Voices From The Ground: Albirex Niigata (S) vs Myanmar

Myanmar fan club leader John Nanda.
Photo: Chris Peng

Chris Peng
The Unofficial S.League Podcast

Voices From The Ground: Albirex Niigata (S) vs Myanmar National Team - Logistical Blemishes Brightened By A Trio Of Bright Sparks

The Return of John (The Myanmar Fan)

Chris ( C ): Nice to see you again, how did you find the game?

John ( J ): We are very satisfied by the playing style, it is quite okay!

C: You look and sound equally tired, what’s going on?

J: It’s all about the security staff and our fans, it’s not very good.

C: (At this point, my interest was piqued) What happened?

J: They tried to scold our fans. Some of our fans wanted to watch the match but were late, and while they tried to explain to the security staff, they were kept outside. They are just fans, not bad guys but they were kept outside. Perhaps it's a staff member from Albirex Niigata, he’s wearing their shirt. If anything is wrong, he should have just explained properly. We are very disappointed.

C: The staff scolded Myanmar’s fans who were stuck outside the gates?

J: Due to limited seats, the fans were not allowed to enter. That’s fine, the staff should have explained properly, scolding them was unnecessary.

C: I will reflect that accordingly.

J: The staff member was rude, I can understand that he is under pressure. But the fans were just trying to support our team.

C: We can all learn from it, perhaps the crowd turn out was too overwhelming!

J: It’s not the first time we are here, we, fans from Myanmar have attended 20-30 games at the likes of Jalan Besar Stadium. We can communicate well, our fans are really good.

(Writer's Note: We will have to note that not many of them speak fluent English, which can lead to misunderstandings due to a language barrier.)

J: (Continued to explain why he was frustrated) The staff members are inexperienced, they could have managed properly, they could have distributed tickets better and had better crowd control.

C: If he was indeed a member from Albirex Niigata, perhaps the club needs to do some self-reflection.

J: Yes, the fans could have been better organized, perhaps to sit outside, if there’s any trouble, just call the police!

C: (Thinking: Sitting on the floor outside could turn out badly as we wouldn’t want a potential human stampede) I don’t think anything disruptive was done, the Police aren’t needed, we just need to communicate properly.

(Moving on from our security related discussion ) I understand your concern regarding the security. You mentioned that you enjoyed the game?

J: (Beams) Yes! I am very proud of my team! I am very satisfied with my team. A good game for both the teams.

C: Both teams did a lot of attacking, the finishing touch was not there, unfortunately.

J: Yes, the finishing needs to be improved by a lot!

C: This is your country’s first team. Aung Thu, the Yadanarbon striker who scored against Home United in the AFC, started in this game.

J: (Turns into an interviewer): So how did you find the game?

C: (I was slightly startled and took a good second to regain my composure) I think that it’s a good game, very entertaining as both sides went for the ball offensively. It’s a great game for the neutrals, too bad lots of chances went awry.

J: I think that Albirex was just playing the game as if it was a friendly. (!)

C: (Shocked) What about your country? Do you feel that they were doing their best?

J: Yah! They are trying to practice for the next qualifying game.

C: What made you say that Albirex wasn’t playing at their full capacity?

J: I watched them play a S.League game, they were playing better. Especially their number 7 and number 10. (Ryoto Nakai and Kento Nagasaki). Today they were playing as if it’s just a friendly game.

C: (At this point, I was thinking that "Did Kento Nagasaki scored the sublime free kick in a friendly way? Okay!") You are a Balestier fan due to the presence of the Myanmar players. In an earlier interview, we also mentioned that Balestier Coach Marko needs to make some changes. If you could change any of Balestier’s foreign players with anyone from Myanmar, who would it be and why?

J: Aung Thu for sure! Creative and fast. He was easily the best player tonight.

C: Right, one more midfielder and a defender perhaps? Who's the best midfielder in your country?

J:Honestly, I don’t think that our defense is really good, they are old. I will settle for just Aung thu and our number 7.

C: I will reflect all these! Thanks for inviting us for tonight’s game. (At this point, John's friend and namesake John Nanda sings from afar: "We love the unofficial S-League Podcast!")

You love us? Thank you so much!

John was clearly proud of his country’s display but not very happy at how his countrymen were treated by the gates. He also felt that while their build-up play was at times superb, the last ball was sorely lacking. It sounds like a problem which Balestier Coach Marko would concur with.

It was good to hear from this die hard fan again. You can always trust him to come up with some colourful quotes. At least this time he didn’t complain that Kento Nagasaki’s goal was offside.

Interview with Myanmar’s Fan Club leader, the famous John Nanda!

Chris (C): How did you find the atmosphere today? Are you happy with the turn out for your National team?

John Nanda (N): (Looking less than excited) So far it’s alright. The seating is limited, we have about 700 of us here. Frankly, it’s not enough, there are another 100-200 fans outside who were not allowed to enter. I understand that there are rules and regulations. For every matter, there’s a by-right and a by-left. There should be more respect for our passion and federation.

C: My guess is that we underestimated the level of support, hence we didn’t make the terrace seats opposite the grandstand available. Now that we have witnessed the passion shown by the Burmese fans, perhaps in the future, we can make some allowances...

N: (At this point he interrupts, not because he was rude but because he was getting emotional. I could sense the fire burning in his belly, so I let him speak freely.) We have shown our standards back then in the 2014 Suzuki Cup. Most Singaporean fans will know that we are solid fans in Singapore. We deserve more seats. It’s not about whether we are seated in the grandstand or the gallery. It doesn’t matter if it’s ticketed or free, we should have more space for our fans.

C: So in the future, you guys are hoping to have more seats...

N: (speaks with passion again) I definitely hope so! I can promise to fill up the stands.

