Young Lions Experience

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Besides writing for the S.League website, one of my jobs when I moved to Singapore was to write for the Garena Young Lions who are playing in the S.League. Technically they are the U21 Singapore National Team, just like the now debunked Harimau Muda (Young Tigers) in Malaysia. Mostly I had to update their website with match previews, reports and reactions.

I don’t work for the team directly, as in I’m not their in-house writer or media officer, but writing for them meant I must feel that I am part of the team. Whatever I published must be positive and always on their side. Which make sense because you can’t have ‘Young Lions were rubbish in that game’ written on their own website, can you?

The problem is I am not part of the team and not even part of the Singapore FA. So how do you keep being on their side? You can’t even be neutral when you’re reporting about them. That’s not the case. You must make them look good. Always.

If someone is a stranger to you, where you have no slightest emotion towards them, how can you bring yourself to write something nice about them? It is hard to pretend that you care even if you try sometimes.

That’s not the worst part yet. The most challenging thing for me would be having to write positively, encouragingly, supportively about a team who’s rooted at the bottom of the table with only one win in ten games so far. Since I started writing for them, I have never seen them won a game. I was not writing for them yet when they won their first and only game.

When they tasked me to write for the Young Lions, I knew this team is going to give me a tough time throughout the season. The S.League has been very competitive this season and Young Lions being young and very inexperienced, there’s no surprise they are bottom of the league.Them struggling to win means I need to figure out a way to help me with the writings.

This team obviously needs support. I’m not going to touch on whether the program even benefits Singapore football. That’s another long story. They don’t even have that many fans so the least I can do was try to find something good from every loss. If it’s hard for me to be encouraging in my writings about them, it must be harder for them to lose every week.

The only way for me to keep being on the team’s side when I’m writing for them is to get closer to the team. A few years back, I used to write a lot about Harimau Muda A. I wasn’t writing for them but I was always on their side and it didn’t need much effort. It happened naturally because I was close with the team since they first started playing in the S.League.

I knew every player, every coach and backroom staff of the team to a point where I did feel I was part of the team. They were very close to my heart so to be on their side even after every loss, every bad performance was not difficult. In fact I got annoyed when I read negative reports or stories about them even if they were true.

And I thought that’s exactly what I had to do with the Young Lions. I started with covering their trainings and games more than the other games or teams. I needed to get closer to the team, get to know the coaches, the players. They can’t see me like the other writers. They need to know I’m on their side. This helped a lot with my writings.

Normally, you are on someone’s side because you care about them. You need to feel for them and naturally you will be supportive of them.

But of course, even if I was on their side, my writings will still have to make sense. I can’t say they did well when they lost 5-0. That’s just deluded. But perhaps I can say that it was a good experience for the boys and it’s important for them to keep working hard to improve, something like that.

Well unfortunately I won’t be writing for them anymore. Due to some changes that’s beyond my control, the Singapore FA will have to find someone else to write for them now. But I hope whoever that takes over can take this as an advice which I strongly believe will very much help them with their writings.

If There Was The Oscars For Sports Movies…

When it comes to books, I love reading non-fictions. I enjoy reading about people and more often than not, I choose to read autobiographies by football players. As a Manchester United fan, I’ve read books by Ryan Giggs, Gary Neville, Wayne Rooney and David Beckham. For some reasons, I’m not really interested to read Rio Ferdinand’s book though.

When it comes to movies, true stories are the best. They are my favourite. In this year’s Oscars, half of nominations for Best Picture are based on true stories such as The Theory of Everything, The Imitation Game and American Sniper. Sports movies however rarely get recognised.

If there was an Oscars for sports movies, in the ‘football’ category, these would be in my nomination list in no particular order. Don’t fret, no spoilers, if you haven’t watched any of these.

1. Green Street Hooligans

This movie taught me about the hooligans culture in English football. I was like Elijah Wood in that movie, only that I don’t call football ‘soccer’. It’s amazing to see their passion for their football team – mainly West Ham United in the movie, but at the same time it seems ridiculous especially when they fight against other teams’ hooligans. Perhaps it’s still around. It may not be a good thing when it gets ugly but it’s part of it.

2. United

This is a heartbreaking one. The story about Manchester United’s “Busby Babes” and the aftermath of the 1958 Munich air disaster. I’ve only seen United holding tributes to the Busby Babes so this movie great for me to learn how horrible was the tragedy and most importantly how that effected the team at that time. If I was living in those days, I would be devastated to know such news. And how that disaster would always be in Sir Bobby Charlton’s mind….

