Friday, December 31, 2010

Top of my list 2010 - Controversy of the Year

Well, sad year for me as a Manchester United & Selangor fan. All both won were the minor honours - United the English League Cup and Selangor, just the MSL title.
Let's just have a a look back on what 2010 offered, beginning with this first installment.


Enjoyed a great start to the year here in Malaysia when the Lotus Racing team made their debut in Formula One. In the final three months of the year, that became a sticky issue with Malaysians at the centrestage of one of the most incomprehensible controversies in the history of F1.

It started off just fine, Lotus Racing operated by 1Malaysia Racing Team Sdn Berhad the holding company, with AirAsia entrepreneur Datuk Seri Tony Fernandes at the helm, emerging as the first Malaysian Formula One team.

National carmakers Proton, who own the British sportscar company Group Lotus Plc., were in agreement and allowed the team to run as Lotus Racing under licence. Proton even came up with a limited edition Proton Satria Neo Lotus Racing.

Then, somewhere in September, during the Singapore Grand Prix, this controversy unfolded, where Fernandes and gang bought over Team Lotus Ventures, the company that owns the Team Lotus brand, which operated as a separate entity from the car business, running the F1 and motorsport side of the business.
Proton were against this and all hell broke loose.
Group Lotus then announced they were going into GP2 with the French ART Grand Prix, with an entity to be known as Lotus-ART, while Fernandes announced the entry of Team AirAsia into the same series.
Group Lotus then announced an elaborate motorsport programme that included an engine supply deal for the Indycar series from 2012 and then stunningly confirmed their acquisition of a 25% stake in the RenaultF1 Team, for whom they will act as title sponsors from 2011. The team was renamed Lotus-Renault GP.

And to spark more fury in the evolving battle, Group Lotus presented a rendition of their 2011 car, which was clad in black and gold, a colour scheme that the Lotus Racing team had announced a month earlier they would be adopting from 2011 onwards.

So, there will be two teams running with the Lotus name in the coming F1 season - Fernandes' Team Lotus which will be using Renault engines and the Group Lotus-sponsored Lotus-Renault GP team, which obviously will be using similar engines as well.

While Proton and Group Lotus dispute the other's right to use the name Lotus in Formula One, this is now up for battle in the London High Court. There is also talk in the fraternity of Fernandes' Team Lotus considering a name change even before the court decides.

To make matters worse, many in Malaysia were confused further by inaccurate claims by many parties that the country should be proud in having THREE Formula One teams. There are no THREE Malaysian teams in F1. There's just ONE.
Let's correct this once and for all. There will, in 2011, be four teams with significant Malaysian involvement:
1) MercedesGP-Petronas: Which is the evolution of the BrawnGP team that ran in 2009, that came out of the BAR-Honda and Honda F1 teams. It is effectively a German team, which has the Malaysian oil company Petronas as a main sponsor.
2) Lotus-Renault GP: Which is the French RenaultF1 Team of previous years, now with the Malaysian-owned British company Group Lotus as a title sponsor. It is still a French team.
3) Marussia Virgin Racing: A British team owned by entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson, which has Russian sportscar manufacturer Marussia as title sponsor from 2011, while Malaysian company Qnet, a subsidiary of tycoon Datuk Vijay Eswaran's Qi Group, will be prominently displayed on the sidepods of their cars.
4) Team Lotus: The team run by 1Malaysia Racing Team Sdn Berhad, which could yet have a name change to something else prior to the start of the 2011 season. In all earnest, this is the only team that is registered as Malaysian and will have the Negaraku playing in honour of the constructors, should they win a race.

Malaysians nevertheless, did gain one thing in Formula One in 2010. Notoriety.

Sad, sad Indonesian mentality

From the burning of the Jalur Gemilang, to constant taunting online and in the press, some Indonesians just failed to accept that they were well and truly defeated in the AFF Suzuki Cup final, though there are voices in that country issuing calls that are more mature in nature, urging them to look forward and take the positives from this tournament.
Some Indonesian newspapers alleged everything from the use of 'bomohs' (witch doctors) by the Malaysians to lasers beamed by Malaysian fans on their players as reasons for the defeat. Their fans went a step further by hacking the FA of Malaysia website.

Courtesy of Absports Sukan facebook photos.

