End of Part 1

To all yaoi fan in Japan and Australia.

The future is Asia. Indeed, AFC. While Euro 12 is halted by a thunderstorm, Japan are already euh, quarter way to World Cup 14. Five points above their closest rivals and nemesis. Which are Iraq. With outstanding ten goals to one. In Group A, 2022 World Cup hosts Qatar are sitting pretty for their anticipated intercontinental playoff against New Caledonia Zealand after experiencing win, draw, and loss with two goals deficit.

Good old Japan. When they were terrible for their World Cup 2010 preparation, they scored two victories against Cameroon and Denmark. When they passed the Third Round below Uzbekistan with back-to-back defeats, now they are catching up with the girls’ brand of Chiki-Chaka (Japanese don’t say ‘t’). It worked well against Oman and Jordan, although some works need to be done against the Wallabies-trained Socceroos.

Yes, Australia vs Japan match last Tuesday was painful to watch thanks to erratic referee Khalil al Ghamdi. Australia might have deserved a penalty after several harassment on Alex Brosque (I was afraid that Osieck had chosen Kennedy instead of him), but that was just bizarre. Yuzo Kurihara is really something. Well, as fate has it, if Yoshida’s made recovery he’ll guard the centre back again against Iraq on September, even if the pretty late bloomer has shown how adept he is in goalscoring. After that nerve-racking match, watching the second half of Korea – Lebanon felt so relaxing.

Japan 2012 see the glorious return of Keisuke Honda, after his injury, failure to leave Russia, and probably personal self-doubt after all the limelight moved to Shinji Kagawa. It was charming (both for Australia-Japan friendship enthusiasts and yaoi fans) to see he and Tim Cahill, all topless, sharing their love for number four and their disgust for al Ghamdi. Even Don Al and Holger were in good mood after the game, although Osieck knows fans might berate him for failing to collect three points after two games (not really. At least the press are still optimistic), at the same year with the epic failure of the Olyroos.If Australia are so confident the draws mean they’ll be alright against Iraq, good for them. See the good side – for the next time they’ll host Oman and probably give them 5 pm kick off as well, Japan have proven that Jordan’s crap, and they are likely to draw Japan again in a Tokyo satellite city.

Korea, on the other hand, have shown that they don’t need Park Chu-Young for now (given how much jeong attention I’ve given to the man, I’m surprised he hasn’t written a comment yet). No, Ji Dong-Won, the number 10, is not even on the starting lineup. No, not Lee Dong-Gook either, who hasn’t repeated his comeback against Kuwait last February. But rather, collective of players who are playing around the pond, with the exception of Koo Ja-Cheol.

I hope that the C.Y. problem can be sorted out and he can play in Brazil 14. Personally I think his decision to seek more troubles is unwise, seeing how he’s wasted in Arsenal and how he had disappointed Lille. Put it this way: as much as I’m against national service, the Republic of Korea is still at war, and many Korean men who have equally crucial priorities in their lives cannot do something such as applying permanent residency in Monaco (a Greek-Australian told me that many Greek teens are sent by their families to live with relatives in Australia and playing football while over there, in order to avoid draft. Greece, of course, would be much more lenient than Korea).

In early September, the cards would be shuffled again. Would an Olympic star win his place in the senior team? Would Chu-Young be the prodigal son? Can Japan, improbably, have a forward surplus? How’s Schwarzer going to celebrate his hundredth cap for Australia? Meanwhile, it’s all not all holiday. Kagawa has to finalize the work permit and medical check up, dealing with global press, and well, learning English. At least Cahill’s new manager won’t expect him to learn Arabic. Even today Milligan, North, Spiranovic, McKay, and Brosque all have to go to work. It seems that only Honda can enjoy his summer holiday.

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Stop that, you’re embarassing me

Worst case scenario.

