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Wednesday August 14, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Wednesday August 14, 2013 MYT 11:06:58 AM
THEY were whisked away from the airport through an exit that deprived fans gathered outside from even catching a glimpse of their football idols.
At the One World Hotel, where more fans had gathered, many enduring a five-hour wait and skipping lunch so as to meet the team, the players were ringed by “musclemen” dressed in black who prevented any handshakes or signing of autographs.
With the exception of Cesc Fabregas, not a single player made any attempt to interact with fans by way of a wave or even a smile. They walked glumly ... and very fleetingly to the lifts and disappeared. And still the fans waited.
They were then told that Lionel Messi and Cesc were coming down for a press conference in an hour. The fans again readied the jerseys and posters for signatures. The wait stretched on and on.
The sad reality was, the stars were again whisked into the conference hall through a different entrance. And as the meeting commenced, fans were still being duped by security to stand by the lifts, awaiting the players. It was heartbreaking to watch.
Little kids holding up posters almost as large as themselves, teenagers lugging bags with Barca paraphernalia ... just waiting for hours.
Many were sharing stories of happier meetings with other stars. I was shown a picture of a beaming Theo Walcott with a little boy. Another kid showed a group photo of his classmates with Frank Lampard. I was also shown a picture of John Terry signing a jersey.
I queried a Barca official as to why the players could not indulge the fans but was intercepted by a cocky interpreter who told me that the hours of waiting was “not his problem” and “if you do not like it, don’t come”.
There seemed to be some unspoken order to “treat with disdain” all Malaysian Barca fans that was very dutifully being followed by players and officials alike.
“Mes Que Un Club” is their logo ... more than just a football club, it means. You bet ... with the army of bouncers, all the deception practised and the blatant arrogance bordering on disdain, they were more akin to the Cosa Nostra than any football club I have ever encountered!
Why put your whole schedule online if you had no intention of interacting with fans?
In the meantime, Twitter was ablaze with news of similar treatment of fans in China, Korea, Japan and Thailand.
What is it, fellas? Is it the weather you cannot stand or is it just that you don’t like Asia?
Or is it the fledgling economies of Europe gives you no choice but to be lured here by dollar signs in your eyes?
We all saw how easily Qatari money bumped the Unicef logo to the rear of your jerseys.
Online news portals reported daily all the hobnobbing you guys did with the higher echelons of Malaysian society.
Sadly, these are not the people who awaken at the ungodly hour of 3am to catch La Liga matches. Nor are they they ones who wholeheartedly celebrate your victories.
And they most definitely are not the ones who shed tears but proudly wear your jerseys when you have been soundly thrashed by any other team. Those guys were the ones camped in your hotel lobby that you did everything possible to avoid.
It was only the equally deceptive who managed to evade the throngs of security and actually meet the team.
As we “melted” in the underground carpark at the Shah Alam stadium and breathed in the carbon monoxide from the running engine of the Barca bus which was being kept cool for the players, our “reward” was yet again to be snubbed by Messi.
There were less than 15 fans in line. Still he ignored our presence and made a beeline for a very obvious pre-planned “arrangement” of little sweating kids, dressed in varied Barca jerseys next to the bus.
In the blink of an eye, he had taken a photo and boarded the bus without saying a word.
Yes, Leo, that would look nice in the Unicef dossier.
But the ultimate snub was saved for the final night.
Was it so bad an injury that you could not even manage to walk onto the pitch and wave to the Malaysian youths? Did you not hear them call your name ... all night long?
For me, sitting behind four young fans decked in Barca jerseys and scarfs ...so excited they could barely contain themselves before the game and watch the disappointment set in, was the last straw.
We are a nation more knowledgeable and appreciative of this beautiful game than you can ever imagine.
Apart from La Liga, we follow almost every other league in the world. We also have the distinct honour of being a nation so enthusiastic and passionate where football is concerned that the people of the nation contributed towards the televising of a World Cup final when no official sponsor was willing to come up with the money. And that, dear Leo, was even before you were born!
Your Asian tour was to promote goodwill, expand your fan base. Your arrogance, so willingly accommodated by the local sponsor and their opportunist attempt to host and sell tickets in the larger Bukit Jalil stadium with no regard to the well-documented poor pitch condition was nothing short of a public relations disaster.
As a passionate Barca supporter who begins the day drinking coffee from a “blaugrana” coloured mug, I find myself beginning to choke on the “goodwill” emanating from the utensil. I have since given it away.
Let me end by saying what I told your tactless interpreter ... “if this is the way you choose to treat your fans ... THEN DON’T COME HERE”. And that is my most satisfying memory of FCB Barcelona’s tour to Malaysia.
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