Alam to watch the Indonesian game to have then bought tickets for the final at the same time (although organisers did not confirm the stadium venue for the final until after the semi-final, which is obviously an issue).

Going forward perhaps a national database of national team fans can be created. This exists in England and, among other things, makes it easier for fans to buy tickets.

While the reasons are understandable, the boycott was not the right action. Perhaps those fans will regret not supporting the team. Not only did they miss a final and these are not common things any more in Malaysian football, but their team really needed their support.

Despite the big crowd at the Shah Alam, there were times when the Thai away support was louder. The atmosphere for the final did not match that of the semi-final.

The Ultras have played their part in the tournament so far. It is impossible to know what would have happened had they attended to get behind the boys but it could not have hurt.

At the very least, the presence of the Ultras lifts other fans in the stadium too and that can help create a genuinely intimidating atmosphere. Perhaps that would have given the home team that little boost of energy when it was needed. Perhaps it would have created a little slither of doubt and anxiety in the minds of the opposition.

Perhaps not. We will never know. The Malaysian team gave everything but with the fantastic support of their ultras, the game may have gone differently.

That fans were angry is understandable. They support their team through good times and often bad. They deserve better but this was not the fault of the players. When the players needed the support, it was not there.

The Ultras should have gone to Shah Alam.

Comments