After my unsuccessful quest to watch a Premier League match in my one night stay in Hong Kong, I wanted to see what the soccer world had to offer in Malaysia. In terms of trying to find soccer, Malaysia was a game of two halves; the hustle and bustle of the city and the peaceful tranquillity of the islands.
After three planes in 24 hours and a surprisingly accommodating night in an airport, I headed to the Kuala Besut jetty to board the first boat to the Perhentian Islands.
From my research before arriving at the islands, I knew it would was very remote, but didn’t imagine anything compared to the reality. Electricity was turned off after 7pm. There were only three boats to mainland per day and you couldn’t book accommodation. The only way to guarantee a bed for the night was to get the 8:30am boat to the beach, then it was a free-for-all between me and 20 others to try and find a room.
I sensed that I wouldn’t be getting my usual daily fix of soccer whilst on this tiny stretch of beach.
After two days of waiting, Saturday finally came around. As the island was so small and everyone either didn’t speak English or wished me ‘good luck’ when I asked where I could find WiFi, I challenged myself to simply find out the day’s results; something that I could usually muster up in a matter of seconds back home in England. Even a task that seemed so simple took hours of searching.
I stayed on the smaller of the two islands, Perhentian Kecil, where there were only two beaches with places to stay or eat. The only TV screen I managed to find was one being used to show a safety video for scuba divers going down to the reef.
On Perhentian Kecil, there’s a routine that most people stick to: Wake up, swim, snorkel, trek through the jungle and party on the beach at night. Unlike most other beaches where you spot a volleyball game or people playing catch, there were no signs of any ball games anywhere.
The restaurants claimed to have WiFi, but were pretty hesitant to give out the username or password. After trying Mie Goreng (a traditional Malaysian dish) from four different shacks, it took me until the Tuesday to finally pick up one bar of WiFi. It was a painful wait trying to load BBC’s soccer page, but it was worth it considering my team Middlesbrough had ended their Sheffield Wednesday hoodoo with a 3-1 win at Hillsborough.
Kuala Lumpur was completely the opposite. The trees were replaced with skyscrapers. Clear waters replaced with thousands of people and the dry sun replaced with clouds and humidity.
We made the journey to the city in a taxi and the entertaining taxi driver gave me a tour of his hometown just outside the city center.
He was a very proud man who kept telling me all about his cars, how many chickens and cows he owned and showed me where he used to play soccer as a kid. It looked like a very poor farming area, with goats roaming around everywhere but everyone seemed to be happy and content.
The goalposts were homemade from bamboo and the patch of grass they played on was shared with chickens and wild dogs. About 30 children were playing around one goal, but they all looked like they were having the time.of their lives.
What their playing surface lacked in quality, it more than made up with enthusiasm for the game.
As we came closer to Kuala Lumpur, my driver/tour guide showed me the schools that were ran by the government. The facilities were in such a contrast to the farming area — the soccer pitches at the schools in pristine condition and seating was available for spectators to watch.
Unlike my experience in Hong Kong and the Perhentian Islands, soccer was everywhere in Malaysia’s capital. As I walked around Bukit Bintang, the sport was shoved in my face in the form of pubs advertising live games and market stalls selling all kinds of jerseys, albeit mostly counterfeit.
Even when I finally got out of site of the pubs and stalls, when I arrived at the hotel and put my backpack down, I was amused to find I had been provided with a Manchester United towel to use during my stay.
I left Kuala Lumpur for Indonesia on a Tuesday night when there was a full set of Championship fixtures, so I wore my Boro jersey with pride. Whilst queuing to check in, I heard the name ‘Adam Johnson” from behind, in between a number of other words that made no sense to me.
Next in line were about 20 young Malaysian boys, head to toe in tracksuits traveling abroad for a tournament. They played for Felda United FC, a Malaysian club who played Liverpool in a pre-season friendly losing 7-0 with Danny Ings scoring a hat-trick.
One of the boys began to talk to talk to me about the transfer window, as deadline day was fast approaching. He spoke English well and told me how he wanted Manchester City to land Kevin De Bruyne. He believed if they did this, they would be too hot for other Premier League teams to handle and would have their hands on a third title in May.
I was impressed with Malaysia, especially getting to see how the game is played and the facilities that were so different from back in England, and more recently Hong Kong.
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