Malaysia's bad boy Ultras: A blessing or a curse?
However, there is a difference, as emphasised by Freddie. Whereas Ultras in other countries are mostly closed groups of supporters, Malaysia’s Ultras seek to engage the public as a whole with their active use of social media such as Facebook and Twitter to talk to anyone and everyone. The idea is to de-mystify the intrigue and question marks surrounding the Ultras movement, and to make it clear what they stand for. They do not wish to indulge in right-wing politics like the Ultras of Lazio do. They are not going to throw motorcycles of the terraces like fans of Inter Milan did.
“It’s all about the team,” Freddie proclaims of the UM07 philosophy. No hyperbole, no grandstanding speech. Just the simple truth. “All we want is the best for our team, regardless of whether or not that team is the Malaysia national team, Selangor, Kedah or JDT.”
Freddie’s words echo the fanaticism of the Ultras from beyond our shores. “But don’t misunderstand. We are not seeking to ‘educate’ the Malaysian public on how to support their team. We just want to show them that there is another way that the supporter can play a part in a football match. Not just through watching and cheering a goal or a pass.”
Since its founding, the UM07 has definitely brought back support to Malaysian football. Thanks to their continuous efforts in making sure that the national and local teams get support no matter where they play, supporters have begun to travel to their opponents’ home ground. It is something that was hardly part of Malaysian football culture previously.
During Sarawak’s recent visits to Pahang and Terengganu, the home fans actually offered salutes, cheers and honour guards to the visiting Ultras. In a return of their kindness, Sarawak’s travelling band of supporters and expatriates known as the GB13 hit up the local food stalls and mingle with the locals. There was another Good Samaritan incident too when the Pahang Ultras sang songs of goodwill and gratitude to pay tribute to the hospitality that the host fans provided during last year’s Malaysia Cup semi-final clash with Sarawak in Kuching.
The Ultras’ influence has become so pervasive that they are very much in the public eye. Nik Nazmi, Deputy Speaker of Selangor’s state assembly, recognises the contribution of the Ultras. “You have to admit that thanks to them that football in Malaysia has finally got back on its feet in terms of supporters’ numbers,” he cheerfully indicates. “It’s taken a long time for Malaysia to recover from that match-fixing crisis in the 1990s. We’re beginning to see the light now.”
The Ultras vs the FAM
In spite of seemingly being a good force for the cause of football in Malaysia, this has not stopped the Ultras and the FAM from being at loggerheads with each other. When asked about it, Nik Nazmi hits the nail on the head. “My guess is that they [the Ultras] are a bit unhappy with how the FAM have been handling football in Malaysia,” says the deputy speaker diplomatically, something Freddie concurs as well.
“For 30 years we have fallen backwards while the rest of the world has moved on up,” says Freddie. “We shouldn’t be in this position, yet the FAM have done nothing to change things. Every year they will announce a new plan or a new vision that will be promptly forgotten the following year.”
According to Freddie, the gist and keyword of the matter is regression. Far from the heyday of beating the likes of South Korea and Japan with energy to spare in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Malaysia have been reduced to struggling against teams that don’t even have their own professional league, such as the aforementioned Philippines.
In years prior, the FAM had sought to build bridges with the Ultras and had actively engaged them on how to tackle football issues within the country, but Freddie and his band of Ultras feel that all the FAM have been doing is giving them lip service, ignoring their suggestions and treating them like outcasts.