Terrence Voon -Straits Times Indonesia
Singapore's World Cup qualifying tie against Malaysia concluded four days ago, but an online war is still being waged by football fans from both sides.
The latest salvo was fired yesterday by hackers, who replaced the homepage of the Singapore Cars Online Web site with an image of Malaysian striker Safee Sali. They also left a message accusing the Singapore team of 'cheating' and 'acting', after the Lions' 6-4 aggregate win over their Causeway rivals.
But Vincent Tan, the Web site's administrator, told The Straits Times yesterday that he would not be making a police report. "It's nothing major - just some frustrated people who needed to let out how they felt," he said.
The Web site has since been restored, but the battle is continuing elsewhere.
Social networking sites and online forums such as Kallang Roar as well as the Football Association of Singapore's (FAS) Facebook page are buzzing with reactions from both sets of fans. On the citizen journalism Web site Stomp, a photograph of Malaysian supporters holding up a defaced Singapore flag has triggered angry responses from netizens.
Malaysian fans, incensed by what they felt was the Lions' time-wasting tactics during the second leg of the second-round qualifier in Kuala Lumpur, have also created a Facebook page mocking the Singapore national side.
The spiteful nature of the discussions, peppered with obscenities and racist remarks, has prompted concern in the football fraternities of both countries.
Zainudin Nordin, president of the FAS, yesterday urged fans to show restraint. "We have to understand that sports can incite a lot of emotion, and we are still in the heat of the moment," said the MP for Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC. "But both sides should calm down and not get carried away."
Malaysian national footballer S. Kunanlan, who played in both legs, also called for calm. "I hope this will stop because it does not reflect well on the country," said the midfielder. "It is the Malaysian players' fault that we lost the qualifiers, not Singapore's."
Tensions ran high during the first leg in Singapore on July 23, when missiles from Malaysia's travelling fans rained down on the Jalan Besar Stadium field after the Lions' fourth goal. A scuffle between rival fans also broke out after the match, which Singapore won 5-3.
The return leg was even more ill-tempered. Water bottles were aimed at the Singapore players after the final whistle, while Lions goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud was targeted by laser pointers during the game, which finished 1-1.
Malaysian supporter Irwan Shariff, who was at the Bukit Jalil Stadium in Kuala Lumpur, said he was shocked that the majority of home fans booed when Singapore's national anthem was played before the match. When told about the hacking, he said: "What's wrong with these Malaysian fans? They are so immature."
Muhammad Arief, founder of the Singapore football fan club Lions All The Way, says that mutual understanding is needed in the future. "Whether we win or lose, it's just a football game at the end of the day," he said.
The hostilities appear confined to football. On the same day of the second leg, Singapore and Malaysian civil defence forces held a joint exercise to test emergency responses to a chemical spill at the Second Link in Tuas.
Bilateral relations between the two countries also hit a high note recently, with the successful resolution of the 20-year dispute over Malayan Railway (KTM) land in Singapore.
With Singapore set to return to the Malaysian league next year, the hope is that cross-straits football ties will not take a beating.
Zainudin said: "We should not blame an entire country for the actions of a few individuals. There's still a few months to go (before the Malaysian Super League kicks off), and things may change."
Reprinted courtesy of Straits Times Indonesia. To subscribe to Straits Times Indonesia and/or the Jakarta Globe call 021 2553 5055.
Terrence Voon -Straits Times Indonesia