I’m sure most football fans who have a Facebook account would’ve come across the video circulating on the internet of fans confronting Selangor players during their training session last week. I must admit when I first saw it, a part of me was applauding the move. The fan who did most of the talking, previously appeared on the final episode of [email protected] – a football chat show on Astro SuperSport.
On the show, he wore a t-shirt that had the words ‘Presiden FAM Sila Letak Jawatan’. After that episode was broadcasted, the station received a warning from FAM, and was asked to explain why he was allowed to wear that on TV – and demanded for a public apology. That was history – thought it’d be nice to give you some background. Back to the video — most football fans I spoke to were happy to see that video – for several reasons:
1. They feel that it is healthy to have open dialogue between the fans and footballers and the team, regularly.
2. They feel that it is about time that local football teams be accountable for their performance, to the fans.
3. They feel that players in the local league have it too easy – almost treated like royalty despite their ‘average’ standards.
But most of all – football fans felt empowered. It felt like they were finally given a voice. Let’s face it, how many of us would have the guts to do that? Or rather, not many would go that far to fight for the team they support. Not many.
Personally, I admire how the Ultras support their teams. Singing and chanting in the stadium for the full 90 minutes, sometimes longer. But also fans in general – because I believe that footballers would not be public figures if not for the fans. It’s true. The reason why footballers earn so much is directly related to their fan base. The reason why big corporations would invest millions into endorsing a footballer is directly related to their fan base. The reason why TV networks splash out millions to bid for broadcast rights of a given league is directly related to its fan base. Scenario — if Old Trafford was empty every weekend from August to May, would Manchester United be able to pay Wayne Rooney’s salary? No. If every stadium hosting a Malaysian Super League match was empty, every single footballer playing in it would be out of a job. The very fact that a footballer dismisses this idea shows a lack of respect to the fans. They know that this will not happen, and take it for granted. It’s a power struggle – who carries more weight, who is more powerful? Footballers or the fans? The answer: the game.
When we brought 2-time Balon d’or winner Kevin Keegan to Malaysia for some TV work, he said something that will stay with me forever. He mentioned how modern footballers do not have a relationship with fans any longer. They don’t bother to sign autographs or take photos with fans – even if they do, it’s because it is part of their contractual obligation. There is no sense of genuine gratitude. Yes, of course there are exceptions. Yes, I acknowledge that security is an issue. It was an issue back then too. No different. And Keegan was a living example – he took the time to speak to every single fan, sign their merchandise, take a photo, share a joke – with those who turned up for an open recording of one of our TV programs. It was late at night, an hour past his scheduled working hour.
This is why I believe fans deserve the right to demand nothing but the best from the team they support. These fans would do anything to show their support, rush off from work, brave the traffic, the weather – everything. Just to be at the stadium to cheer their team on. They don’t have to. They can go home, watch the match on TV, in the comfort of their homes (or even record the match, and watch it when they’re free), but they choose to scream in the stadium.
Having said all that, I would like to offer you a different perspective: the players.
What if I told you that the Selangor players were not paid for the last 2 months?
Surprise Surprise! Same old story.
Now this is not an excuse. I’m not saying that the players intentionally lost to Felda 4-0 that night as a sign of their displeasure to the management.
But what I am saying is this: footballers are paid professionals. Just like you and me — whether they’re playing below par or fantastically, they should be paid. This is the contractual agreement.
Would you stay quiet at your current company if you were not paid for 2 months? Would you bend over backwards to complete a project for your boss under these circumstances? Of course not. And I don’t blame you.
Professionalism works both ways. How can you expect your employees to be motivated and pumped up for you if you are not bothered to deliver their promised salary on time? The footballers are not doing the team a favour, they’re paid to perform. If they’re performing badly, by all means fine them. If they’re performing well, by all means, give them a bonus. And if you cannot afford to keep your wage bill, please don’t offer your players that kind of money. And also the excuse that team sponsors are behind in their payment is so old. Players sign a contract with the team, not the sponsors.
Most of the Selangor players I spoke to share the same sentiment. They admit that they were below par against Felda that night, and that the opposition was better than them. They take full responsibility for that defeat – no excuses. They also acknowledge that fans have every right to demand nothing but the best from the players. They also accept that playing for Selangor comes with heavy pressure to always produce results. But all they ask for the fans to understand their situation. And despite that, the players have managed to fight on for so long. Some simply do not want to fight, and choose to leave the club. But on the outside, it will appear like they’re quitting. But the situation becomes more complex now that you know for sure that the players have not been paid for so long. So for the players, they’re now on the receiving end of their management and also their fans!
The term ‘respect’ gets thrown around a lot in this episode. Fans deserve more respect from the players. Players deserve more respect from the fans, to not invade their workspace and abuse them. Football (sport) is one of those things. Players’ salaries are public knowledge – you will never get that in other working environments. And you would not have clients barging into the office demanding for an explanation after a poorly executed project. Or at least not that I’m aware of. Even if that happened, one party will call it disrespectful. And the other party will say the action was triggered by lack of respect towards the project. Okay you get what I mean – it’s very tricky to draw a parallel with everyday life.
Perhaps the approach should have been different next time around – for maximum effect. The confrontation at the training ground worked well by gaining attention, but to seek for the root of the problem and figure out a solution, maybe there should be a ‘meeting’ with the management, players and fans – behind closed doors. Yes, in other countries, the treatment can get tougher, more aggressive. This is the main concern of the players I spoke to – that they would be harmed by the fans. Even former players echoed their concerns. I genuinely believe the fans will not resort to that. They are just passionate. I’m all for being critical, if you read my other articles on the local game, you will realise that. But I’m also in favour of solutions.
What are we missing? Oh yes, the management’s perspective.