Home Malaysian football Our take on football development in Sarawak

Our take on football development in Sarawak

Sarawak is arguably one of the most supported football teams in the Malaysian league, and we all know their fans are passionate and hungry for success.

Unfortunately, after four season playing in between the Super League and Premier League, the hard truth was revealed by Robert Albert’s when Sarawak fell to Perak FA, whom Robert cited as having ‘better youth development’.

Sarawak has a massive number of community driven supporters
Sarawak has a massive number of community driven supporters

Funny really because we have been hearing and talking about ‘youth development’ for ages but it has still come back to this, us writing and talking about it.

But since the whole ‘youth development’ now on going in Sarawak is not yielding the acquired results, we thought things should change on how it should be implemented.

The whole system really needs a reboot, and there should be changes made from school level, which is the introductory level for football in Malaysia.

Schools start developing footballers
Schools start developing footballers

Currently, our boys in school play competitive football once a year, or thrice at the most, but that’s it!

A so called ‘school league’ was also introduce in Sarawak a few years back, but there’s really nothing to shout about in a league where teams play for a week or month, and everything is forgotten after that. Lack of coverage and even sponsorship has made the league become nothing more than a past time rather than a keen competition created to unearth talents.

A typical school tournament. This was the 2014 football tournament in Kuching.
A typical school tournament. This was the 2014 football tournament in Kuching.

To make matters worst, these kids are not given any sort of vision in what they could achieve in football, hence why many are not keen to take the sport, let alone spend more time on it because no one, including parents, teachers and local coaches know how far footballers can go in Malaysia.  Scouts are also not interested to spend time watching these kids because they know that they can’t pinch them for their teams with little to offer.  In other words, there’s no ‘development’ at the grassroots level with only raw football as it is.

This brings us to our point of creating long term leagues in schools which will bring more excitement to the game in schools.  Full time football coaches should be employed, and sponsors for the team (other than the Parents Teachers Association) should be approached.  A small scale league where students are not paid to play football, would not cost that much if placed within a certain locality.  For example, one league to be played by schools within Kuching North, and another for Kuching South.

Passion for the game. Although not paid, kids are eager to impress.
Passion for the game. Although not paid, kids are eager to impress.

In fact, teams in school can also start sustaining themselves the right business way by starting to sell official merchandise which in turn can benefit the team financially.  This could be done by integrating the school cooperative shop with the football team.

When there’s interest in the game, it is likely that people will make effort to come to the game, and scouts would be coming to reach out to the best talents, hence our next level of competition.

Life after school should be clear for students playing the game.  Students finishing their formal 12-years education should be allowed to pursue their higher learning with football well attached to them.

An idea would be to offer scholarships (perhaps Sports Science) at local universities in which the student must play active football with their varsity team.

Here, football authorities (like FAM) could come up with competitive leagues, but I shall not say more since there is already an active league on-going among Malaysian institutions of higher learning, known as the IPT League, in which there is a special division for teams from Borneo, named aptly as ‘Borneo Division’.

The IPT League by the Varsity sports department is an example of a systematic league.
The IPT League by the Varsity sports department is an example of a systematic league.

The competition in the IPT League as we know is fierce, and the teams which are made up of teens and young adults, play with passion.

Unfortunately, students playing in the league are left with a dead end after they finish their studies, with scouts from bigger teams almost not bothering to see who has potential in these teams.  To top that up, there is lack of proper funding, promotion and training facilities for each teams, which in turn has caused the league to be not known to the masses.  Now, raise of hand to how many of you reading this article, and you know there is such thing as the ‘IPT League’, and have been to one of its games? – Get our point?

Obviously, when I say ‘left with a dead end’, I mean that there should be more opportunities to these footballers after their varsity years. Division football is one of them.

For us, this is a place where non-university students, and university graduates should be gathered to continue their football career professionally.

With Sarawak having over 11 divisions, it is a possibility to create an on going whole season league, and I am not speaking about a one month or less competition. I’m talking about a proper league like what is happening in England, where we have home and away fixtures for a good six to eight months, with the Sarawak FA Cup also up for grabs.  Never mind if the league is said to be the lowest tier of the leagues in Malaysia, its competitive and it’s local. That’s what counts!

