KUALA LUMPUR: This is a great love story about four loyal Harimau Malaya fans who are not deterred by time or distance in going overseas to support the national football team in away matches.Khairul Nizam Arifin, Azraei Muhamad, Alif Hanif Ismail and Danish Adam Tarmizi have travelled thousands of miles across Asia to march behind their beloved team.Just like in Ricky Nelson’s famous ‘I will follow you’ song, these four amazing fans will follow Harimau Malaya wherever they may go. The song’s opening four lines best sum up their loyalty. It says “I will follow you; Follow you wherever you may go; There isn’t an ocean too deep; A mountain so high it can keep me away.” With about 2,000 Malaysian supporters expected to travel to Hanoi to support the national team in a World Cup qualifier against Vietnam on Thursday, the four fans share their experiences with Timesport. Nizam, 33, who is a social media/freelance writer, said he has been vocal in his views about the national team on social media since he started supporting them in 2009. And following Malaysia’s success in winning the Sea Games gold, he decided to support the team full-time. “I didn’t go to the stadium much but after the win, when the team were guided by Datuk K. Rajagobal, I started to take notice of the team. “My first experience with them was in 2010 during the AFF Cup final in Bukit Jalil. It was an awesome experience where we won 3-0 (against Indonesia in the first leg). “I have been to four away games, two in Bangkok and one each in Yangon and Phnom Penh. “My favourite would be last year’s semi-final in Bangkok because it was filled with so much drama. The ending of the game was really, really awesome.”Nizam, who supports Kuala Lumpur in the M-League, and is a fan of Indra Putra Mahayuddin, said he likes Cheng Hoe’s coaching of the national team. Having followed the team’s evolution throughout the years, he described the 51-year-old Cheng Hoe as a modern coach.“We’re getting better than before. In 2012 there was a downward spiral but things are starting to look up. “I think Malaysia now can actually be better than the 2010 team. “We need young players because they are the future and we can’t expect the older guys to maintain their performance especially in two to three years’ time. “We need new faces but we also need experienced players to guide them, teach them how to play at an international level. “I have seen Cheng Hoe’s tactics during the 2010 AFF Cup. He is a modern coach and the players know what he wants. So we have to trust him, give him time and I believe he’s the coach who can take us to the Asian Cup.” Nizam, whose wife Nadia Azlan is immensely supportive of his football passion and is a fan herself, is thrilled to go on “away matches” despite it being costly.“I was actually bitten by the ‘away days bug’ and I made a promise to go as often as possible. “It’s not too expensive if you can plan ahead. For instance, we know there’s the biennial AFF Cup, so we save up. There are promotions for flights where they allow you room to save,” added Nizam.Azraei, 29, who is an author and personal financial adviser, has experienced only one “away match”—in Bangkok last year. “I have always asked why would anyone want to do this because they have to spend money and time. But, my late friend Shah Salleh said you can always find money but the experience is only in the moment. We all cried (in joy) when Thailand failed to score their penalty.”Azraei praised Cheng Hoe for cleverly constructing a team that make good use of the Malaysian physique. “I like him especially after Dollah Salleh failed to bring us to that level. Cheng Hoe was from Kedah where he played the passing game and brought that to the national team.“This is the type of motion we need to play because we don’t have a tall striker.“Dollah likes long balls and depends on big strikers but Malaysians aren’t gifted with that, so the usage of short pass is an advantage for us.” Alif, who is a 29-year-old entrepreneur, started taking notice of the national team since 2010. He pounced on the chance of an adventure with Harimau Malaya in 2012 when his cousin, Sharul, convinced him that watching the match ‘live’ is a life changing experience.And nine years later, Alif said it was one of the best decisions he ever made in his life as his most unforgettable “away day” happened to be during an Asian Cup qualifier against Hong Kong in 2017.“I can say I always follow Harimau Malaya wherever they go because my support is always for the players,” said Alif. “For me the best experience would have to be in Hong Kong. That time we were down to 10 men but we lost that match.”For 31-year-old entrepreneur, Danish, his most memorable away match was in Jakarta.Having supported Harimau Malaya since the 2007 Merdeka Tournament, Danish said he has witnessed the team’s evolution since his schooldays.“My story started from the benches in the schoolyard but I seriously started to follow Harimau Malaya since 2007 and I have seen the team evolved for the better.“This is because, we have started to instil trust in our youngsters who have made an impression in the domestic league compared to relying too much on old horses.“It is tough for seasoned or veteran players to compete in terms of fitness and dexterity on a national level. They should give a chance to fresher, younger faces.”Danish said football matches are like “wars” and that is the reason why he is willing to spend money on flights and accommodations for away matches.“It’s because of our love for the national team. How can we go to war without comrades?”
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