Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Reaction:Balestier Khalsa vs Woodlands Wellington

"50 Woodlands Wellington fans out-sing 1850 Balestier Khalsa home fans as the Rams fell valiantly in the Tigers' den." In an ideal world, this would be the headline running across the mainstream and alternative media covering the S.League match between Woodlands and Balestier last sunday. Instead, the headlines are marred by reports of Zulkiffli Hassim's dismissal after he hurled racist remarks towards our big man, Fabien Lewis. (This matter is currently being investigated by FAS. - Report)

The mainstream media may have their obligations to play down the various happenings on and off the pitch, but there was certainly more to it than the tepid, run of the mill match report by Quoting this report, there was certainly a passionate crowd in the stands that night. Unfortunately, it certainly wasn't the home crowd who made the most noise. The Balestier fans were mostly quiet throughout the entire match, save for Uncle Salleh's* passionate skeleton crew, while the Black Sheep sang away and decorated the stands with confetti, regardless of the result.

The Black Sheep having fun with Uncle Salleh.
Photo Credit: Aaron Chan (The Black Sheep)

*A little history: Uncle Salleh has been a Balestier fan for the longest time. He is also a long-time bosom friend of our very own Uncle "Kambing Power" Hussain and a couple of the senior members of the Black Sheep. Hilarity ensued when both uncles met each other outside Toa Payoh stadium as the Black Sheep lined up with Uncle Salleh on the pretext of taking a photo, and tickling him from all sides thereafter. The sight of Uncle Salleh chuckling uncontrollably after meeting with his friends from Woodlands definitely showed that there was a genuinely friendly rivalry between the two sides.

Another BKFC fan who deserves special mention would be LATW member Elwin Loh who has been ever present during all BKFC matches, drumming away and cheering his team on. Real fans like these 2 gentlemen cheer and sing for their team all the time, whether the team is winning or losing. From our side of the stands, we could hear Elwin passionately drumming and singing "Siapa Bilang Singapura LionsXII" away. It was rather sad that the rest of the crowd failed to join in the revelry of Uncle Salleh's small but powerful crew.

Elwin (left) with Hussain (right). Fans of different clubs, but both Lions at heart.
Photo Credit: Aaron Chan (The Black Sheep)

As I entered the gates of Toa Payoh stadium, I was greeted with a peculiar sight. There was a tentage erected on the right side of the gate and caterers were setting up a buffet line. According to the board placed in front of the tentage, the food was for "VVIP"s only. This tentage was to become the main draw of the match as I will explain in a few moments.

Tentage where the buffet line was placed. Photo was taken after the match.
Photo Credit: Aaron Chan (The Black Sheep)

As the match progressed, the stands were filled mainly with the clapping, cheering and singing from the away stands. The home crowd was largely non-existent except for some intermittent vuvuzelas and the commendable Uncle Salleh and Elwin's dauntless efforts to drum up the home crowd with their tireless cheering.

With a largely uneventful first half, the score remained nil-nil at halftime. At the half time break, the emcee started blasting loud Bhangra music at a level which was enough to burst your eardrums if you stood directly in front of the speakers. Still, this did not deter a bunch of foreign fans who danced away in front of the grandstand, probably lost in the catchy beats of the music, much to the amusement of the away fans, most of who remain glued to their seats. There were also a number of fans who had also made their way to the "chow tentage" to have their food. Towards the end of the break, the group of Bhangra dancers started waddling towards the buffet line and proceeded to have their food as well.

Woodlands Fans enjoying themselves regardless of the result.
Photo Credit: Aaron Chan (The Black Sheep)

As the second half went on, we were surprised to see an almost empty home stand. The crowd had mostly shifted to the buffet line, which presumably provided free food for the fans. It seemed that they were more interested in chomping away than the action on the field itself. This went on for a good 25 minutes before they shifted back to the stands.

Balestier piled on the pressure on Woodlands, which did well to soak it up and attack on the counter, but we did not take our chances well. In the 80th minute, our defence allowed Kim Min Ho too much space and the Korean made no mistake with his curling effort, which went in off the upright. Even custodian Ahmadulhaq, who had been doing so well up to this point and keeping out everything Balestier had thrown at him - including the kitchen sink, could not stop the effort from Kim. We had to close him down, but we didn't.

And then, it happened.

The large group of foreign fans, numbering about 20, started drumming and pranced towards the away stands with much swagger. There was much intent to taunt the opposing fans since their team had just scored. They inched towards the Woodlands fans, laughing, jeering and taunting in their native tongue and displaying rude gestures for all to see. The group was merely yards away from the Woodlands fans before they decided to turn back when they realised that these Woodlands fans were no pushovers - the Black Sheep were matching them voice for voice and singing to cheer out team on - not provoked one bit by their neanderthal-worthy actions . Most of the people in our group could not be bothered by these childish antics. Taunting Fail.

