Options: Do you remember when you fell in love with, as how the late great Pelé described it, The Beautiful Game?
Datuk Stuart Michael Ramalingam: I honestly can’t remember the exact moment but the love of football was brought to us by my dad who loved the sport. My mum, meanwhile, was just so supportive for both my brother and I to play and succeed in the game. I remember watching matches with my brother at Stadium Merdeka and both of us taking the bus from Kelana Jaya all the way to KL and coming back home late. All these things happened when we were just 12 years old or so.
We heard you are a Liverpool fan. What are your hopes for the coming season?
Yes, I am! But I would say I am more of a supporter than a fan. I am not the type to wear jerseys or have the full collection of mugs, memorabilia and the like. I enjoy watching good matches and have been known to tune into a game by another team if the match that Liverpool was playing wasn’t too interesting. Anyway, I just hope they make a good challenge for the title again this year and fix the “problems” they seemed to have had across the team last season, particularly inconsistency. They would be fine one match but in disarray by the next!
Do you have a favourite footballer?
I have had some favourites over the years, transcending one generation of players to the next. The only element that has remained unchanged is that [they] all seem to be playing in the exact same position I did when I was younger, which was centre midfield. Early on, I used to love watching Roberto Baggio and, a little later, Zinedine Zidane. After that, it was Pirlo, Xavi, Iniesta and Gerrard. Now, it’s Kevin De Bruyne and Luka Modric. But if I had to pick one out of all of them, it would be Zidane.
The English Premier League is hugely popular in Malaysia. Even more so than our local leagues. How do you propose converting these fans into supporting their own local clubs as well?
I would argue [against] that fact as I believe the TV numbers would actually justify it. This is actually an assumption and perception which I cannot blame the urban KL folk for thinking. However, it is something I hope will change over time via strategic improvements, engagement and communication we must commit to. While we as a country are not “young” in football, the professional and privatised structure of the game in Malaysia is only four years old. Having said that, its transition and evolution have already started. We hope that, over time, we will bring these Manchester United, City and Spurs supporters back to the stadiums to support their local clubs too. They can still support Arsenal or Liverpool, but I also hope they will share the same pride in supporting, say, Kedah, Johor or Pahang. A lot needs to be done to get to that point but I believe we can!
Having been so immersed in the sport, you must have had some epic football moments and memories. Could you kindly share some with us?
Watching the Malaysian national team play to a full stadium and listening to Negaraku being sung by 90,000 people at once. That was magical. Another would be the opportunity to catch the recent
Fifa World Cup with my wife and kids, ticking one item off my bucket list. Lastly, it would have to be in 2010 when I was “at work” during my first Fifa World Cup match. I literally pinched myself when I was in the tunnel with the players before they ran out onto the pitch.
What, when and where did you experience your last live match?
July 22, 2023, at the FA Cup Final when [Johor Darul Ta’zim] JDT played at home against KL City.
What are you reading right now?
To be honest, I have just been caught up with too much work and haven’t had time to even pick up a book of late.
What is your playlist like?
According to my daughter, I have the worst ever playlist. It basically consists of a mash-up of my favourite songs from every phase of my life. So it’s pretty random and untidy.
Do you have a pre-match ritual? Some people swear by wearing a lucky shirt, for example.
No, I don’t, unlike some people I know. For me, I just need a moment to get into “game mode” and I am done. I’m not one to believe in lucky charms.
Are your children football fans as well?
They do enjoy the game. My son plays but not competitively. Both of them like watching the matches they have access to these days. And I love having them around.
Where are you planning to travel to next — for football or otherwise?
I just got back from Paris for the Olympic meetings — another hat I wear as I am presently the project coordinator for the Road to Gold programme. And I was recently in Bangkok for Asian Football meetings. My next travels would probably be to Singapore for some business meetings sometime in August, followed by Vietnam for a visit to inspect how they have implemented the use of VAR (video assistant referee) in their local league.
This article first appeared on Aug 7, 2023 in The Edge Malaysia.