They are at it again. Less than a month after Blackburn Rovers’ demise from the English Premier League, another Asian group of owners of an English football club is toying with their new property. Cardiff City F.C., which will play in English Football Championship, are known as the Bluebirds. Despite the fact that their new crest shows a red dragon with “Fire and Passion” motto below it (which is, of course, closer to a dragon’s traits than a bluebird), and then, at the bottom, is the smaller bird. Like many people in Britain, Singapore, and Malaysia have already known, the Bluebirds’ home shirt is red. Perhaps with good results, it’s hoped that when they reach the Premier League, their nicknames would have changed to The Red Dragons.

Months ago the colour change seemed like an awful idea, especially since the Blackburn downfall showed how tragedy could befall reckless owners who take club ownership as a subsidiary which happens to be in England. Of course, if you look it from Venky’s perspective, there’s no tragedy. They are still the owners, the boards cannot think of anyone richer than them interested to buy the club, and Steve Kean is still the manager since the Indians cannot think of a British more yes-man than he is. For now.

Like Venky’s, Vincent Tan and Chan Tie Ghee want the best for the investments. That’s what do businessmen do (disclaimer: my stream in high school was Business and I was an average student). They know that Venky’s is doing something wrong. A team playing in blue-white color with red rose crest isn’t going to scare anyone, although they were the 1995 Premier League champions. If the bluebirds want to get into the Premier League, they have to channel the spirit of the red dragon. Instead Tan and Chan would ponder: “Why don’t the Welsh call for their ancestors’ guardian dragon? Instead sticking with some puny birds and black swans?”

The Desai siblings only enact Indian business perspective in handling Blackburn. Berjaya Group’s chairman Vincent Tan and Cardiff City chairman Chan Tien Ghee (what he did before is my guess as yours) apply the Chinese-Malaysian cultural perspective. Cardiff City’s drubbing by West Ham in the play offs have shown that blue shirt doesn’t work. If the fans want Cardiff to succeed, they have to have a better luck. Red, of course, is the lucky color. They must have consulted Malaysia’s leading feng shui experts who agree that Cardiff’s potential is hindered by their color of choice. Blue might work for Chelsea, but that’s because their crest features a standing lion which spits fire – a guardian spirit. And Chelsea’s crest has good amount of red icons. Hence the crest change. Successful businessmen Tan and Chan won’t let a club tradition stands in the way of Chinese tradition.

So, will Cardiff fail to reach the Premier League come May 2013? You bet. Fans are ready to boycott the game, the controversy will interfere with the players’ morale, Malky Mackay will wonder if next week is the week he’s summoned to Kuala Lumpur, and even as a Chinese I know that a good investment is not a red shirt with a dragon emblem, but better training, payroll, tactics, etc. But I don’t own McDonald’s Malaysia and I don’t have Mahatir Mohamed’s mobile number, so what do I know. What do Cardiff supporters know.

Asian ownership of English football clubs is viewed negatively by a good reason. Even the Americans still get the wrong idea that lack of trip to England, lack of in-depth knowledge of football (really, should businessmen know what they are investing on?), and the demand for instant results can ensure success for their property. Abramovich can finally get what he wants for two reasons – first, he has to stay in England since Russia is too hot for a Jewish “oligarch” like him. Second, he doesn’t saturate Chelsea with Russian sponsors. Even the Russians didn’t celebrate too hard when Chelsea won the FA Cup and the UEFA Champions League.

Malaysian owners, like QPR’s Tony Fernandes and Tan & Chan, are closely connected to the government. That’s the only way to become a tycoon in Southeast Asia. They built their business through connections with the government party UMNO, with high times in 1980s and 1990s. Getting used to the patronage and favour systems, they handle all business like they do in Malaysia, including in owning an English club. Fernandes’ years of studying and working in England and the influence of his friend Richard Branson have made him understood the Western business culture and English football culture better than other tycoons, although he often gets away with tough questions such as Joey Barton and Neil Warnock with “I’m new with this. I have to ask the panel of experts.” At least it’s better than the East European approach – “I’m the boss and you’re not a real man.”

