Some call it a religion, others an addiction: Even if it is not quite either, football has an extraordinary hold on us. The Harimau Malaya may be a subterranean 167th in the Fifa world rankings but in a recent survey, Malaysia is placed a lofty sixth out of 200 countries for “interest in football”.
For actual “participation”, we were 12th — as we were for “willingness to watch on a phone or a tablet”. No matter how the questions were phrased, our answers put us among the game’s hard core — above Germany, Italy and even England itself.
A new season brings relief that we can resume our viewing rituals. Since they were last observed, we have had the Fifa Women’s World Cup and Copa America, besides the ongoing Malaysian Super League. But for many, all this is methadone — what we crave are the English Premier League (EPL) and UEFA Champions League, whose most recent epics still shimmer in the memory.
One Liverpool fan could not let go. After seeing his beloved Reds win a sixth Champions League trophy in Madrid, he flew to London, boarded a train to Liverpool and took in the parade as well! Former Malay Mail editor Mustafa Zulkifli was among the 750,000 souls who turned the city’s streets into throbbing arteries of euphoria. As the open-top bus carrying the players snaked past him, he told Malaysia’s Twenty-two13 that “it was the best 60 seconds of my life”.
Liverpool and fervent acts of devotion are not uncommon. When the club came to Malaysia after a long absence, there was a bigger crowd (estimated 60,000) at Bukit Jalil just to watch them train than can be fitted into Anfield. No wonder the KL Kopites are in the Reds’ top 10 fan clubs in the world.
Not to be outdone, Manchester United supporters have a house in Petaling Jaya so full of memorabilia it puts Old Trafford to shame. Fans of both clubs in Sabah and Sarawak can take 24 hours to get to games but call themselves regulars.
The Liverpool-United rivalry among locals underpins the English game’s pre-eminence in Malaysia. Between them, these two giants, like duelling dynasties, have jousted for bragging rights throughout the television era. For a quarter of a century, Liverpool looked invincible. Then, it was United’s turn and now the pendulum has swung again. But the banter continues unabated.
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