by Dax Muhamad
The stage was set, the con was on. Two tickets to the promised land. It was my honeymoon, we were going to Argentina, and my mind was (partly), on football. We had seats for the Libertadores Cup match between River Plate and Petrolero FC Bolivia. A far cry from the dirty war of the Falklands, greasy Argies, Gotcha and all that jazz; this was Buenos Aires.
As the Chorizo sausages were chucked into the air, the infamous Los Borrachos del Tablón, River Plate barra bravas had landed into the pit of El Monumental. I asked a Peruvian by name of Pedro, who had traveled to watch Ariel Ortega play out his last years, who are the Los Borrachos. “This is sons Argentinas” (‘The sons of Argentina’), “the resident hooligans of River Plei”. In the shock and awe – they coordinated the drums and sang a song which I made out to be, “La Boca, Puto Madres” (‘Boca, your mom’s a whore’ – Boca weren’t even the opponents!) – the Los Borrachos were getting the boys on the bottom tier to pull a flag of a white skull with red smoke coming from its eyes, the size of the El Monumental carpark.
Pedro insisted the Los Borrachos are the meanest, baddest, most politically organized barra bravas in South America. I was skeptical of Pedro’s fearsome adjectives, until:
– they started lobbing rocks and bottles to the bottom tier to force those down there to straighten up the ‘skull flag’;
– they told the River Plate players (who did a lap of victory after winning 6-1) to not come close until they brought back the Copa Libertadores;
– raided the Budweiser sponsorship tent and made a barbecue on top of some Boca fan’s car.
The closest I ever came to such bravado (read: legitimised madness) was on a train going from Reading to Waterloo to watch Arsenal play Alan Shearer’s Southampton. It was filled with the fans of Millwall, Leyton Orient, West Ham, Spurs, Chelsea (the real Chelsea that is, not the Russian oil-funded Chelski of today) – and the ensuing staring match had everyone describing how they would do each other favours with a friend called Stanley (a pocket knife).
The Gunners’ – whose fans usually are kids or old age pensioners – were naturally silent; we couldn’t ‘compete’ on the train but we knew Alan Smith, Paul Merson, Tony Adams et al wouldn’t let us down on the pitch. This edgy, tribalistic phenomenon taught me a lot about passion and confrontation – the replication of which I would later be aware of in everyday Malaysian experience, especially in our politics.
Raw and uncouth as these instances of football fandom were, they remain an authentic expression of how people can rally around something seemingly as inanely subjective as a football team, with such fanaticism and belief as to produce a force far greater than the sum of the individuals. The fervour, the default propensity towards vandalism, the ancillary mob-culture – it was all quite undoubtedly communal, as it was fiercely personal. This was at once the creation and sustenance of the “Us” and conversely the demonizing of the “Them”. Beneath all the fireworks, physical or not, literal or not, this was 21st century tribal romantics in action.
Roll on Malaysia Cup Final 2009, Kelantan vs Negri Sembilan, where fans of my home team Kelantan – which has a similar reputation of going crackers – were bouncing off the walls even three hours before kickoff. Instead of Chorizo sausage and special brew, they started off with Asar prayers. These boys were ready to march into battle. Even the Green Street elite of West Ham or the Bushwackas of Millwall would have stood aside – for these were the Kelantan Gedebes. These were Kelantan’s ‘finest’ – and I say that of course with a healthy dose of irony – all the way from Pasir Puteh, Kuala Krai and Pangkalan Chepa. Proceedings started off with our own barbecue of seats in the Bukit Jalil stadium. My gaffer, Khairy Jamaluddin, who was sitting with the Negeri Sembilan fans branded this behaviour as disgusting and philistine. Maybe so, but I wonder if he would’ve said the same had Negeri Sembilan been on the receiving end of a 3-1 scoreline.
My eyes teared not from the loss but rather from the choke of smoke. We wanted more. The cars draped with Negeri Sembilan flags were fair game. Though I was never part of this, I never stopped my kinsmen. I couldn’t, even if I wanted to!
On the flipside, there are the ‘fanboys’. And they don’t come anymore shameless than two of my best friends – the Man Utd-loving Zuhri Aziz and Aqliff Shane (Sabah descent). When they visited Old Trafford, not only did they steal blades of grass from the pitch and shove it down their size 42-inch pants, they also squandered their children’s trust fund on superstore purchases. Their idols were Eric Le King, Posh n Becks and Ruud Van Destroyer. Ask them about Kevin Moran, Norman Whiteside and Martin Buchan, they thought these were clothing brands sold in BHS (British Home Stores – equivalent to our Globe Silk Store).
Yet sat in the crowd in a Champions League match versus Roma, they broke into tears and hollered along to supporter songs like “Country road, take me home, to the place I belong”. If there is any lesson from this, it is that we may not have a great national team. But shoulder-to-shoulder, Malaysian fans are just as noisy, fanatical, hardcore, knowledgeable (sans Zuhri and Shane) as any football fan or barra brava in the world.
With these thoughts I sat with them and watched Mexico’s miserable display against Argentina. We nervously bit our nails every time Messi ran with possession. For every goal they put past Mexico, we knew the Germans were frothing with anticipation in the next round too.
We were every bit the England, Argentina, Brazil fan, although we don’t look like any Cockney, Scouser, Brummie or Geordie and won’t ever sing God Save the Queen. This may appear flimsy to some, but our support for The Three Lions is as genuine as any white man in a Middle England pub with a pack of Bensons. And anybody who knows me or my colleagues would testify that it wasn’t some misguided postcolonial melancholia by any measure.
Later after the matches, we comforted ourselves on social media – on that night Twitter became our diary. It wasn’t about sharing thoughts as much as it was our need to articulate a narrative that made Argentina’s progress felt genuinely ours. Perhaps this essay is part of that need too. Certainly our local fans and fanboys should be given a shot at the big time. For I too, am a world class fanboy. We (Malaysia) clearly don’t have a national side to be proud of at the moment, but I sincerely believe we are a footballing nation.
Taken from http://mataharibooks.com/gol/dax/argentina-vs-mexico/