Ok, look at the match highlights below. Do note that Indonesia chose none other than captain Firman Utina to take and miss a penalty in the first half; their naturalised striker Christian Gonzales missed a point-blank header with an open goal at his mercy and the best shots on goal came from the Malaysians, who didn't have to be pressured to do so as they were 3-0 up from the first leg. Indonesia merely scrambled home two goals late in the second half to lose 2-4 on aggregate.

But what wasn't surprising, although Malaysia's coach K. Rajagobal chose to refute it, was Indonesia's Austrian coach Alfred Riedl's claims that 'the better team lost' as quoted by JAKARTA GLOBE HERE.
You just need to rewind the clock to January 2007, when Riedl was in charge of Vietnam, who lost the first leg of the 2006 semi-final 2-0 to Thailand. The Austrian said the same thing HERE - apparently the better team lost on that occasion too.

Well, we wouldn't call Indonesia rivals for nothing.
What we should look at maintaining is the fire that came from the stands. At long last, the fans were back in full force behind the football team that brought so much pain and anguish in the past 20 years. Just look at them. This is Malaysia. Like it or not, Indonesia.

*Pic courtesy of Wan Botak

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Well, at least one job done..

There needed to be some results and in the space of 12 months, the national under-23 and senior football team provided two.
The under-23s won the Sea Games gold for the first time since 1989 in Laos last December and with the nucleus of that team forming the senior squad, last night they won the AFF Suzuki Cup for the first time ever.
It is a great moment for fans in the country, who've longed for their dose of success for so long. But let's not get carried away.
AFF Suzuki Cup means best among 11 South East Asian nations that form the Asean Football Federation. The highest ranked nation from this region in the FIFA world rankings prior to the AFF Suzuki Cup were Thailand at 121st. Indonesia were 127th, Vietnam 137th, Singapore 140th and Malaysia 144th.
Malaysia may move up a few rungs after this, but the reality is, none of the 11 countries that make up the AFF even qualified among the 16 teams that will compete for the Asian Cup in Qatar next year. That where the level of the AFF Suzuki Cup is.
So, let's not get carried away. There's a long way to go, nothing to really be proud of yet apart from having outdone perennial rivals Indonesia and Singapore.
Done with football for now. It was good to at least see a winning Malaysian team. Long time since I've had the pleasure of that.
Congrats K. Rajagobal, who I'm sure is in line for a Datukship at least, and his band of fighters. I like what I saw, but as I said, much more to be done, a lot more we haven't achieved.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

In this little, insignificant corner of the planet, world no. 127 vs no. 144, is a matter of life and death

JULIA Perez, summarised, is Indonesia's answer to everything from Mary Carey to Larissa Riquelme, or at least she tries her very best to pick up where those headline-makers left off.

She's this controversial bombshell famed for having an affair with an Argentine footballer playing in the Liga Indonesia, while still married to a Frenchman. She's dumped her French husband from whom she gained her current surname, for footballer Gaston Castano, whom she is due to marry.
As a singer she will be remembered for providing free condoms with every purchase of her widely banned controversial album Jupe.
Taking after American pornstar Marey Carey, who once contested the governership of California, Julia, 30, is herself currently a political candidate at her home regency of Pacitan in East Java (Jatim), and many areas of sexual awareness are things high on her campaign strategy.
Not to be outdone by Paraguayan hottie Larissa Riquelme, one of my personal favourites who pledged to pose nude if Paraguay won the World Cup earlier this year, Julia has made headlines ahead of the AFF Suzuki Cup final second leg in which she has pledged a counter-attack on the Malaysian squad by wearing a bra which flashes out laser rays, which she hopes will distract the Malaysian players who enter the second leg at the Gelora Bung Karno 3-0 up after the first leg in Bukit Jalil on Sunday. READ IT HERE (BAHASA INDONESIA).

Down 3-0 and to much furore over laser beams flashed at the now outspoken and much criticised Indonesian goalkeeper Markus Harison Rihihina, the Indonesians seem to be coming up with all sorts of plans, including one that is yet to be confirmed, which is the purported use of anti-laser eye wear in the second leg at Gelora Bung Karno tonight.

But Malaysia's Berita Harian and Harian Metro yesterday came up with proof that the laser beams started at the Bung Karno in Jakarta when Malaysia were on the receiving end of a 5-1 thrashing from Indonesia in their preliminary round group match on Dec 1.

