Azman Shah Mohidin is no different from any diehard football fan.
The 35-year-old talks, lives and breathes football. And, during his non-working hours, he mostly wears football jerseys – specifically those of an Arsenal persuasion.
He just can’t help it. The affair with his beloved club, despite its fluctuating fortunes, has been going on for almost three decades.
It all started when Azman was a seven-year-old, when the boys in his family would engage in routine evening kickabouts in a field in Sungai Besi, Kuala Lumpur.
“Growing up in the 80s, there were no video games or cell phones, so we had to find something to occupy our time. We went out to play football most of the time. My interest developed from there,” recalls the president of Arsenal Malaysia supporter’s club.
Azman worked hard on the pitch, and secured a spot as striker in his school team, eventually making it to the district level.
“We had no professional footballers in the family, so there was no support. If not, I could have gone further!” he reckons.
Coming from a humble background, he couldn’t afford football boots or jerseys.
“The only football jersey I owned was one I bought from the pasar malam, which I’d wash and wear for every game. I used it proudly for three years!” Azman says.
During the semi-pro days of Malaysian football, he used to be a fan of the Kuala Lumpur team, but when the scourge of corruption reared its ugly head, he ended his allegiance.
At that point, Azman’s cousins had started supporting teams from the English Premier League (EPL). While they picked Manchester United as their favourite, he didn’t have a preference and couldn’t fathom what the lads were fussing over.
“I was clueless ... until my uncle, who was a huge fan of EPL, brought over a copy of Shoot! magazine. One day, I was browsing through it and the picture of former Arsenal striker Ian Wright caught my eye. I wanted to be a striker of his calibre, so, I started to support his team.”
So, really, it all started with that first glimpse of Wright, and that undying devotion to Arsenal continues, come hell or high water.
He says, “My sister bought me my first original Arsenal jersey from Nike, with Thierry Henry’s name emblazoned on it, as a gift for doing well in my Form Five exams. That was the best thing that ever happened to me then!”
Henry is the club’s top goal scorer with 228 goals in all competitions, an accolade earned between 1999 and 2012.
Azman couldn’t get enough of the top. Having had a taste of the “real” thing, he was determined never to buy a fake jersey again. That was in 1998. He worked hard, saved enough, and since then, has collected Arsenal home and away jerseys from every season for the past five years.
“That first jersey was like a trigger, and I knew I just had to have every jersey Arsenal came up with. These retro jerseys are different from the ones players use, and I buy them whenever I travel, from e-Bay or from other collectors,” says Azman, who has lost track of how many jerseys he owns.
“At last count, it was 200, but that was a few years ago and I’ve stopped counting since,” he says, with a chuckle.
At his home in Nilai, Negeri Sembilan, Azman has a dedicated room for his homage, which also includes other Arsenal memorabilia, such as a shoe signed by midfielder Tomas Rosicky, a ball signed by the 2015 squad, framed photographs of footballers, signboards, street signs, caps, signed collectibles and a model of the Emirates Stadium in London, Arsenal’s home ground.
Due to his presidency, the father-of-four has had the opportunity to meet many current and former players, including Emmanuel Petit, who along with Patrick Vieira, formed one of the most lethal midfield combos for Arsenal during their glory years.
And no, Azman doesn’t just keep the jerseys for static display, but endeavours to wear each one at least once a year.
He offers, “The supporters club has gatherings every weekend, so, I wear a different one every time. I’ve invested quite a bit in this collection and it’s personally satisfying. My wife has said enough is enough, but I just can’t stop myself!”
His two older kids, aged seven and eight, are also supporting Arsenal, much to Azman’s delight.
Azman's football memorabilia pride and joy
Azman is particularly pleased to have in his collection, an ultra rare jersey, used by Arsenal in a Champions League match against Hamburg during the 2006-07 season. The sponsor was Fly Emirates, but since both teams had the same sponsor, the logo was disallowed by governing body Union of European Football Associations (UEFA). So, Arsenal quickly swung into action and put a “Dubai” patch to replace “Fly Emirates”.
“I bought it from a collector in Europe for quite a sum!”
His other pride is a golden jersey adorned by the team of the 2002-2003 season, which Azman has worn on several occasions.
“As long as they can still fit, I will continue to wear these jerseys. I also wear one to work on Fridays. One year is not enough for me to wear my entire collection!” says the Gooner-for-life, who retreats into his “Arsenal room” daily to gaze lovingly at his assets.
On the current saga over Arsenal team manager Arsene Wenger’s potential exit, Azman says it’s creating a lot of disgruntlement among supporters.
He says, “We have so many Whatsapp groups within the club, and every single match is debated fiercely. There is so much friction because we live in a world of opinions, and that is dividing us! But whatever said, I will support Arsenal till the end. Players come and go but the club stays on forever.”
If you bump into a pleasant dude donning an Arsenal jersey and a matching cap, do stop to say hi. It’s very likely to be Azman walking tall, hoping the glory days will return.
Fly-catcher? Finger wrestler? Air trumpeter? If you have a unique, out-of-this world, wacky hobby or passion that you’d like to share, please write in to our hobbies coordinator, Revathi Murugappan, at email@example.com