Sunday, March 24

Sarawak football fans go the extra mile


Italian tourists joining Sarawak fans to cheer.

THE state football team have been known to have a strong base of supporters across the state.

Since the heydays of Ngap Sayot in the late 1980s, they have filled their home turf – Stadium Negeri in Petra Jaya, Kuching – to the brim for many big matches.

Their battle cry was and remains ‘Ngap Sayot’, those familiar two words coined by legendary coach Awang Mahyan.

One group of fans who take pride in their loyalty to and passion for the Sarawak team call themselves GB13. It was formed by a group of youths in their 20s in 2011 though their membership today includes some in their 30s and 40s.

They commit themselves to introduce the ‘Ultras’ supporting culture to Sarawak.

They adapt a culture of vocal support for their team which includes non-stop chants and choreography, display of banners and lighting flares (the last now banned by the Football Association of Malaysia), believed to have originated in Europe.

A section of GB13 and other Sarawakian supporters during the match against T-Team on March 8. — photos by Mohammad Aziz Bujang and Saiful Bahari

Among notable Ultras groups in the football world are Torcida Split, UltrAsian and Jak, supporters of Hajduk Split from Croatia, Galatasary from Turkey and Persija Jakarta from Indonesia respectively.

Recently, a group of GB13 members travelled to Kuala Terengganu to support the Crocs in their away match against the T-Team on March 8.

Over 100 members, mainly from Kuching, flew over and were joined by an additional 300 who resided in Peninsular Malaysia.

According to one of the group representatives, Abdul Rahman Haroun, the group have organised such trips since 2011 but on a smaller scale.

“We wanted to prove that one can go the extra mile to support their team. Supporting a team is not just limited to Stadium Negeri but also to the grounds of the opponent teams,” he said.

Rahman recalled how it took them months to arrange their trip to Johor Bharu last year for the match against Johor FA.

“Those who were committed to go talked endlessly about flight tickets everyday. Whenever we met up, the issue of cheaper flights to Johor Bharu would arise. Eventually, we gathered 40 fanatical supporters for the trip,” he added.

He also described how they had to pay about RM200 for the giant Sarawak flag after the box containing it went over the allowable luggage limit.

“However, we were determined to display the flag in Johor as it is our pride. We felt that it is our duty to the state and the flag is something that every Sarawakian should be proud of,” he proudly explained.

The inbox of the group Facebook page was flooded with messages from Sarawakians working in the Peninsular. On match day, over 100 supporters there came to be with us, chanting and singing.

“Well, it’s safe to say that GB13 had created relationships among avid football fans of Sarawak and is a medium for Sarawakians based in Peninsular to taste an aura (normally only) experienced back home.

“Some had spent years in the Peninsular and some were even born there. Being with the Sarawakian supporters (from home) enabled them to converse in the local Sarawakian dialect and most were happy and felt that they were in a place where they belonged,” Rahman said.

The most recent trip to Kuala Terengganu started on March 7, with members flying from different starting points at different flight times.

They spent a night in Kuala Lumpur before heading to the East Coast city on four chartered buses. The road trip took close to six hours before they arrived at the stadium.

“The response from the locals (Terengganu supporters) was encouraging. They were very welcoming and knew of how fanatical Sarawakian supporters were. They even sang a welcome song for us,” Rahman recalled.

Inside the stadium the group leaders gathered all Sarawak supporters to stand together on the terraces. The giant state flag was proudly displayed before the start of the game and the chants began to set the mood.

The fans take pride in being professionals. Winning or losing (Sarawak lost 0-2 that night), they continued cheering for the team and members gave words of encouragement to the players from across the fence. At the end of the match, the entire Sarawak squad came over to give applause to the visiting supporters.

44-year-old Ahmad Rizal Yaman, who works as a human resource manager, noted the difference between supporting the Crocs at home and away.

“The solidarity among the away fans for one is definitely higher. The spirit of camaraderie is also high among the away fans as the risk of intimidation and provocation from the home fans are more obvious and intense compared to home game,” said Rizal who was joining the GB13 away trip for the first time.

“Everyone enters and leaves the stadium together. There are no strangers among the away fans. Once you’re on the terrace all are among friends and share the same objectives, to turn our voices as one,” he added as he observed how the level of support by fans towards local football has been growing.

I.T. executive Mohd Hashimy Suratman, 27, was clear about the value of supporting the team in an away match.

“The players need a higher level of encouragement and by seeing fans travel and come just to see them play gives them the extra morale boost,” said the Kuchingite who is based in Kuala Lumpur.

“The last two to three years we have seen a positive change in our local football fans. The attitude has changed. They do not just come to the stadium to watch the match but instead come to support,” he added.

He also expressed his wish for the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) to take steps to create a conducive environment for the football supporting culture in Malaysia to grow.