Second choice keeper Sharbinee Allawee Ramli, who let in the five goals on Dec 1, was pictured with a spot of green of the right side of his face. Reports suggested that he did not blame the lasers as the reason he let in those five goals.

Well, we might as well bring that up since Indonesian tabloid Nonstop came up with THIS piece of propaganda, claiming Malaysia had used witch doctors to cast a spell on their players resulting in the 3-0 first leg win.

The Indonesian propaganda doesn't end there. This doctored image of Malaysian coach K. Rajagobal, apparently with some bombshell who the culprits allege is his new mistress, has been circulating on mobile phones.

What was seemingly mere regional rivalry, insignificant to the rest of the world, has now also been taken to the next level with Prime Ministers on either side of this brotherhood of nations taking a keen interest in it. And playing it's little part to add fuel to the fire is non other than the BBC!

What's certain is that this 11-nation tournament has this year made some others take notice.

This is the World Cup for the 11 little nations nestled in this pretty corner of the universe. Beyond the likes of Julia, this is the match that's on everybody's lips in every corner of the Nusantara.
It is in all earnest a match between Indonesia, who are currently at 127th in the FIFA world rankings against Malaysia, who are 144th. If you're focused on Julia, those figures wouldn't even matter, because it sure doesn't to Julia.
Between the two, just one World Cup qualification has happened, to Indonesia who entered the 1938 World Cup, then as the Dutch East Indies. Neither of the two has even come close since.
Neither Indonesia nor Malaysia are even among the 16 teams that will compete in the Asian Cup in Qatar next year, and Julia doesn't give a damn about that either. She just wants to flash lasers from her bra!

Thus we come to the most significant achievement that can be gained from all the fanfare surrounding tonight's events - that neither have ever even won this cup to emerge the best among these 11 nations that make up ASEAN. And tonight, one will put an end to at least that statistic.

It doesn't make sense when you try to figure out how a region that's made of predominantly fans that are so engrossed in their attachment to EPL clubs, can suddenly be so switched on by a tournament of a level that seems light years away from what they're used to watching on TV.

It is patriotism. And the one significant gesture the fans have made during the course of this AFF Suzuki Cup, is the fact that all the commercialised flavour and additives showered upon them via so many outlets by those who are selling the EPL globally, has not totally taken away their desire to see heroes of their own flourish.

There still is that fire, the desire to see their countries move forward. But where do we go from here? That's the question.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Long time no see... And it's about pyrotechnics.

Well, the time I've spent not updating this blog out of my own displeasure with doing it, is nothing compared to the length of the wait Malaysia has had before we could feel a little sense of pride in our football team.
A long way from the embarassing 5-1 group stage defeat to Indonesia coach K. Rajagobal's men have come and if the 2-0 aggregate semi-final win over Vietnam, courtesy of both goals scored in the first leg at home, wasn't enough, the team is now 3-0 up against the same Indonesia team who handed them that thrashing just two weeks ago, after the eye-popping first leg of the 2010 AFF Suzuki Cup final at the National Stadium on Sunday.

I made my way to the stadium via LRT that evening, and was in for a surprise. Never in my life of following both my home team Selangor and the national team, had I been amidst a crowd of this magnitude. It was a crawl to get near the stadium gates and when we were inside, this was shortly before kick-off at 8pm, we found no way into the seating areas via any of the 20 or so access tunnels we tried on all tiers.
The National Stadium was overflowing with humans. There must have been much more than the 100,000 capacity crowd, because still outside the stadium were thousands more.
We walked all the way into the zone where the Indonesian fans were seated behind the scoreboard and barely found a spot on a staircase where we could catch the whole view of the pitch, our palms sweating in anxiety and heads filled with worry, surrounded by the enemy. Even this, was done during half time when some of the crowd had left the comforts of their vantage points to release or replenish bodily fluids.
Of course the highlights of the night, apart from the three cool goals, were the pyrotechnics display from the fans. The Malaysians have taken a note of Ultras in Serie A, the Turkish league and other football mad countries and come up with a display of their own.
Only problem was that on more than one occasion, the regular missiles in the form of mineral water bottles and half eaten packets of food that were thrown in the direction of the pitch, were accompanied by fireworks and laser beams on the faces of players.

The Sports Minister wasn't happy and said THIS.

Now pyrotechnics are seen as the baddest thing to hit Malaysian football, by the politicians at least. And the fans are doing themselves no good by letting these shows spill onto the pitch and affect play.

