SEPT 30 — Four exciting football matches were played last Sunday night. No, I’m not talking about Liverpool’s emphatic victory over Leicester or newly-promoted Brighton’s only second win of the season.
It was the second leg of the Malaysia Cup quarter finals!
Yet those matches were played out without so much as a whimper; overshadowed by teams located more than 10,000 kilometres away.
The competitiveness of the games spoke for itself. On that very night, two teams who were almost certain of an early exit staged epic comebacks.
Felda United were trailing PKNP 1-3 after the first leg but fought back to a 4-1 win, to eventually qualify for the semi-finals with a 5-4 aggregate score.
In another match-up, Pahang upstaged Perak 3-1 in the first leg but saw their semi-final hopes dashed with a second leg 0-4 loss.
The two teams advance to the next stage accompanied by the Kedah and JDT powerhouses.
Football, what football?
However, what fascinated me the most was not the quality of the matches but the apparent lack of coverage by the media when it comes to our local leagues.
How can you expect Malaysian leagues to thrive when only one out of four high quality matches is broadcast "live"?
And this comes after the multimillion-dollar deal with international sports media rights agency MP & Silva at that. Prior to this arrangement, I still remember extensive coverage complete with high quality post-match reviews by the previous media company. One might have to pay to subscribe then, but at least it was better than what we have now.
To add salt to the local leagues’ wounds, print media has always glorified the English Premier League over domestic competitions. In the bigger picture, how can the most popular sport in Malaysia improve when such favouritism is being blatantly shown?
Yes, perhaps more newspapers can be sold when the back pages are adorned with Romelu Lukaku, Philippe Countinho or Harry Kane but one must realise that such actions take away attention from our local football scene. Attention that I argue must be present to garner interest that can translate into results.
In most newspapers sold in the United Kingdom, domestic football takes up at least six to eight pages of the sports section every single day. All aspects of the league are covered; from the brightest young talents to transfer rumours right down to the scores of the 5th tier National League.
Malayan Tiger woes
The past few weeks saw Harimau Malaya lose not one but three finals in a row, to the mighty War Elephants across all competitions and age groups (SEA Games football, SEA Games Futsal, AFF U-18 Championship).
In the first final of the three, we have seen how the 12th player can affect moods on the pitch. The undying support of local fans especially the vociferous Ultras group have propelled our team in the face of adversity.
However, when the SEA Games finals ticketing system went awry, the Ultras protested by boycotting the finals. Some people say that this cost Malaysia the gold medal as the Ultras’ consistent drumming and chanting were dearly missed.
Are we then destined to play second fiddle to Thailand in the years to come? Even as runners-up to the South-east Asian throne, we have Indonesia, Myanmar, Philippines and Singapore barking at our heels.
What about on the international stage? Can we ever improve from being ranked 166th out of 206 footballing nations?
If not now, then when?
In the ashes of these demoralising defeats, we can perhaps look to our domestic leagues for inspiration.
The fact that Malaysians have always been passionate about football is one thing we can build on.
This is reflected in the amount of people who turn up for big matches involving state teams like JDT, Kedah, Pahang and Selangor.
Yet to ingrain domestic football in our minds and perhaps sow the seeds for another Mokhtar Dahari, we need to change the way domestic competitions are promoted.
In short, the answer to improving our international performance just might be to improve the interest and hype around our local leagues. And that can only be achieved with adequate media attention which includes "live" coverage.
So, KBS, FAM and MP & Silva, the ball is in your court. It has always been.
* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.