AFF Championship: Singapore fans make the trip north to support Lions
The match took place 30 years ago, but Lions fan Othman Shah Maricar still remembers Singapore’s 2-2 draw with hosts Sarawak in the first leg of the 1993 Malaysia Cup semi-finals.
After the tense encounter at Kuching’s State Stadium, some Sarawak fans climbed over the stadium’s fences, tore up seats in the away end and threw them towards the Singapore supporters. The police had to step in to ensure the visitors’ safety.
“In those days, things were a lot more heated,” said the 69-year-old secretary of the Singapore Die-Hard Fans club. “We knew the Sarawak fans were very hostile and they started tearing up seats and hurling them at us. We had to be in police protection in the stadium for an hour after the game but thankfully no one was hurt.”
Like Othman, hundreds of Singaporean fans will make the 350km trip to Kuala Lumpur to watch the Lions take on Malaysia in their final Group B match of the AFF Championship on Tuesday.
It looks set to be a feisty clash at the 87,000-capacity Bukit Jalil National Stadium, with Singapore needing just a draw to go through to the semi-finals, while Malaysia must win.
But Othman, a property agent, played down safety concerns this time around. He said: “I think as long as we are friendly to our opposition fans, we will be fine. After that Sarawak match, I made sure to treat other fans with respect. We would take photos and bond with them and I even learnt a bit of Thai and Tagalog to converse with them. The human connection is very powerful.”
Othman and about 90 fans travelled in two coaches arranged by tour operator Akbar Hashim, who has taken precautions to ensure their safety.
Akbar, who has been arranging such tours for over 40 years, said: “We have done this exact same trip over 20 times. While we won’t know how aggressive the Malaysian fans are until we get there, I am familiar with the process. We secured tickets in the away end, which is at the opposite end and far away from where the Malaysian Ultras are seated in the stadium.”
The last time Akbar arranged an overseas bus trip for a football match was in 2018, when the Singapore Veterans and a selection side took part in the Sultan of Selangor’s Cup at the Shah Alam Stadium.
There are also fans who are travelling on their own to support the Lions on Tuesday. One of them is Eugene Low, who booked his ticket online and will be travelling by bus on a day trip.
While Low joined Akbar’s group in 2011, he decided to arrange his own trip this time around as he has to return to Singapore right after the game. Akbar’s tour package for this match does not include a day-trip option due to logistical issues.
“Following Akbar will probably be a safer option. I recalled having security escort us in and out of the stadium from the buses he provided. However, as Akbar did not offer a day-trip option, I decided to go on my own,” said Low, who expects to spend about $80 for the trip.
Asked if he is worried about his safety, the engineer said: “I will take precautions such as changing out of my Singapore jersey after the game before leaving the stadium.”
Another fan, Brandon Gan, will be making his maiden away trip to support the Lions. The 26-year-old will be travelling with a friend by plane and expects to spend about $200 on flights and accommodation.
Gan, founder of a YouTube football channel called “The Goal Difference”, does vlog entries about attending matches and is excited to meet fellow Singaporean fans in Kuala Lumpur.
This trip means extra special to him as his grandfather is Quah Kim Lye, who starred for the Lions in the 1960s and 1970s.
Gan, a university graduate, will also be taking safety precautions.
“I definitely wouldn’t wear my Singapore jersey to the match itself. Bukit Jalil has a capacity of over 80 thousand and if sold out, us Singapore fans will be severely outnumbered. I want to return home safe.”
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