Malaysia Is Not A Footballing Nation!

It’s a statement that you tend to hear very often from critics who wish to pass their verdict with regards to our love affair with the beautiful game. To their justification, it boils down to the low turnout in the domestic league and the national team fixtures (apart from the Finals that is).

On the surface, it seems like a fair judgment. But if you wish to go deeper you would find that it is an incorrect euphemism. Malaysians love the game just as much as any of those 32 nations that made it to the World Cup in Russia.

Question is, which football are we talking about? That’s a different argument for another time.

Of course, European football has always been our main staple diet. The English Premier League and UEFA Champions League is followed religiously. This is despite the kick off time that takes place during ungodly hours.

The Champions League has been regarded as the cherry on the icing for club football. It continues to draw the biggest clubs, players, prize money and the biggest viewership.

Personally, for all its razzmatazz, it doesn’t have the romanticism of football any longer. Fair to say that it has become predictable, more than before. There is a huge gap between the super-rich clubs and the rest of the pack.

To put it in musical terms, the Champions League is like listening to mainstream radio stations. You have a formatted playlist and the songs tend to be played over and over again. This can also be construed as dying from overdose of sleeping pills before you even knew it.

As always, there is always an antidote against anything that is mainstream. Something that is invigorating and cutting edge – Like listening to those old punk cassettes which one obtained from tape trades. Something like the Copa Libertadores, the South American equal to the Champions League.

The coveted cup. Photo T13

South American football is something considered long-lost in this country. From Pele to Maradona, to the original Ronaldo to Messi, there’s always that one icon that endears to football fan here. Not forgetting, the Selecao of Brazil often draws big followings whenever the World Cup comes around.

South America futbolista have also left a lasting legacy while plying their trade in Malaysian football. Then you got an odd one like myself who follows everything related to Futbol Argentino as if his life depends on it.

But as far as club football from South America is concerned, it hasn’t really taken off in this part of the world. Though I’m sure everyone will recognize the teams. To put it into perspective, even English clubs like Everton and West Ham have better following compared to any giants from South America.

That said, there isn’t a better time to take an interest in futbol Sudamericano compared to now.

THE MOTHER OF ALL DERBIES

It’s the ultimate match up that everybody has been dreaming off. Now it’s finally happening. Boca Juniors and River Plate will square off for the ultimate prize in South America football. Dubbed the Superclasico, it is the biggest derby in the world.

Please don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say this. To be honest, the Manchester derby, El Derbi Madrileño, Derby della Madonnina and Old Firm would be perceived as a pyjamas party compared to the Superclasico.

The quality of football between Boca and River may be questionable these days. Expect a lot more MMA than the actual football itself. Nonetheless, the intensity when both teams compete against each other is still preserve even in modern times.

The rivals. Photo: The Bubble

The aim from both teams at the start of the season is very simple. Win the league title, if you can’t, make sure you beat your biggest rival. Don’t be surprise to hear when a Boca says “I don’t care about Argentina (national team) as long as Boca beat River”. It’s the same echo vice versa.

Now both teams will play it out for the coveted Libertadores prize. For this alone, the tempo just got dialed up ten times more. To make this final even more appetizing, both teams will be battling out in their own city. An historic feat that is very unlikely to repeat again considering the future change in format of the competition.

CLASS WARFARE

Football rivalry is the product of certain elements that splinter both teams. The birth of Superclasico was due to the divided class among the society of Buenos Aires. Both clubs can trace back their roots to the barrio of La Boca, one of the poorest place in the capital. River eventually left and found a new home in the affluent suburb neighborhood of Belgrano.

In the 1930’s, River begin to make some expensive acquisition which led them to earn the moniker as Los Millonarios. Signifying their fan-base among the middle and upper class of society. Boca are known as Xeneizes, proud of their strong connection to La Boca’s Genoese immigrant.

River Plate fans. Photo: TANGOL

However, the class warfare attachment has sort of diminished over the last few decades.

This is a manifestation that both clubs now draw close to 70% of the support in Argentina, with these sort of support cross-pollinated between people from all walks of life, irrespective of cash count.

LIGHTS, FIREWORKS & ACTION!

Argentine fans bring a different vibe compared to other football fans from the rest of the world. During the last World Cup in Russia, they had been the most vociferous crowd with their high voltage chant. You can hear them from miles ahead.

It’s not just about heir vocal chants.  When it comes fanfare in Argentine football, expect a spectacles of colours, flare, fireworks, ticker tape and tonnes of confetti made out from scrap newspaper. The latter is by far the greatest Argentine invention in modern football.