C: Maybe you guys can start by giving Balestier Khalsa a little more support?

N: It’s different! This is the national team. You know, for the likes of Hougang United, they do have fans. As you know, Balestier isn’t doing that well. Their playstyle isn’t to our liking and while they have Burmese players, they are ex-national players, not current ones. It’s two different levels together.

C: Two different levels indeed, tonight we definitely witnessed some superior players and skills from your team. They did well.

N: For the first home game at Balestier Khalsa, we did promote it and encouraged fans to come and support them. However, eventually, the fans disappeared.

C: So you guys came and left eventually?

N: It’s not only about the players, it’s also about the coach. The players did very well, especially number 24 (Hazzuwan Halim). I don’t understand why Myanmar fans, they may not be interested.

C: (Puzzled) So it’s about the team?

N: Yes, not about the fans!

C: So if the team plays well...

N: (Interrupts me passionately ) Because they cannot be compared to the national team! For the national team, win, lose or draw, we will cheer. Winning is just a bonus. We win in the stands.

C: Today you guys did show your spirit in the stands indeed.

N: (Yet again.) We are not hooligans! We are just aggressive when we are cheering the team on, during that 90 minutes of play.

C: Definitely, I will pen down this entry and hopefully there will be more seats available for your fans in the future.

N: (nods enthusiastically) Definitely! I hope so.

C: Double the seats perhaps?

N: Yes! Look at this stadium with all these empty seats!

C: Next time when Myanmar is back, may the seats be filled. Once again, congrats!

What a passionate fan and a worthy fan club leader. He interrupted me umpteen times not because he was rude, but because of his enthusiasm. Just like (the other) John, he feels strongly for his countrymen. While John didn’t like the way his countrymen were treated, John Nanda wasn’t happy at the hundreds of fans who were turned away. These are two true blue fans indeed and I felt honored to have been able to document their riveting range of emotions.

Logistical Blemishes

Clearly, Albirex Niigata was overwhelmed by the number of Burmese supporters. There were not enough seats and stewards allocated to create a pleasant experience for everyone. Naturally, when nerves were frayed, people will be less than polite and will fire off. The language barrier didn’t help. Perhaps in the future, (when a national team is involved) the fan club leaders can communicate their numbers to the host directly, while the host will deliver the relevant set of instructions to both the national team as well as the fan club committee.

Prior communications can really smoothen the transition between a plan and the execution. Surely if Albirex Niigata (S) knew that there would be at least 1,000 Burmese fans, they would have made the opposite gallery available and have enough hands on the ground to facilitate the flow of fans. That would have rendered the problem with rudeness and a lack of seats null and void. Perhaps this is a chance for everyone to learn how to work better together.

The Bright Sparks - A Great Game

Compared to many S-League games which end up being dull drabs, this club versus country encounter was a cracking one. The tempo was kept at a high level and it was a treat for the neutrals. Albirex had their feathers ruffled repeatedly and if the Burmese displayed better finishing, the game would have seen more than one goal.

The fitness of both teams was exemplified by the fact that no one stopped running up until the end. The slow setting fatigue did not result in any late tackles borne out of frustration and clearly, both teams were disciplined and knew exactly what to do. Last but not least, Kento Nagasaki’s perfectly drilled free kick proved to be a sensory delight. What a match!

Another bright spark, or should I say a stretch of sparks showcased itself whenever I looked at the away support. How often do we witness a completely full grandstand with plenty of fans forced to stand or even tip-toe outside the gates just to catch a glimpse of their heroes?

For a second, I felt as if I was in a time machine and transported back to the year of 1996, where throngs of fans were turned away from brimming S.League stadiums.

The Nationalistic spirit displayed by the Burmese fans was something to be savored. As foreign nationals working in Singapore, witnessing their National team in action was probably a dream come true for lots of them. Myanmar is a vast country capable of holding approximately 1,000 Singapores within. I can fully understand how hard it would be for them to watch their national team back home and I am glad that they were able to enjoy this encounter with their heroes while they are away from home. Such heartwarming moments proved to be another bright spark for me.

From what I witnessed, the Myanmar fans were happy despite the logistical issues and it was amazing for me to see the Burmese fans erupting in cheers after their opponent’s goal. Clearly, they can appreciate a great goal when they see one.

Maybe like what John Nanda said, they will support the national team no matter what and winning is just a bonus. This cannot be further exemplified by the fact that the Albirex Niigata players also received a warm round of applause when they went to acknowledge the Burmese fans. The Albirex Niigata players are used to being well supported, but even they would have found the level of Burmese support overwhelming.

May this give the Albirex players motivation to scale greater heights in front of more fans, possibly inspiring them to play well enough to join the likes of Atsushi Kawata, the 2016 S.League Player Of The Year back at their parent club back in Japan.

Liverpool legend Bill Shankly had a immortalized line which said: "Some people believe that football is a matter of life and death. I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can ensure you that it’s much much more important than that."

Surely, John Nanda would agree with that. At the half-time interval, he proposed to his girlfriend with ply cards held up by his fellow fans. The unsuspecting lady probably expected that the cards were created in support of the National team. Little did she expect that she’s the star of his show, I mean his life and not Burmese star Aung Thu.

When the 'Marry Me ply cards were shown, the cat was out of the bag and the adoring crowd roared their approval when John Nanda went down on one knee and presented the ring to his blushing and overwhelmed girlfriend. She nodded her approval and true joy erupted around them.

People tend to propose at places dear to their hearts. It’s clear where John Nanda’s heart was placed. As long as he would love his wife like how he loves his team and countrymen, my gut feeling tells me that Mr. and Mrs. John Nanda would be a very happy couple indeed.

Congratuations to everyone who made both the match and the proposal happen!

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