SIVAN JOHN tells us what football means to him, and how family and friends have made him a fan of Huddersfield Town and Argentina, even though he’s from Malaysia.
People asked me all the time “what is this obsession you have with Huddersfield Town and Argentina?” They would go on by saying that “you don’t live in West Yorkshire” or “that’s not even your country”. To some extent they do have a point, but I like to remind people that football to me was more that. In my case, it has a lot to do with family and friends.
As a six-year-old kid growing up in Alor Gajah – a small town in the state of Melaka, Malaysia – we didn’t have that much entertainment around us. There was no such thing as an amusement park or even video game arcades. The fact is, even McDonald’s was non-existent around town back then. So, football played an integral part of our lives.
However, it took a while for me to fall in love with the beautiful game. Saturday morning cartoons such as Thundercats, He-Man and Ghostbusters took most of my time and attention back. Soon, that all changed when the World Cup in Mexico was about to get underway and my uncle found a perfect opportunity to hypnotise me with the beauty of football.
One afternoon after I was back home from pre-school, he told me to sit and watch a game which he had tape recorded on the VCR (that’s video cassette recorder for all you youngsters). It was an intense affair between two sides playing in the scorching Mexican heat at the Azteca stadium. Back then I didn’t know much about the historical significance of this game.
All I remember is watching this diminutive figure wearing the No.10 shirt for Argentina running past several England defenders and scoring one of the greatest goals in the history of the sport. Immediately afterwards, I decided to trade in my Sword of Omens for a pair of football boots. There was no turning back.
A few days later, I remember everyone talking excitedly about the World Cup final. I so badly wanted to watch the game, but my strict grandmother wouldn’t allow me to wake up in the early hours. There was no compromise when it came bedtime, so by 9pm I was already tucked in.
But my uncle was sporting enough that he woke me up quietly without my grandma’s knowledge so that I could watch the game because he knew I was deeply in love with this game and with the team that was destined to lift the trophy.
Since I wasn’t living with my parents, my uncle was the male role model for me at that time. He was a huge a Liverpool fan and had plenty of their players’ posters in his bedroom including a huge one of a diving Bruce Grobbelaar.
He played as a goalkeeper, so naturally Bruce was his idol. I used to follow him whenever he had football training. Usually, I would be playing with the kids around my age while he was kicking about with the older guys.
I recall one day, everybody at home was very excited to watch him play on television. It was then I learned that he was heavily involved with the football scene in Melaka. He told me once he did play alongside legendary Malaysian footballer Soh Chin Aun (apparently the house I was living at the time was bought my grandparents from him!).
When I was nine years old, my uncle got married and moved to England with his family. It would be the last time I saw him in almost 20 years. For some reason, our family lost touch with him when he left Malaysia. It was only in 2009 that we managed to locate him and discovered he was living in Huddersfield with his family.
Two years later, I decided to make the trip to England to catch up with him. When it came to family and football, we had a lot to talk about. And now that I had set foot in the country that gave football to the world, it was obvious that I had to attend at least one match to experience the atmosphere inside an English stadium.
Of course, the original plan was to attend a Premier League game. It didn’t matter whether it was Manchester United, Chelsea, Manchester City or Liverpool but unfortunately, we were unable to obtain tickets, so the plan didn’t materialise.
Nevertheless, my uncle came up with another idea (one that changed my life again forever), he suggested to go watch Huddersfield Town since they were playing at home against Wycombe Wanderers, one August weekend.
So off we went to the John Smith’s Stadium, walking alongside thousands of faithful Terriers’ supporters. Inside the ground the atmosphere was amazing; the faces in the crowd demonstrated just how passionate they are about their team despite being a League One side. That instantly struck a chord with me. The half-time refreshments, consisting of pie and beer, was simple yet out-of-this-world delicious.
Above all, it was a perfect afternoon. The sun shone brightly all day as the Terriers continued their unbeaten run with a 3-0 win against Wycombe. Everyone in Huddersfield was happy.
It was after the game I realised that was the first time I attended a football game with my uncle. It just brought me the same memory of how he made love Maradona and Argentina when I was a little boy. So, it made sense that I should start to support Huddersfield Town from that moment onwards.
It might have been the most unusual thing considering how huge the Premier League is in Malaysia and here I am rooting for a League One side. But that didn’t matter, football was never about results and popularity to me, it meant more than that. For me, it was God’s will that I became a Huddersfield Town fan.
Then comes the next important person in my football life, my Dad. I was only 15 when I moved in to stay with my parents. When it came to football, me and my old man always held different opinions. He loved Pele while I was always pro-Maradona. Not to forget, he loved Manchester United while because of my uncle’s affiliation, I always maintained a soft spot for Liverpool before I became a Town supporter.
Over the years we always engaged in heated debates about football. It can get so tense that it scares the hell out of my mom. But it’s all in good fun. My dad recognised the deep passion I have for football.
He would often remind me whenever there was a game involving my team on television, and even if the kick off time was during the early hours, he would always make the effort to wake me up because he knew I wouldn’t want to miss it for the world. Even when I was still I school, he wouldn’t prevent me from watching – no matter what time they played.
In early February 2017, my dad bid farewell to all of us for the last time after years battling kidney failure. If he was still around, I’m sure he would have been happy for me when Huddersfield Town got promoted to the Premier League.
These days, watching football at home can sometimes be a lonely experience since he is no longer there. Not to mention it would have an auspicious moment for both us when Town entertained Manchester United back in October.
While my dad and I were polar opposites when it came to football, it’s a different story when it comes to my two best mates. The moment we realised we shared the same passion for Argentina, we hit it off right away. This is more so during the height of the 1997 World Youth Cup which was hosted in Malaysia, in our own backyard.
We were the first to witness some of the most amazing talents to come out from that tournament, especially the mercurial Juan Roman Riquelme and brilliant wizardry of Pablo Aimar.
Years of watching Argentina getting knocked out early and losing in major finals might have taken its toll on us, but it always kept us together no matter what.
If I had to pick the most memorable moment we had together, it would have been the final of the 2003 KL 5 International Futsal Tournament held in Malaysia. Argentina futsal team took on the kings of the world, Brazil.
As expected, 95% of the attendance at the Bukit Jalil indoor stadium was there to support the Futsamba boys in yellow. Only a handful of people (mostly expats) including us proudly displayed our blue and white colours, but this didn’t deter us from supporting our team.
Brazil was expected to run riot judging by their earlier results but ended up facing an Argentina side that was determined to give them a hard time. It was such a tight contest that went into sudden extra time. Eventually, a bizarre goal from Argentina saw them create history as they defeated their arch rivals for the first time.
The entire arena was in silenced except for one small corner which was heard throughout the country as the match was broadcast live. It was a privilege to have the entire coaching staff and players approach us and even sign our banner. We actually felt like we were on top of the world.
Echoing the words of Bill Shankly, this is the reason why football isn’t just a game to me. It is much more than that, it’s about family and friends. It was never about the result, it was more about the moments we spent together.
Hence why, the three F’s; family, friends and football are the spiritual therapy that fuels my life and will continue to do so for as long as it shall last.
FOLLOW SIVAN ON TWITTER @SivanJohn_