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Tuesday, June 22, 2004

ing-ger-landdd

When I was a kid of about 7 years old, I started to take a liking into the beautiful game of football. I kicked a ball for the first time at that age, although it wasn't really a ball, it was a flattened aluminium can.

I first went to a stadium to watch a proper game two years later. My best friend, Joe invited me along since his father was taking him. I still remember that game. Selangor vs Sabah in Shah Alam stadium. I learned the proper ettiquttes of watching a game in a stadium. It was then that I was first exposed to the real passion of the beautiful game.

I understood the passion and learned a lot of holy words from fellow supporters. Within those 90 minutes, football fans of the same team were united under one colour -- the colour of the team. The colour of your skin and your social status were not important. I saw construction workers in their safety boots scream and curse as loud as rich businessmen who drove Mercedes to the stadium.

After a while, I could even sing the official song of Selangor (Merah Kuning Lambang Kebanggaan). I knew all the players names at the back of my hand -- not only the first team, but the reserves as well. Selangor won the Malaysia Cup (the highest prize in Malaysian football) 3 consecutive times from 1995-1997. With the emergence of Astro, coupled with the bribery scandal which rocked the core of Malaysian football (more than a quater of ALL the league players were implicated) I switched attention to English football.

I thought I was passionate about the game. I was wrong. I did not learn the real meaning of passion until I came to the UK. If there's anybody who loves their football more than Brazilians, its the English. Anybody in England, regardless whether you are a fan or not, should make an effort to catch an England international game in the pub. I know a lot of friends who have TVs in their houses and prefer to watch it there. Well, they have no idea how much they are missing.

I just came back from England vs Croatia. My ears are still ringing. For starters, we went to the pub TWO hours before kick-off. All the seats were already taken. At least we managed to find a good spot to stand. Over the next hour, hoardes of people after work started coming into the pub. Around 6.45pm -- thats 1 hour before the kick-off, the capacity of the pub was breached. 200 people crammed into a small area, everybody standing side by side. Those who underestimated the importance of coming early were barred entry at the door. There was just simply no space to squeeze any more people in.

The atmosphere at the pub was second to none. Before the game starts, when the national anthem is sung, you get goose bumps listening to the whole pub sing along in unison. If hearing 200 drunk people around you sing God Save the Queen, albeit out of tone, doesn't give you a sense of belonging, then surely nothing can.

From the first whistle, people were singing and banging on the tables. Coupled by the fact that Croatia scored first, and even though England were losing, nobody stopped singing and cheering. I have been to enough England games to know their songs, and there is no better way to soak up the atmosphere than to sing along to Rule Brittania. Chants of Ing-Ger-Land are still vibrating through my head and my throat is sore from the screaming the name of Rooo-ney. Pop concerts are NOTHING compared to this.

Everytime a goal is scored, you are bound to see beer flying in the air. Why? Cause a lot of fat blokes, who are standing with a pint of lager in their hand get excited and start flinging their hands around, thus throwing all that good alcohol in the air. Nobody complains when the beer lands on their head -- everybody is too busy cheering. Doesn't matter if you are a stranger. Doesn't matter if you are a foreigner. As long as you don the England colours and support their team, you are one of them. You join strangers in a group hug. Random people shake your hands. Jubilant fans give you a high five. All united under one flag, one banner.

When we left the pub, the floor was as wet as a fish market. This was due to all the beer which was spilled and thrown in the air during the game. The bar staff were not unhappy at the mess they had to clean up, they were busying singing as well. Even after leaving the pub, everybody poured onto the streets and kept singing wholeheartedly.

I have seen a lot of games in my life. I have seen jubilant Selangor fans stand on their seats and stomp, causing a mini-earthquake within Shah Alam stadium. I have seen a dude fling his half eaten Ramli burger from the second tier of the stadium to the bottom tier cause he was unhappy with the referree. I have joined in countless number of Mexican waves. But nothing, and I mean nothing can compare to the atmosphere I experienced today. If there was anybody in that crowd who went in uneducated about the passion of the game, I can safely say that everybody left that pub with love of the game pouring out of their hearts.

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