Very late with this I know but my couch has missed me these past week and I can’t go on ignoring it any more. After 2 days of following them everywhere, my body failed me on this final day. Only time I got out of the house was to go to the stadium to attend the long awaited friendly match.
I know the staple matchday food and beverage for those going to Ashburton Grove involves plenty of alcohol but here in Malaysia, that is not our culture. Wondered if any season ticket holder came for this match and thought Arsenal played differently when viewed sober. Coffee is more the flavour around these parts and that is where I headed for 6 hours before the game.
With the beverage part done, it was time to head for the Bukit Jalil National Stadium. It was still a full 4 hours before kick-off when I arrived at the stadium. Despite the time and it being a working day, thousands of cars were already lining up to get into those parking bays. Just like the Grove, there’s a train line that runs right up to the doorstep of this stadium. A further look at the surrounding and I was impressed at the crowd building up at the gates of the stadium. It was the same at every entrance and the best part was, the gates weren’t even open yet.
Having time to spare, I walked around the ground to search for my ticket entrance. And good thing that I did, because I got to meet real local football legend. Abbas Saad, who played in the Malaysian League in the 90’s was present. He’s working as the pundit for the local sports channel now. Also within close proximity was coach M. Karathu. He just won the league with the Kelantan team in the recently concluded Malaysia Super League.
When the gates finally opened at 6pm, it was still a good 2 hours plus before the game. Before you know it, there was already a sea of red and white inside the stadium. Banners were paraded all around the ground. While majority of those are Arsenal supporters, the loyalty to our country was not forgotten. One banner proudly displayed “Gunners in my heart, Tigers are my soul”. Tigers of course is the moniker Malaysians used to describe our national team. National team coach K. Rajagopal came out first and went for a walk around the stadium. Receiving rapturous applause from everyone, acknowledging the work he’s done for the country.
The Arsenal came out about 7:30pm to have a stroll inside the stadium and the stadium went mad. When they came back out again for the actual warm-up, the 25k strong crowd were at the top of their voices. As per usual, those that are going to start the game will train separately from the rest of the squad. I don’t need to tell you who played, as I’m sure there’s plenty of sources already available out there. I’m also not doing what happen with the match for the same reason.
By the time kick-off arrived, the attendance has already swelled up to a very respectable 45k (bigger crowd than Shit Hart Lane). Atmosphere was reaching fever pitch as this will be a first for many in the stadium. This is actually my second time watching my beloved team play right before my eyes. I was there in 1999 when the likes of Tony Adams and Patrick Vieira came to town.
My only hope for the game was to watch the Tigers put up a strong challenge and for the Arsenal to have an injury free match. It was a typical display from Arsenal, tippy-tappy being the name of the game. Thus, I was far more interested in other areas of the action. What happens during defending of set-pieces, the defensive lines and vocal communication amongst the team. There were a few scares when Jack Wilshere went down after a challenge and when Kieran Gibbs received an elbow, both from the same player. But I’m glad both sides came out of it unscathed.
Normally when substitutes warm up in this stadium, they do it behind the goal. But the Arsenal ones elected to stay on the grass and do their own warm up just beside the sidelines. Probably attempting to disrupt the path of the linesman. There was also a wonderful picture that I managed to take. Samir Nasri helping Robin Van Persie to do up his GPS Tracker kit, although to an unknown person, it could very well be interpreted differently.
All in all, it was a comfortable win for Arsenal. As pleasant a first run-out of the pre season as you like. There’s nothing much to read from this game other than the fact that these players are slowly gaining back their fitness levels. Perhaps Arsenal should have scored more but I’m sure the dallying in front of goal like the Carlos Vela one will not happen in a competitive game. What’s more important is the connection that Arsenal made with the Gooners/Goonerettes from this part of the region. Fans came from the surrounding countries such as Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand and even Philippines. Something to remember and cherish for the rest of our lifetimes, especially as we were able to see a rarity in Tomas Rosicky scoring. Thank you Arsenal for coming to our shores again.