Boca Juniors fans. Photo: Pxels

Local football fans have always looked to those supporters from Eastern Europe for inspiration. Why not give South America especially Argentina a chance? It might sound remotely logic but I do feel crowds in Indonesian football bring a dosage of South American flavour. That’s why the atmosphere in Indonesian stadiums are amazing.

It’s a far cry compared to what you get in the Champions League finals. Going to the Copa Libertadores finals can be intimidating and spine chilling. Desite that. it’s alluring and sedating both at the same time.

BOSTEROS vs GALLINAS

There is a tinge of poultry when talking about the Superclasico. It’s either you’re a “Bostero” or a “Gallinas”.

River Plate fans regard Boca supporters as “bosteros” or in English a “manure handler”. This has to do with Boca’s iconic homeground, La Bombonera which to them smells like a pig farm. In fact, the word “bosta” actually means livestock feces.

To River Plate fans, a bostero is someone who lives in the slum, are thieves and belong to the lowest part of Argentinean society. As time goes by, this term is proudly claim by Boca supporters because it resonates with their working class and Robin Hood connections.

Boca celebrating. Photo: za.as.com

In retaliation, every River Plate supporters is labeled a “gallinas” by Boca fans. While it actually means chicken in Spanish, its urban translation refer to a women’s genitals. River Plate’s footballers have been perceived to have less guts and do tend to choke when it matters.

In 1966, River lost to Penarol of Uruguay 4-2 in the Libertadores final. This was despite having a comfortable  2-0 lead. It was an unimaginable comeback fro Penarol. Frustrated, a River fan threw a chicken onto the pitch the following week, and the defeat to Boca that same season caused more uproar among fans.  It was so humiliating that local newspaper Cronica printed a headline that read “This chicken run is closed for lack of eggs (guts).”

BAD MOON RISING

Banters or some say insult doesn’t seems to translate well when it comes to local football. Not everyone is on the same boat, some even feel it is an unnecessary element that shouldn’t be encouraged. The ability to discard insults and tolerate banters requires a lot of intelligence. But I do feel a good dose a quality banter between rivaling teams only enhances the experience for domestic games.

Argentine football fans excel themselves in banters. Based on the song called Bad Moon Rising by Creedence Clearwater Revival, Boca fans have composed arguably the most mellifluous banter ever. It goes something like…

RIBER, DECIME QUE SE SIENTE
HABER JUGADO EL NACIONAL
TE JURO QUE AUNQUE PASEN LOS AÑOS
NUNCA NOS VAMOS A OLVIDAR
QUE TE FUISTE A LA B
QUEMASTE EL MONUMENTAL
ESA MANCHA NO SE BORRA NUNCA MAS
CHE GALLINA SOS CAGÓN, LE PEGASTE A UN JUGADOR
QUE COBARDES LOS BORRACHOS DEL TABLÓN

Which translate in English means….

River, tell me how it feels
To have played in the Nacional
I swear that even as the years pass,
We’re never going to forget it
You were in the B (second division)
You burned the Monumental
The stains will never be lifted
What filthy chickens you are
You hit a player
You’re all drunken cowards

This chant was sang passionately by Argentine fans during the World Cup in Brazil.

BUENOS AIRES – THE CENTRE OF THE UNIVERSE

While technically this will be a dogfight between two teams from the same city, the occasion is even more significant due to the fact that both legs will also be held in the Argentine capital.

This would be the first and last time the Copa Libertadores would be played in such a way as CONMEBOL (South American football governing body) had decided that the Libertadores finals will only be played once on a neutral venue next season onwards.

Due to this momentous event, Buenos Aires is expected to be in a standstill during the month of November.

Some are already projecting scenes of apocalyptic as Superclasico isn’t your average football rivalry. Fans can go all out to defend their beloved team with neighbors willing to set houses on fire just because you are affiliated to their bitter rivals.

It may sound silly but it really happened!

KNOW SOMETHING ABOUT THE DARK SIDE

There are also element of iniquitous that exist in Argentine football. Football related violence has been a recurrent theme every now and then. I do not agree to such violence.

You see, in Argentina, the hardcore supporters are known as the Barra Bravas (similarly to ultras or torcidas). They are passion for the club they support deserves admiration. Their influence isn’t just confined to the terraces but stretches to those administrating the club.

Unfortunately however, in some segments of the Barra, hooliganism has been another rampant issues that is an endemic in Argentine football prompting authorities to ban away fans in every football matches. Many have however called out for an exemption for this coming Libertadores finals. One of the most notable convene came from the current Argentina’s president (former Boca chairman), Mauricio Macri.

