Archive for 4 October 2017

Don’t choose a team that always wins

4 October 2017

(Reprinted from The Edge – Options pullout, 2 October 2017 issue)

Dear Kam,
I really don’t like football but I have been told that I need to support an English team. I have never been to England and the nearest connection I have to any town in England is that my cousin studied in London. Is there a London United?

Unfortunately for you, there is no London United. In terms of football, London is very disunited. If you are going to choose a London team, then the one thing you need to know is that you cannot support Chelsea. Because, well, just trust me. You just do not want to do that. But I sympathise with you because I know from bitter personal experience that choosing a team is a difficult, even dangerous, thing.

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 sheer rowdiness of English kids. In Malaysia, I had attended a kindergarten called Tinkerbell and English kids did not behave like Tinkerbell alumni. On my very first day at an English primary school, the very first thing that the English kids did was ask me which team I was supporting. I had absolutely no idea what they were talking about. The second thing they did was carry me to the top of a small hill and throw me off it. Again, I had absolutely no idea what was going on. This kind of thing simply didn’t happen at Tinkerbell. I really needed a Milo to calm my nerves.

So, when I went home, I did some studying and discovered that there was this thing called football. It was played by many different teams and I apparently needed to support one of them. Every Saturday night, a voice on the TV would read out all the football scores: “Chesterton Athletic one, Norbiton Rovers two.” It would go on for hours. The voice seemed to call out the name of every single 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 where or what it was — Arsenal.

The next time the English kids asked me which team I was supporting, 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 didn’t know anything about football either but she took me to a shop that sold sporting goods 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 strip,” 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 Tinkerbell 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 and my stupidity. It turned out that the salesman had hoodwinked us into buying a Wolverhampton Wanderers shirt and obviously 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 hate 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. And I had no interest in the game because throughout the 1970s and 1980s, English football fans were disgustingly dangerous. The nearest I have come to supporting a team is when, in the early 1980s, 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 but it seemed ridiculous 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 (the only good thing) on TV was broadcasts of English football. Being safely 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 here 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 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 you’ll learn nothing about life that way. And don’t choose Chelsea, because, well, just trust me. You don’t want to choose Chelsea.

Dear Kam,
Is it my imagination or has somebody opened a Muslim-only laundrette in Muar?
Jumpy in Johor

In the same week that Saudi Arabia finally lifted the ban on women driving cars, somebody in Malaysia opened a Muslim-only laundrette. Presumably, the hope is that our two countries will eventually meet somewhere in the middle. Welcome to the future.

Editor: The owner of the launderette has apologised for his actions and obeyed Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar of Johor’s decree to remove the signboard limiting his services to those of the Muslim faith.

Reprinted with the kind permission of