The Malaysian tycoons, however, don’t own all the money. They work for the government’s party, but they own big fortune since donation to political party is informally mandatory, not voluntary like in United States or United Kingdom. Middle Easterners who own Manchester City and Paris St. Germain, on the other hand, are the government – thus Abu Dhabi and Doha can buy players and fast-track success the way Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok can’t.

Last question: Why do Asian tycoons buy English clubs? Simply, English Premier League is the only football eague watched in much of Asia. With every passing year, most of Asia are decreasingly interested at La Liga or Serie A, with exceptions such as in Indonesia and Japan. No tycoon expects that by owning QPR, Leicester City, or Cardiff, they can “sell shirts in Asia”. That’s not their goal. Asians will always buy shirts of Manchester United, Barcelona, Real Madrid, and it will take several more seasons before Manchester City shirts sell (which can be helped if they switch to Adidas or Nike). There’s also no way they will help a Malaysian, Indian, or Thai young prospect to grow in England (except if Cardiff enrolls Nick Chan. He’s the chairman’s son).

Their goals are first and foremost, pride. Abramovich was the pioneer and everyone wants to emulate him. Of course, they can’t be like the Arabs and their allowances only permit them to buy Championship and mid-bottom Premier League clubs. But that’s more than enough. They can put in Malaysian and Thai private and governmental brands on the shirt, behind the manager at press conference, and they can call their rival on Sunday night to discuss that Djibril Cisse’s act. We play fantasy football and FIFA. They own the real Kenny Miller, Kieron Dyer, and Kasper Schmeichel. Like we hope that the more we play the more we can trade Dyer for Gareth Bale, they want the real thing. So they can be either impatient when the club can’t reach Europa League spot after three seasons, or like in the case of Blackburn, stand up for the unpopular manager who defends them uncritically.

In conclusion, like everything else in their lives, the moguls want success. They want their clubs to become a household name in the Premier League. A surprise “giant killer” in the FA Cup (giant refers to the top four clubs). If the fans dislike their ways, then be it. In their eyes, as they are told since childhood, the public is like ignorant children who don’t know better.

Support your local club

The night after Internazionale, Robbie Fowler, and Michael Mols (he was Glasgow Rangers’ top striker in 1999, before bumping onto Oliver Kahn) visited Indonesia, ESPN Asia showed two news items on Indonesian football. First item – the negotiation between the FA and the Pro Footballers Association (including star striker Bambang Pamungkas, who was not in the friendly against Internazionale. A naughty boy for standing up against the FA). Second item, a brawl between Persija Jakarta and Persib Bandung which left three people died. The video accompanying the news showed Persija supporters, clad in orange shirts, hitting on some unidentified person(s) on the stand.

The next day, the story became headline in Bandung newspapers but not in Jakarta’s. The first dead victim had been identified – a Jakartan who happened to wear blue shirt, the color of Persib Bandung. Two people were not identified yet, but one of them was a teenager. When all victims had been identified, only one was confirmed to be Bandung-born – the two others were locals.

Jakartan newspapers, however, erroneously described the incident as ‘brawl between Persija and Persib supporters’. If it was a brawl between opposing supporters, we would have seen dozens of orange shirts against dozens of blue shirts. But that wasn’t what ESPN and several local channels showed. A Persija firm was quoted to blame Persib supporters for starting the incident – online. Then he blamed Persib supporters for still showing up in Jakarta, denying them their rights to support their team. He also admitted that Persija’s ultras demanded to see IDs of people they suspected to come from Bandung. Media agreed that the police didn’t offer enough protection for the Persib team and to any away supporter.

Last weekend, a rumor was spreading throughout BlackBerry Messenger (and text messages, for those unlucky enough to have Android and Windows phones rather than BB) – cars sporting Jakartan plates would be hunted down in Bandung for revenge. Many Jakartan residents visit Bandung for weekend trip and the rumor did unsettle many of them. Persib had a match on Saturday which went peacefully, and its firms handed out flowers for cars entering Bandung.

