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Saturday, January 26, 2013

Politics, Football And The Growing Rivalry Between Kelantan And Johor

by Syed Zahar

WHEN it comes to favorite conversation topics,most Malaysians would concur that football and politics tops the list. You get into a cab and these two subjects would usually be the popular pick for the driver’s conversation starter. More often than not, it would start with football – the English League, Liga Super, Harimau Malaya or La Liga – but eventually, the discourse will lead to politics.

Though this normality is not new for our people, the nation's interest in politics has become even more prevalent since the dramatic 2008 general election, and it is expected to get even more dramatic in the very soon-to-be-held 13th General Election.

Nothing else can get us more riled up than a fierce competition and rivalry, especially when both teams are evenly, or almost evenly, matched and the Malaysian public as well as politicians are more than convinced that the impending polls will be the fiercest battle yet between Barisan Nasional (BN) and the Opposition, namely its stronger than ever adversary Pakatan Rakyat.

Newfound rivalry

As for the Malaysian football scene, most sports fans see defending champion Kelantan FC and the newly rebranded Johor's Darul Takzim FC (formerly known as Johor FC) as the top contenders in the Liga Super. A treble win – the FA Cup, Liga Super and Malaysia Cup titles – last season was impressive to say the least since the team has not won any major titles for 89 years. Though the team is currently seventh (out of 14) in the league table, it has only been five games and they just lost one (drew three and won one).

Still, Kelantan's big leap of a success last year automatically makes them a force to be reckoned with this season.

Darul Takzim only made it to ninth place last season but they're fifth (2-2-1) in the league table so they're faring slightly better than Kelantan. However, footy fans are expecting more from the team under coach Fandi Ahmad and Johor FA president Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim.

After all, many expect the 'Southern Tigers' to be the new powerhouse in local club football with their recent big-name signings. Their newly-purchased players include Norshahrul Idlan Talaha (formerly Kelantan), Safiq Rahim, Azmi Muslim, twins Aidil Zafuan and Mohd Zaquan, and the two import players who made the main headlines: former Spain international Dani Guiza and Simone Del Nero who spent five seasons with Serie A giants Lazio. Not to mention red-hot striker Safee Sali have also joined them on loan. It's no wonder the media are labeling the team as 'star-studded' and 'dream team'.

This may not matter much if you're not a football fan but to local fans, Kelantan's treble win and Darul Takzim's latest signings make greater excitement and, in turn, fill up the stadiums. But what's also engrossing is the newfound rivalry the two official clubs of the two proud states have suddenly stumbled into.

Hostility during Kelantan vs Johor match

The media (including social media) wasted no time in sensationalizing the hostility between the two clubs. As most had anticipated, there was a big fuss when the two teams (and fans) clashed for the first time this season in Kota Bharu a couple of weeks ago which ended in a 1-1 draw. There were alleged incidents of bottle-throwing between the fans during the match and, adding to that, a war of words has also erupted between the Kelantan Football Association (KAFA) and Johor Football Association (PBNJ).

It started with the accusation by Darul Takzim's management accused KAFA of slacking in the security control department during the game. This, it claimed, resulted in several incidents where objects were thrown at the visiting fans by Kelantan supporters. In response, KAFA alleged Darul Takzim of going overboard with their security by bringing along armed commandos from the Johor Military Forces (JMF) with the team for the match.

Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim
Tunku Ismail denied the accusation by saying that the commandos on duty were Malaysian commandos from the Kumpulan Gerak Khas 21 Komando based in Mersing.

"They are not from the JMF and they don't have to be there. If at all any JMF personnel was at the stadium, he was there as a football fan and not in uniform," said Tunku Ismail.

The Crown Prince of Johor also said the commandos from Mersing were there because it is a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for the commandos to be ready in case the Sultan of Johor wanted to be at the stadium to watch the match.

"They (the commandos) have nothing to do with the Johor FA. The Kelantan FA are simply diverting the attention to cover up their shortcomings in handling the high profile match.

"Our fans were hit bottles and stones thrown at them by the Kelantan fans. A woman and child were hit by a bottle and a piece of wood. The Kelantan fans even confiscated banners from Johor fans and tore it.

"For security reasons, Johor fans were told to gather at the center of the stadium field. They were only able to leave through the back gates of the stadium under darkness after the lights at the stadium were switched off.

"It is with deep regret to know that the Tengku Mahkota of Kelantan was a victim when one of the bottles thrown by a Kelantan fan hit him…that is Kelantan fans for you," added the PBNJ president.

Johor FA have also filed an official complaint with the FA of Malaysia (FAM) on the "rough treatment" Johor fans received during the high profile match.

Tunku Ismail said the complaint letter was sent to the FAM a day after the match.

Ministry Intervention

Apparently, the 'warfare' between KAFA and PBNJ started way before that controversial game when the two football associations were wrangling over Norshahrul Idlan's transfer to Darul Takzim. Things got so heated up that the the Youth and Sports Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Shabery Cheek had to interfere before things get out of hand.

Read more at Malaysian Digest

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