It seems that every Malaysian must support an English Premier League team, but which one? Choosing your Malaysian football team is easy because it’s simply your home state but how do you choose an EPL team if you have no connection to any of the English towns? Obviously, you can’t support Chelsea because, well, you just can’t but that still leaves dozens of others to choose from. I know from personal experience that it is a very difficult choice.
I moved to England from Malaysia in 1971 when I was five years old. I was confused by my new surroundings (they didn’t have Milo) and by the rowdiness of English kids. In Malaysia, I had attended a kindergarten called Tinker Bell and English kids did not behave like Tinker Bell alumni. On my first day at an English primary school, the first thing the English kids did was ask me which team I supported. I had absolutely no idea what they were talking about. The second thing they did was to carry me to the top of a small hill and throw me off it. I had absolutely no idea what was going on. This kind of thing simply didn’t happen at Tinker Bell. I really needed a Milo to calm my nerves.
When I got home, I did some studying and discovered that there was a thing called football that was played by many different teams and I apparently needed to support one of them. Every Saturday night, a voice on TV would drone out all the football scores: “Norbiton Athletic one, Fulchester United two. Cholmondeley Rovers ten, Walmington-on-Sea nil.” It went on for hours and I didn’t understand any of it. The voice said the name of every English town except the one I was living in. So, I chose a team at random. I liked the sound of one even though I had no idea what or where it was: Arsenal.
The next time the English kids asked me which team I supported, I tentatively said Arsenal, hoping that this would make me safe for the day. But then they pointed out that I didn’t have an Arsenal shirt. So, they took me to the top of the hill and threw me off it. I wasn’t angry because I was beginning to see the logic of their argument and if you really think about it, you will too.
My mother took me to a shop and we asked the salesman for an Arsenal shirt. He was very helpful in expertly guiding us through our ignorance. But the shirt he brought out did not look quite right. Even I had a vague awareness that Arsenal shirts were red and white, while this shirt was orange-yellow. “It’s their away shirt,” he assured us. I had absolutely no idea what he was talking about but I had to admit that it was quite smart and entirely befitting of a Tinker Bell man.
When I was next confronted by the English kids, I knew I was safe because I was clothed in the impenetrable armour of an Arsenal shirt. But they just laughed at me. It turned out that the salesman had hoodwinked me into buying not an Arsenal shirt but a Wolverhampton Wanderers shirt. I could only presume that he was a Wolves fan and thought it would be funny but it wasn’t funny because the kids had no choice but to take me to the top of the hill and throw me off it. To this day, I have never been to Wolverhampton and I have no idea where it is but I know I don’t like it.
I was an Arsenal fan for about a week when I was five years old and ever since then I have deliberately avoided being a fan of any team. The nearest I have come to supporting a team is when I met some people from Newcastle who loved their town and their team. With their bizarre accent, they were extremely funny and very normal unlike, you know, Chelsea fans. I really enjoyed their enjoyment as they taught me about the intricacies of the game but it seemed ridiculous for me to call myself a Newcastle fan in the company of actual Geordies.
I developed a love for football when I returned to Malaysia in the early 1990s when the best thing on TV was broadcasts of English football. Being far away from the reality of English football fandom, I was finally free to enjoy the spectacle and drama of the game.
Malaysians have the freedom to choose teams unencumbered by tribal associations with a particular English town. Manchester United is hugely popular but I wonder how many Malaysian fans could accurately place Manchester on a blank map of England. I know I couldn’t. Some Malaysian football allegiances are family inheritances that are now well into their third generation and some are based on fanciful whims. So, choose whatever you want and choose often. But don’t choose a team that always wins because that way you’ll learn nothing about life. And don’t choose Chelsea, because, well, just trust me. You don’t want to choose Chelsea.