Fair-weather Fans - If you have the guts to taunt the opponent's fans,
you'd better be prepared to have your faces plastered all over the internet.
Photo Credit: Aaron Chan (The Black Sheep) 

It has to be said that we understand the monkey antics of the squad were largely condemned by the Balestier faithful as well, and word on the ground was that Uncle Salleh and gang tried to stop the unruly group from advancing towards the opposing stand, but had failed due to the large size and stubborness of the group. 

Bryan, a die-hard Balestier fan who has been following the Tigers for the last 3 years, shares his thoughts about the Bhangra bunch above: "...Balestier can't do much about them because FTMS (one of Balestier's sponsors) asks them to come down to show their support. But honestly, they should be going to a (dance) club, not a stadium. Every home game, they come, they dance, they blow their horns, sing and dance to their own songs, which is not related to Balestier in any way. If only  they could at least cheer the same cheers along with us. That would do us a whole world of good. "

Sources also tell us that this bunch is actually a group of students from FTMS.

As the group retreated, I noticed a young Chinese bespectacled Balestier fan, dressed in a red Balestier home jersey, retreating in the midst of the "taunt squad". Probably unhappy that they failed to rile up the Woodlands fans, he mouthed a vulgarity and showed his middle finger to the Woodlands fans. I mean, come on, your team just scored. What was the purpose of doing that? Shame on you. How would you feel if your opposing fans did that to you if their team just scored?

Whoops...We're sorry for the mix-up!
We had wrongly identified bona-fide Balestier Khalsa fan Bryan Png (left in the photo below) previously as the rude local fan mentioned above. Bryan, who has stepped forward to inform us that he did not leave the home stands during the entire game, has been a BKFC fan for the past three years and is well known among the Balestier Khalsa and S.League fraternity. We do sincerely apologise for any inconvenience or distress that may have arose from this.

We have genuine respect for real Balestier fans such as (from left) Bryan,
Elwin, Uncle Salleh and Uncle Jamil, the father of Balestier player Ridwan Jamil.
Photo Credit: Aaron Chan (The Black Sheep)

Yes, we frown upon such antics. There was no need to taunt the opposing fans, really. If you want to, do it within the confines of your home stand. Leaving your area and advancing towards the away fans aggressively is both senseless, childish and uncouth.

We are lucky to have a safe and secure football environment here in Singapore. However, judging by their boorish antics, these buffoons could well be on their way to instigate crowd trouble in the S.League. What if the away crowd were a bunch of aggressive, unreasonable people? I cannot imagine what would have happened if that was the case.

Honestly, I feel gutted. Our genuine fans have done so much for the S.League. Now we have a bunch of marauding, fair-weather fans out to spoil the good name of Balestier Khalsa and the league itself. Balestier chairman S.Thavaneson has put in a lot of work for the club, it is just unfortunate that his efforts have also drawn in such a bunch of "glory hunting" fans. It would also be unfair for real fans of the club to be pulled down and associated with this bunch of barbarians. Free Food ≠ Real Fans. Real Fans Free Food.

It also gave me an uneasy feeling to see Zulkiffli Hassim clapping and smiling to the crowd after being sent off late in the game. It gave me the impression that he felt like a hero for mouthing a racist remark towards an opponent. Racism has no place in this game. Disappointing attitude coming from the player, especially when he obviously has bags of talent and a potential player for the national team.

Best moments for Woodlands

Yes, the result leaves us disappointed, especially when the team fought so hard on the field, but we can take heart from Ahmadulhaq Che Omar's valiant efforts in keeping the Tigers out repeatedly. The custodian was equal to most of Balestier's attacks, and it would be unfair to blame either goal on him as the defence went asleep on both occasions. He has certainly picked himself up from the nightmarish result against Tampines and we would hope to see him return to his best in the matches to come.

James and his home-made "Kambing Power" scarf.
Photo Credit: Aaron Chan (The Black Sheep)

Looking Ahead

Our next encounter would be against Gombak United at the Jurong West Stadium on 24th March (Saturday), who must be encouraged by their 3 - 0 victory over Tanjong Pagar, and having sufficient rest for 2 weeks before their next match against us.

Our boys will be looking to improve on their movement on the field, and not to play too deep into our own half. We did that against Balestier and the free space that the Tigers had caused us to concede. Our midfield, marshaled by Armanizam Dolah, needs to space out, stand firm and control the game.

4 - 0 down? 2 - 0 down? We will never surrender!
Photo Credit: Aaron Chan (The Black Sheep)

The team was down with the flu bug mid-week and some of our players may not have fully recovered from their illness prior to the Balestier match. Nonetheless, we hope that they will be fighting fit this coming Saturday.

As for the Black Sheep, we will continue the cheering, singing and chanting all the way, even if we are down, even if the odds are stacked against us. Ahmadulhaq puts it squarely for us: "We may be in the lower half of the sleague table, but our fans are without a doubt the Best in the Sleague! People of all ages, families, even the MP! With all the chantings, songs, confetti....etc, even when the result is against us... Take a bow, U guys R the best!!!!"

Onward to Jurong West! Never Surrender!

(Our opponent watch on Gombak United will be up soon. Do watch out for it.)
Superfan Faisal.
Photo Credit: Aaron Chan (The Black Sheep)