3. The Damned United

Brian Clough. I never get to know him either but I’ve read plenty to know what a character he was. People remember this sort of thing. Just how I think people will remember Jose Mourinho when he’s no longer around. It would be interesting to see Mourinho goes against Clough if he was still alive or if Mourinho was born earlier. But then they could be best friends too. Who knows? Michael Sheen who played Clough, did amazingly. It’s typical Sheen, really.

4. Class of 92

Well this is not exactly a movie. It’s more like a documentary or a docu-movie? As a United fan, it was like a must-watch for every United fan. Plenty of nostalgic moments from Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, Gary Neville, on how they started off, getting into the first team. It was as if I lived their lives.

That’s the football category. In Other Sports category I would definitely list these movies:

1. Million Dollar Arm

A true story about two Indian boys scouted in India to play baseball in America. How they adapt to their new lives in the foreign land, learning baseball instead of cricket. I thoroughly enjoyed the movie.

2. Moneyball

Baseball movie again. True story, of course. To be honest, it is difficult to understand the movie if you don’y understand baseball. I am not an expert in that sport either but Brad Pitt made it easier to understand it. Sort of.

Whither professionalism in Malaysian football?

Malaysian football can never get away without player transfer controversies whenever the transfer window opens.

State teams and clubs can have a new president, new management or new coach but they still fail to follow the rules when it comes to player transfers.

Normally a transfer conflict happens when it involves Harimau Muda players. According to the rules, Harimau Muda players must return to their hometown and play for their state team after they graduate from Harimau Muda.

They can then opt to play for other teams if their home teams are not interested in signing them. More often than not, they want the players to join them because these players have international experience during their time with the Malaysia U23 team, which will be valuable for the team.

However, the players will of course receive offers from other teams besides their home team to which they are supposed to return. That is when the problems arise.

For instance, one player who has been causing a stir recently is Gary Steven Robbat. He decided to leave Harimau Muda this year and will play in the Malaysia Super League next year.

The question is, which team? Kedah (his home team), Pahang and Johor Darul Takzim (JDT) have all claimed that Gary will play for them.

On November 14, Gary and his Harimau Muda teammate, Saarvindran, signed a contract with Pahang. The photo of them with the contracts, which was then released by Pahang, was taken on that day itself.

Then, around the same week when Pahang announced their team for 2015, rumours of Gary joining JDT surfaced. There was much confusion everywhere.

Gary said he had informed Pahang that he had changed his mind and would play for JDT instead but according to him, Pahang went on to announce the squad anyway.

So now Gary will leave the matter to JDT and Pahang. This could be a problem for Gary because he could be suspended, and that is the last thing any player would want to happen.

According to Datuk Ong Kim Swee, the Malaysia U23 coach, it would be a loss for Malaysia if Gary were suspended as he is still eligible to play in the SEA Games 2015 in Singapore.

Gary is not the only player who is facing the same contract confusion with Pahang and JDT.

Pahang player Faizol Hussain is also registered with Pahang and Johor Darul Takzim II for next year. According to Pahang, Faizol will still play for them next year since he still has a year’s contract with Pahang. However, he has already emptied his house in Pahang.

Another Harimau Muda player from Perak decided to leave Harimau Muda too but unfortunately he has not been released by his current employer, the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM). But that is not the main problem here.

The mistake he has made is that he has signed for Felda United despite not getting a release from FAM and approval from Perak. Worse, the player has even joined Felda United for their pre-season in Dubai.

Messy is probably too nice a word to describe the Malaysian football transfer system.

To put it more accurately would be to say it is completely shambolic. But whom do we blame? The players? The teams? FAM?

What if the players were never properly briefed or informed about their contract terms and how the transfers worked?

What if FAM are not strict enough with their own rules?

What if certain teams get certain privileges?

This is where the Professional Footballers Association of Malaysia (PFAM) comes into the picture.

After years of hiatus, they are now back to assist players in Malaysia with their contracts with their respective teams. They vow to fight for the players and protect them from any mistreatment from their clubs in terms of contractual rights.

The players are not well-informed of their rights as players and that has led them to be taken advantage of by their employers.

Every year we hear about players not being paid their salary on time, which is ridiculous.

The PFAM should play an important role in the players’ careers, not only fighting for them but more importantly, educating them thoroughly.

This article was first published on my column on The Malaysian Insider.