Sponsor such as Sarawak Energy could contribute more than just sponsor one team
Sponsor such as Sarawak Energy could contribute more than just sponsor one team

This divisional league is a start for any team to play in the Malaysian League (M-League), and teams winning the league should be promoted to play in the lowest tier of the M-League, which is the FAM League. The Sarawak league therefore should remain open to new Sarawak based divisions/clubs which are based on locality, and should always be flexible at the start of the season based on the number of teams joining it.  No such teams from agencies should be allowed to join the Sarawak League because these teams are not built based on a community, but instead, agencies interested to be part of a league should consider sponsoring a community team, which in turn will start a football cult among the community with direct sponsorship.

This way, teams already promoted in the M-League can focus on their main team, and come back to fight for promotion in the Sarawak League shall they get relegated from the M-League.

Aside from that, division teams should also have a youth system which plays in the Sarawak Youth League.

With division teams taking up players, there would not be room to have a state team anymore, and hence why we believe Sarawak should not have its own football team no more once we do kick in all these things.

From what we foresee, the Sarawak Football Association (FAS) acts to coordinate the leagues, and ensures the best team represents Sarawak at the M-League, and beyond. The team which wins the Sarawak League automatically represents Sarawak, and gets additional funding despite playing in their small stadiums.

The additional funding from FAS, and the increase of gate collection would see the division teams eventually growing with their local community backing their progress, and major sponsors backing them financially.  Sounds too realistic to be achieved, but it can be done with proper will.

The migration of players is bound to happen, especially if players are well funded to pursue their education in universities outside of Sarawak. While no one can stop players from migrating, FAS could collaborate with local Sarawak universities to have these students study and play in Sarawak instead, hence stopping possible ‘talent drain’.  There should also be a clear guideline for migration of youth players like what is happening in England.

Tun Mahathir did ask us to look east at one time, and so we shall. Japanese teams are community based, but they are backed by major companies. This could be done in Sarawak with each division allocated a certain sponsor at first by FAS, but with all teams open to be sponsored by the highest bidder. From where I am standing, I foresee Miri to be sponsored by Park City, Sibu by Shin Yang, Sarawak Energy, and Kapit by Rimbunan Hijau, just to name a few. The trick is to get these companies interested in investing, and FAS could help do just that.  After all, they are the governing body.

Honestly, we think the fans in Sarawak are not ready for a huge reform in Sarawak football, and as much as they deny this, it is the honest truth. But since we are heading that way, and comparing ourselves to teams like Chelsea, Barcelona, Manchester United (no mater how we say deny we are doing so), perhaps it is the best times to put some facts straight up in the face of the fans.

Aside from probably selling the ‘soul’ of their team through major reforms like what happened in Europe, identity and tradition is something fans must be willing to give away if the team decides to change owner, just like what had happened in Cardiff City, or the more famed take over of Manchester United by the Glazers.

Manchester United, is successful because of proper planning and capitalism. Photo by givemegoal.com
Manchester United, is successful because of proper planning and capitalism. Photo by givemegoal.com

Sarawak fans have to be ready for capitalism to seep deep into the game, which in turn will hurt them where they hate most, which is their pockets.  This means they (the fans) should be willing to pay huge sums of money if they wished to have star players on their side and that they can’t expect to pay the mere RM15 for each home game when their counterparts in Europe are asking fans to pay a hefty RM105/person for a Championship level home game. (Some people argue that we should convert dollar to dollar, but international players are paid based on US or Euro, and hence why we should take that into account. Earning RM20K is not the same as earning GBP20K).

In other words, fans must be willing to pay for changes, and then they could dream of having a purposed built stadium, young quality stars, a fantastic youth system and so much more.

But then again, this is what we think could happen to Sarawak football if the right people and the right minds run football in Sarawak.

Idealistically, it of course looks great with everyone working together for the good of Sarawak football. However, with Sarawak fans already complaining about last year’s ticket pricing increase, and the fact that the some people in the management do not welcome criticism, no matter how constructive, it is a huge wonder what would happen if Sarawak did reform as we said above.

To make it more interesting, we also wonder if anyone would listen to what we have to say about reforming Sarawak football, because the last time we made a long argument like this (it was about how fans should be treated), we had someone call us up saying “You think you know so much, why not you become my boss, and I will listen to you“.

And yes, we would love to work and help change Sarawak football for the better, but if its a sarcastic invitation, or one which is made out of anger with little effort to actually change the situation now, it would be the best not to invite us or anyone to help at all.

Written by Cyril
Chief Editor of SarawakCrocs.com

p/s: You do not have to agree with me. Comments are most welcomed, but we will delete comments which are too offensive.

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