Don’t whine when you’re winning

Local football's institutional problems remain, but Neil Humphreys feels that the LionsXII's triumph is a cause for celebration and not an excuse to complain...

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Within hours of Singapore’s Malaysia FA Cup victory, many took to cyberspace to re-enact that classic scene from Monty Python’s Life of Brian.

In the original scene, of course, Judean activists gather to highlight all that is wrong with Roman occupation, leading John Cleese’s character to conclude that, “apart from the sanitation, medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh water system and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?”

Those Romans had a lot in common with the LionsXII it seems.

Apart from a couple of outstanding goals, a stupendous effort between the sticks from Izwan Mahbud, an uplifting recovery after conceding a late equaliser, a courageous performance from underdogs in a hostile environment and a first Malaysia FA Cup triumph, what have the LionsXII ever done for us?

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Not a lot, according to a strident minority online.

Healthy cynicism is one thing, but the desire to downplay genuine success in a bid to propel an overriding narrative of defeat and decline is a worrying sign.

On the FourFourTwo website and other online news outlets, the joy of victory was tempered by those seeking to focus on the national game’s deficiencies.

In a couple of instances, the criticism fell somewhere between unhelpful and unfair. Those who turned up at Changi Airport – all 2,000 of them – were accused of being glory hunters. Others wondered if so many fair weather supporters would’ve turned up had the LionsXII lost to Kelantan (short and obvious answer: no. Singapore doesn’t have a monopoly on fickle fans).

Far too much energy was devoted to splitting the finest of hairs, with nitpickers climbing over each other to point out to commentators and politicians alike that the LionsXII hadn’t repeated Singapore's Malaysia Cup heroics of 1994. They had won the Malaysia FA Cup; a lesser trophy to the old bauble lifted by Fandi Ahmad and company 21 years ago.

Raising a finger in the air to interrupt celebratory proceedings with a point of order felt pedantic, even churlish, as Singapore toasted a rare football triumph.

As the sublime Sahil Suhaimi nimbly demonstrated at Bukit Jalil, timing is everything. There is a time and a place to reiterate Singapore football’s long list of institutional and cultural shortcomings, but this really wasn’t it.

Praise was even prefixed with the inevitable, dispiriting “but”.

The LionsXII did well to defy the odds and beat the Malaysians in their own backyard … but the S-League remains on life support with disinterested doctors ready to turn off the machine.

The LionsXII provided a welcome fillip to the struggling sport on the eve of the SEA Games … but the squad remains a talent leech, sucking the best from the domestic game and putting the also-rans out to pasture.

The LionsXII beat a Kelantan side with superior resources and foreign talent … but Malaysian football is also in terminal decline and no longer an adequate yardstick for our national development.

All off these criticisms are valid. All have been addressed in previous columns and will no doubt be discussed again in the future. But to highlight these perennial problems before the LionsXII had even touched down at Changi Airport, to focus on the jewels’ flaws rather than the crown itself, smacked of the “always complain” culture that Singapore seeks to shrug off.

Besides, the shrill voices of disapproval in victory weaken their impact in defeat, when they really are needed. There are only so many times the disillusioned can cry wolf before their complaints are eventually ignored. If fans cannot be pacified or placated after such a triumph, why pander to them when the sport is in the doldrums?

The time will inevitably come when constructive dissent is needed, when rational voices of protest are required to shine a light on the game’s systemic failings. An unexpected, euphoric Malaysia FA Cup win isn’t the time.

The LionsXII’s heroics come with no qualifiers, no critical caveats. There’s not a need to keep this cup win in perspective. Heaven knows Singapore football already labours under the weight of such cynical perspective. We know how bad it’s been. We know the road to sustained progress remains long. But right here, right now, unadulterated joy will do very nicely.

Those ifs, buts and maybes can be saved for another day.

Fandi delivered once more for his country. The LionsXII brought Bukit Jalil to its knees. And goal-scorers Faris Ramli and Sahil Suhaimi are refreshed and recalibrated for a shot at the SEA Games title.

So what have the LionsXII ever done for us?

As it stands, all that was asked of them. And their unqualified success deserves more than qualified praise.

Bestselling local author Neil Humphreys is launching his latest book, Saving a Sexier Island, at the Kinokuniya Singapore main store on Saturday, 30 May at 4pm. You don't want to miss out!

Photos: Football Association of Singapore