Friday 12th.February, was the grand finale of the 3 months of the Malaysian Hockey League (MHL). The publicity and the marketing of the event portraying a carnival spirit with young kids displaying their skills, the Royal Malaysian Navy(RMN) with its band putting together a mini tattoo show and the of course the lucky draw with prizes from motorcycles to airtickets became the peripheral attraction.. Combine this with the final between TNB and Sapura, while for 3rd and 4th was between Kuala Lumpur Hockey Club (KLHC) and Maybank, which brought a sizeable crowd of close to 5000 at the Tun Razak Hockey Stadium. This is notwithstanding the fact that the games were telecast live.
It has been some time since such a large crowd had been present in Malaysian hockey and all credit must go to the person or persons in MHF who were behind organising it. The precise timing of the event ( barring the delay in the floodlights coming to full illumination after half time) plus the fanfare that came including the prize presentation is something new in MHF. There is obviously a new colourful thinking moving from certain mundane ways. More important is that there are some who are prepared to "stick their necks" out to make things happen.
There was a lot of criticism before the final particularly on the resources utilised to take the MHL to different towns and also on the attendance at matches particularly in Kuala Lumpur. The Friday night out to the hockey stadium by the crowd is a manifestation of people putting their minds and honestly addressing the issues, thereby creating scenarios that appeal to the crowd to come to the game. What was interesting was TNB had their sizeable supporters and they were vocal enough. Maybank too had their small crowd and there was a pocketful of Sapura's admirers.
In essence many who were there beyond the core supporters, were people who were attracted for some reason to be at the stadium. This is the result of effective marketing where publicity is a fundamental ingredient. When we are not a force in international hockey at any level, attendance is the yardstick of measurement of the popularity of the game. Friday night showed there is still the crowd for hockey and the key matter is how MHF is going to capitalise on it.
The sure way is to perform well in the international front. This is where basic issues of having the right people in the right positions does not only apply to officials but also to players. Hockey cannot afford another round of allegations of match fixing, betting or "Ah Long" businesses in the national squads or being a "bad" influence to younger players or partying late nights and coming to training with alcohol on their breaths. If this continues and MHF turns a blind eye to all these or remains lenient in taking disciplinary action then Malaysian hockey would go back to the "Dark Ages". The matter gets even more muddled as various officials start their canvassing for players particularly those who have been regarded as "bad apples". Indeed there were rumours spreading in the field how a team manager had sent sms messages soliciting for a particular player to be included in the future national team. The timing of course seems very coincidental as the new coaches were announced for the senior team.
Until and unless MHF officially settles the issues relating to the various allegations, it is unfair to Malaysian hockey and its supporters to be burdened in their mind with continuous suspicion. It is not only for the players involved in such allegations but also the other players, the fans and the future generation. This is something MHF has to understand and they should not take it that Malaysians have "short memories" and time would self resolve the issues.
If MHF wants the terraces in the hockey stadium to be filled it has a responsibility to the fans to ensure that they have the right players who are prepared to make the sacrifices to bring glory to Malaysian hockey in the world arena. MHF must understand that the players cannot sacrifice Malaysian hockey for their own selfish gains. This has to be seen from training, to free time to the game itself. Any "bad apples" in the team must be decisively and quickly ostracized from the onset such that professionalism prevails. This is a culture that needs to be inculcated to the team.
So the "ball" is back on MHF's feet and the crowd for hockey will be a reflection of how the national teams perform in the future and how MHF manages them. So MHf please do not let the Malaysian hockey fans down.