Occasionally when seeking to build a rapport with Southeast Asians I will enquire about their favourite football team.
The answer, invariably and somewhat disappointingly, names a major European club such as Liverpool, Arsenal or AC Milan. In turn I’m usually asked what my favourite team is, with my answer often causing surprise.
Wearing the football jersey for one of these major European clubs appears a quite acceptable clothing choice across the region, particularly for working class males. I also remember stepping into a café in Kuala Lumpur and being shouted at as I accidentally stood between the customers and an English Premier League game showing on the shop television.
Indeed the one constant as I walk the streets of Southeast Asia late at night is the number of homes and shops tuned in, with varying degrees of reception and illicit recording quality, to these European games. And that is simply what can be seen from the streetfront, with impromptu games taking place out of sight in whatever space is available (as can be seen here).
This makes me curious about the relative disinterest in domestic football competitions throughout Southeast Asia. The standard of play is often low quality, the outcomes are potentially predetermined for betting purposes and there nothing of the glamour associated with the foreign premier leagues, but the competitions (mostly) keep going.
I’m guessing there is just enough sponsorship money to keep the competitions alive in spite of the atrocious behaviour of some
thugs fans (good morning, Surabaya) but I really don’t know.
Oh, and my favourite team? Well if was in Thailand I would reply “Buriram United” or if I was in Malaysia I would smile and say “the JDT Johor Southern Tigers”, but if I was anywhere else in the world the greatest team in the history of ever is… “Sriwijaya!”
Update: A deeper theme I initially intended to pursue in this post, the inferiority complex within regional football and an associated lack of respect and acceptance, was subsequently picked up on in a post here.