I never really understood my Kong Kong's (Chinese for grandpa) love for fishing. Of course, the idea of a fisherman is often romanticized; the fisherman sitting beside a placid lake with nothing but his fishing stick, a bucket of bait and his day's catch while the sun sets over the water. But through personal observation of my beloved Kong Kong after a fishing excursion, I've discovered that fishing is more often a smelly, sweaty and bloody business (with pointy hooks involved).
But there I was, a few days ago: a fishing rod in my hand, the line slack as the bait lazily drifted in the water while a light rain pattered on the ground under a moonless night sky. Kong Kong had brought along three fishing rods on the family trip to Sepang beach, and somehow one of those rods ended up in my hands. As I tug on the fishing rod, attempting to make the bait "move through the water like a wounded fish" (like I saw once in a fishing documentary), my mind wandered elsewhere...
And like any red-blooded Malaysian male, my mind wandered towards football. Coincidentally, Malaysia had played Vietnam in the first leg of the AFF Suzuki Cup that very evening - and against all odds, Malaysia had won 2-0. It did surprise me, just like it probably surprised most of the football-watching population of Malaysia (and most probably, Vietnam too). Even the most optimistic of Malaysian fans wouldn't have expected a Malaysian team to defeat the much-fancied Vietnamese, especially since Malaysia had about 10 key players out injured.
What impressed me more, though, was not the win. Instead, it was the Malaysian coach, a certain Mr, Rajagopal, who impressed me with his pre-match interview. He spoke confidently, in perfect English, using phrases like "our team needs the right mentality" and "the boys need to realize that there is nothing to lose". It was refreshing, in a sense. And I was proud that at we had a local coach instead of a foreign one.
My mind was rudely brought back to Earth by the desperate tugging on my line. A bite! And this fish felt stronger than the previous four I had caught. Kong Kong urged me to "main" (play) with the fish, in other words, to let the fish swim around and tire itself out before I reel it in. And this is where the thrill of fishing is. The adrenaline kicks in as you realize another creature (which could be your dinner) was in a direct struggle with you through a fragile-looking fishing line.
This fish was different than the previous ones; it struggled way longer. Eventually, though, I brought it in. It was a catfish! And a good-sized one, too. Kong Kong told me (with a tinge of jealousy in his voice) that I was lucky; he had been fishing the whole day and hadn't had such luck.
That success, though, didn't stop my mind from wandering back to the Malaysian team. Whatever did happen to our team? Many of those from my generation have grown up hearing stories about "how great the Malaysian team once was". Even my mum, whose knowledge of football isn't that deep, told me in awe about how a Malaysian player once scored directly from a corner.
It was my dad, though, who gave me a lengthy talk on Malaysian football. A few excerpts from that talk are listed below:
"we were once at the level of South Korea and Japan. They were scared of us. But where are they now and where are we now?" (this was said after a South Korean match in the recent World Cup)
"we have 27 million people in Malaysia, but can't even put together 11 decent players for a football team"
"whatever happens, I will always put Malaysia above Manchester United in my list of favourite teams"
That last line embarrassed me a bit. Not because that statement was old-fashioned or "uncool", but because it was true. My personal belief is that Malaysians should put the national team above any other. But then that makes me a hypocrite. I wore a Manchester United jersey, after all, when Manchester United came to Malaysia to play against our best 11. And I couldn't name a Malaysian players to save my life.
But the Malaysian semi-final win did restore some hope. For me, at least. I really like this Rajagopal guy. And I now know the names of TWO Malaysian players. The winger, Kuna and the striker Sabri (I don't know their full names, don't push your luck).
By the time I left Sepang, I can proudly say that I've caught six fishes. Incidentally, that is the same number of fishes I've caught in my lifetime. Oh well, all in due time. Regarding the Malaysian team, maybe I don't have to wait until I'm six feet under before I hear "Negaraku" before a World Cup match. All in due time.
If one thing fishing has taught me, though, is that you need patience. And I believe that 11 decent players will emerge from among our millions if we are patient enough.
This Sunday, the Indonesian team will meet us in the finals. I hope my fellow Malaysians will urge our team on as we "main" the Indonesians - just as Kong Kong urged me on as I "main" and eventually caught my catfish.
P.S, The catfish tasted awesome, but a Malaysian victory would be taste way sweeter