But the administrators and police have failed in their bid to stop this from happening, so miserably that the Ultras have now graduated from simple to more elaborate fireworks and proudly hold aloft flares in celebration without fear of authority.

One thing's certain. Some day when Malaysia is losing and playing badly, some of those flares are coming down the way of the pitch. And 11 laser beams are going to shine on each opposition player, not just their goalkeeper. Maybe they'll even have three extra beams for the referee and his two assistants.

What the authorities fail to realise, despite all the media space they get to voice their displeasure of the acts of fans, is that the way things are going the likelihood of them winning this battle is similar to narcotics being totally wiped out of the country. It is virtually impossible.

But unlike their battles against the druglords, this is one battle in which they won't exactly be doing their own cause any harm by offering a hand in peace and begin negotiations towards an amicable solution. Years of FRU abuse on fans has already resulted in the police being seen somewhat as part of the enemy by most football fans. Hence the rebellion.

The authorities will not win this battle to eradicate pyrotechnics from Malaysia's football stadia simply because with the national team on a rise, and as seen in the past year, attendances will most certainly multiply. Crowds will be beyond control.

This is a good example to explain what I mean:
Amidst a crowd of over 100,000 and with hundreds of various pyrotechnic devices set off during the course of Sunday's match, they merely arrested five alleged culprits, as reported HERE. Well, the report says the five were arrested for "various offences including climbing the stadium wall, throwing bottles, having firecrackers and lighting flares."
Climbing wall, throwing bottles, having firecrackers and lighting flares, that's four offences - so one each I guess. And the report continues to state that some were arrested for being drunk and obstructing the police from carrying out their duties. That surely means the other one did that.
I swear, I must have heard or seen more than 100 firecrackers going off in different areas of the stadium, and they arrested one for mere possession. Thousands of water bottles showered the surroundings of the pitch from all around the stadium, and they caught one culprit for throwing bottles. I saw more than 20 flares being lit at different spots throughout the stadium all throughout the match, there could have easily been more, and they caught one culprit. Pictures appeared in some media of both Indonesian and Malaysian fans, hundreds of them climbing both walls and fences, and they caught one too.
One I did not manage to see was that drunk guy obstructing the police, so congratulations to them for that rare catch.

As attendances build up, so will the passion of the fans. And these are Malaysian football fans from a new generation. This is a generation from which the majority weren't even born the last time Malaysia tasted a worthwhile success on the international stage.
They've been waiting all their lives for the national team to hit the vein of form that they're in now. You simply cannot stop their passion from boiling over, whichever way they choose to express it. So, do not turn them into rebels, who eventually develop into destructive hooligans nobody can control. They need to be engaged to help the cause of the national team.

One thing these Ultras can do is turn the National Stadium into a cauldron of fear for opposing teams. The noise they create, the fire from the stands as visible on Sunday will send more than a shiver down the spines of anyone who is against their team. It could be hell for visiting teams. Wouldn't this help the national team when playing vital home-and-away fixtures in qualifying rounds for the World Cup, Olympics and Asian Cup?

Many of the fans I've spoken to actually look forward to going to football matches these days simply because, apart from the football, they enjoy the pyrotechnics and the surprises.

Look around the world and you will find pyrotechnics a part of football culture, well most places apart from the over-civilised and over-commercialised EPL of course.

What the fans should be discouraged from is the throwing of missiles, beaming of lasers and monkey-like behaviour. This can be easily controlled.

My suggestion is, let's get the authorities to sit down with the fan clubs, get everything organised. Of course some people will have to do some extra work. But hey, this can be exciting.
Designate a section of the stadium for the Ultras. Get them to organise a fan-based pyrotechnics show within allocated times before the match, during half-time and after the match. Let them light as many flares as they want, set-off as many fireworks as they want, in that designated area, during that designated time. Heck, get it all choreographed to give it an artistic touch!
Then you can get all those who want to do these things in one corner, without endangering the players or other fans. Because you have them all in one designated area, you can then have some level of control over these "pyro-artists".
They should only be discouraged from throwing anything towards the pitch. Doesn't that make your job easier you cops??

At the end of the day, everybody wins. The fans get to have a good time, those who want to can put on a show without having to become criminals, the stadiums are full, the national teams has fearful opponents and football gains from it all.

Let's be more open-minded about the whole thing. That's all.

Or look at this video as a warning sign...