I made my first trip to the Stadium Negeri Sarawak in July to watch home side Sarawak FA take on Felda Utd in the Malaysian Super League.
For someone who isn’t local the first thing I will mention is how inexpensive the tickets are, we paid the top price for the Grandstand and they were RM25 each (about £5.00/$6.60). To access top flight football in any Country that is very good value for money.
The Stadium Negeri is on a complex of stadia both indoor and outdoor and holds a respectable 26000 spectators, sadly for this evening kick off there were only around 1500 people in attendance. When you compare this to the UK there are some Southern Premier league clubs getting that level of attendance.
Everything seems so stagnated here. To fund a Super League team the state government have to pump in around 25 million Ringgits per season to maintain it – this was information given to me by a local youth coach.
Now whilst tickets are relatively cheap, they would have to be for the local population, there doesn’t seem to be much outreach. There doesn’t seem to be much made of the fact that Sarawak has a Super League football team, in fact the only Super league team in East Malaysia.
It is quite difficult to find information locally, the clubs website has not been updated since 2014. Facebook pages seem to have some but not regular information. Matches get reported in local newspapers but there does not seem much evidence of trying to attract the next generation of supporters to what could be a great community club.
A city the size of Kuching could easily be filling a 26,000 seater stadium and with the right promotional programme and outreach I personally think this is achievable, or at least improving attendances – kids go free with a paying adult would be where I would start.
I need to put this in context though as I am of course trying to make a comparison to top flight English football, and there simply is no comparison.
Firstly, as was evident in this particular match, the standard of football is lacking, in all honestly I would say from what I saw it is around the level of the National League in the UK.
This in itself may be a reason for low attendances. Another reason could be that Sarawak are perenial strugglers (Update: At the season close in October Sarawak were actually relegated to the Malaysian Premier League). Nobody likes to see a team struggling, at least their local team anyway. A team that is struggling for form season-on-season is a hard one to motivate and a hard team to create an identity around.
In addition, if the state government are funding most of it then the playing budget itself must be lower than that of the big clubs like 2016 champions Johor.
Johor as an example own their own stadium, they have there own youth academy. Sarawak FA by comparison rent their stadium from the state government and there seems to be little to no infrastructure at youth level.
For me this is a huge shame, Kuching is an amazing city, a relaxed, hospitable and tolerant society. There are a lot of kids who could get involved at youth level. Among the Kampungs there could be a few gems waiting to be unearthed and release their talent, and maybe the future of the club needs to go this route.
As you can see this is not your usual football report. In fact I am writing this quite a lot after the event so a match report is no longer relevant or suitable.
Other comments I would make are these:
- It’s a great stadium, mainly concrete built but a place to call ‘home’
- there is a nice buzz outside the stadium before kick off with food and drinks sellers, merchandise, my son got a scarf!
I will go and have a look next season as they embark on a Premier League campaign. Maybe the lower level of football will bring with it some success and with success may come some momentum to drive the club forward.