The media coverage and the rumor showed a glaring difference between football culture in Jakarta and Bandung. First, in Indonesia no Chinese will watch a football match in a stadium. It’s the same rule like in South America, half of Europe (which some unfortunate Asians experienced in Ukraine), and half of Southeast Asia. But in Bandung, many middle class Chinese love Persib Bandung. They buy the merchandise, their mood is affected by the result, and they know the players. Bandung newspapers show previews and reviews at the headline and the sports page. They tune in for the match, even if they never dream to enter the stadium. They also avoid the streets before and after the match.

In Jakarta, however, the middle class upward shows no care for Persija Jakarta. They don’t know the players, they care not about the team, and the media care only about the national team and top clubs in England, Spain, and Italy. When the police are capturing the perpetrators of the tragedy, they are uncovering another one – kids boasting on their Facebook their act of violence, complete with photos – on personal accounts with their real names and phone numbers listed. In the precinct they said “Well I did it for Persija! That idiot didn’t wear orange shirt and wasn’t look happy when we scored, so I guessed he was some Persib goon!”

That kind of statement, added with the spreading of Bandung rumor, terrified me on what has happened to Jakarta. Everywhere, angry men from the slums and the projects look forward for the matchday for a reason – they can be kings in the stadium and on the streets. The level of supporters’ violence and brutality correspond with the national level of corruption and poverty, although I’ve heard that Swedish stadiums could be unsettling as well. Bandung ultras’ attitude are somewhat controlled by focused attentions from Bandung media and middle class, who advocate fair play and rationality through Twitter, newspapers, and programs on local channels.

Unfortunately, I have the impression that Jakarta’s middle class – all, not just the Chinese – steers away from Persija and not only because they are terrified with the ultras. In the capital, local football is seen as a poor man’s game, and a proper affluent person would only pay attention to Internazionale and the national team (because nationalism is cool here). The disengagement, even if it’s not realized by both classes, prevents the check and balance culture that is working in Bandung. The sub-working class is thinking that Persija is their pride against the world, and even might desire for the shock values of their violence and defiance. Your color might be red and blue, sucker, but mine is orange.

In the 1980s, when the league was still semi-pro, rivalries between Persija and Persib had been developed, along with Persebaya Surabaya. When the professional league was developed in the 1990s, Jakartan middle class looked at some others glitzier clubs, especially Pelita Jaya, which recruited Roberto Donadoni and Roger Milla. Now that PJ has moved out of the proper capital, Persija is still the only Jakartan team, and its working-class root and image are only hardened.

Outside Europe, we Asians have the privilege to choose our favorite EPL team. MU or now MC? Chelsea or Arsenal? And we can mock our friends whose favorite team loses for this week as if they are native of that city. I can only imagine that as an Englishman, you can’t feel love for another team but your hometown, or your parents’. My best friend’s father hails from Charlton, London, and he cannot bring himself to love Arsenal, although his son does. We are bemused by Europeans who ask “I’m going to move to this city in Asia. Which club do you recommend?”, as we care not for Asian clubs. In Australia I was relieved to see that many Asian-Australians don’t care at all about Australian rules football or rugby (or any team sport for that matter), but I was also impressed by Asians who went to the stadium to support Melbourne Victory or the Socceroos.

I’m still yet to see any club football beyond on the television. My first and only football match so far was Australia v France friendly in 2001. I don’t dream I can see Persib or anything while in Indonesia. I would only able to come to a football stadium in Singapore, Australia, Hong Kong, Canada, and so on (yes, club football in Australia was also a vicious affair before 2005-06). But that doesn’t hinder my feeling for Persib.

I don’t see how the middle class in Jakarta would support Persija. Perhaps they don’t have to. But if they can give a little care and attention for the city’s only football team, it may help the city a bit.