A Wet and Stormy Night in Penang

A view of Penang, including the stadium

On Saturday 23rd July, Penang played host to Selangor in a Malaysian Super League encounter, the top tier of Malaysian football. The setting was the 20,000 capacity Penang City stadium which is situated in Georgetown, Penang state. Georgetown is famed for the range of food they have to offer as well as the street art which brings the city to life. However, the art of football in Penang perhaps needs resurrecting.

Penang are a struggling club and rooted to the bottom of their 12 team league. We were warned by local supporters of the growing discontent at the team’s performances and the strong possibility of the fans making this known during games: a tone reminiscent of that I recently faced when making another sunny seaside trip, that time to see Blackpool.

Selangor, meanwhile, are flourishing and represent the state which contains the capital of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur. Selangor are comfortably sat in third position and are in a rich vein of form having not lost in six games. The ‘Red Giants’ stadium has a massive 80,000 capacity which dwarfs that of their island opposition and has accommodated multiple big name teams including Barcelona and Chelsea.

In the last meeting between the two clubs, in April, Selangor won 1-0. However, with the home advantage and the pressure mounting on Penang the match was maybe destined to be closer in reality than on paper. Nevertheless, if I were a betting man and if betting had been legal in Malaysia I would have hedged for Selangor in this match. Myself, my two friends I was travelling with and some locals made up our group which was in attendance.

“Birdman” enjoying the occasion

Lightning lit up the sky on our arrival to the stadium while the rain poured down. I have never brought an umbrella to a football match and you would probably be mocked at a lot of clubs in England for doing so. However, in the tropical monsoon weather we were faced with, I was happy to take a leaf from the Prawn Sandwich Brigade manual of “how to be a football fan” and carry one over me.

The lightning continued and after the voyage across to the stadium, we were told the match may have to be cancelled. Thankfully, however, several strokes of the turf and looks to the heavens later by the officials, the match was decided to be playable. It would kick off at 9.30 giving extra time for the brightly blue, white and yellow coloured Penang mascot, “Birdman”, to flap about. He was great entertainment for the home fans and helped lift the atmosphere as well as rile the away end into a frenzy.

The match, with 5,875 in attendance, was a colourful affair. Both teams had certainly been inspired by Portugal winning the Euros as they demonstrated a wide range of dives and rolls. We agreed on the standard to be on par with League 2/Non-League in the English tiers. On occasions both teams displayed glimmers of quality, but this was accompanied by some hapless attempts at playing football that Sunday league teams would be embarrassed about.

The travelling fans of Selangor

The match was an evenly fought contest in the early stages with both teams having chances. In fact, in shock fashion the first goal went to Penang in the 26th minute: A low menacing cross from the left got a touch from Jeong Seok-Min, the South Korean midfielder, to put it past the Selangor keeper. However, the opposition bounced back and stepped up the intensity with prolonged periods of possession. They made this count in the 33rd minute through a towering header from the big centre forward, Patrick Ronaldinho. His 6 ft 1 height made it an uncontested jump, however, his height was not his only attribute. His prowess on the ball and ability to run at Penang made him a real threat all game. If people had come to watch the other “Ronaldinho” mistakenly then the big Liberian’s performance would surely have provided some consolation.

With the scores level, the game found some rhythm and Selangor continued to dominate into the second half. While there were chances both ends, neither team could find the winning goal and it finished 1-1. 

James Pilcher, left, with Birdman, two friends and a couple of locals

Watching a Malaysian Super League match was a fantastic experience which provided entertainment throughout. The atmosphere was unique and different to British football by the lack of chanting but instead a solid selection of songs sung with an instrumental accompaniment. In particular, the Selangor Ultras were not short on voice and maintained a carnival atmosphere throughout the game. They gave us a sample of a number of different songs with the pick for me being a vibrant rendition of the 2010 World Cup official song, ‘Wavin’ the flag’. Further to this, both sets of fans display of passion was no less than in England and they made their emotions apparent to both players and referee. 

With Selangor being favourites at the being of the day, it once again proves the unpredictability of football where ever you are. While Selangor may be able to blow teams away at their 80,000 seater stadium, this does not mean that they can cut it on a wet and stormy night in Penang.

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