I do think away fans should be allowed for this one momentous occasion. Despite that, authorities must adhere to a saying in Malaysia which goes “sediakan payung sebelum hujan” which translates to being prepared before it rains. Authorities must be wary of what to expect as in a Supeclasico, anything can happen.

AND ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN INDEED

The last Libertadores there was a pepper spray incident in 2015. It was one of those occasions that I felt disgusted as a football fan. The incident had left a grave imprint for anyone who has been following South American football.

But it’s not all too bad the Libertadores did have a pitch invasion from dos in the past. It was delightful to the crowd, and it did help ease tense in the stadium, particularly when the stales are high.

CONTINENTAL CROWN, GLOBAL RECOGNITION

Winning the Libertadores isn’t just about continental supremacy. Its also the opportunity to get their club embarking on a global escapade. This is so true when it comes to South American football clubs.

Local fans might still recall the old Toyota Intercontinental Cup held in Japan annually which had a scrimmage between the champions of Europe and Sudamericano. Often the case, it is the latter who tend to take this seriously. Now that the competition is re-branded as the FIFA Club World Cup, the motivation still remains the same.

The opportunity to travel to the United Arabs Emirates will be a hidden agenda for both Boca and Riv-er. This is because South American clubs rarely have the chance to showcase and market themselves on a wider scale. The honorarium that comes for participating in this competition is a big deal.

Lets go back to the pepper spray incident from 2015. During this untoward moment, a glaring image of a drone carrying a sign which reads “B” was flown around the stadium. This image was a reminder from Boca fans to River that they used to play in Nacional or the Division Two.

Of course the outcome from this incident lead to Boca being thrown out of the competition. River went on to clinch their third Libertadores title. Just to add more salt into Boca’s wounds, River fans have to decided to respond to that drone incident.

River Plate player celebrating. Photo Sky Sports

Several months later in a Superclasico match at the Monumental, Boca fans unveiled a large Japanese flag tifo just to tick off their fierce rival. This is a reminder that who will be going to Japan to compete in that year’s FIFA Club World Cup as champions of South America.

This will sure to add more fuel in the belly of Boca who will want to reclaim their status as CON-MEBOL best club. A feat they haven’t achieved since 2007. To see their rival celebrating at their ex-pense in 2015, means they are extra incentive to win this time. Boca, both players and fans alike, know this is a moment they can’t afford to fumble.
And speaking of Japan, you might want to ask them what was it like to have the thousands of Los Mil-lonarios supporters invading their country.

From Osaka to Yokohama, 15,000 of them travel to the Land of the Rising Sun. Every way they go, it was a sea of white and red that dominated the land-scape.

Scenes of River fans chanting in Yoyogi Park or the mass crossing at the famous Harajuku Street became sensational stuff around the world.

UAE, YOU’VE BEEN WARNED!

And speaking of Japan, you might want to ask them what was it like to have the thousands of Los Millonarios supporters invading their country. From Osaka to Yokohama, 15,000 of them travel to the Land of the Rising Sun.

Every where they went, it was a sea of white and red dominating the landscape. Scenes of River fans chanting in Yoyogi Park or the mass crossing at the famous Harajuku Street became sensational stuff around the world.

This goes to show just how immense the feeling they have for their club. The willingness to travel for more than 18,000km says a lot about their devotion. I’m not sure whether the locals were intrigued by this, but River fans did leave an enchanting mark during their time in Japan.

This isn’t just a one off occasion. Similar scenes have also been exhibited by previous visits involving Argentine clubs. In a nutshell, expect a magnitude of Bosteros or Millonarios flooding the Emirates creating either a blue & yellow, or red & white party atmosphere.

BATTLE OF THE AGES

There is just so much at stake here for both teams. The outcome of this final will be talked about for generations to come.

It’s either a legacy that will leave one side bewitch for ages and the other feeling abhorrence forever.

The good news for us in Malaysia is that both legs would be played on a Sunday morning rather than the usual weekdays.

Kick off time is expected to start at 4am, on the 11th while 25th November has been reserved for the second leg. There is ample of time to prepare a good amount of nasi lemak and kopi kau-kau for an early breakfast. I don’t know if there is any chance the game will be shown live on Astro but live streaming is always a viable options.

With that, I do hope you do take this opportunity to watch the Libertadores, it’s a final you don’t want to miss!

//Article contributed by Sivan John. Follow him on twitter @SivanJohn_

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