By James A. Chisem
Here are a few facts about Malaysia: it is one of the most multi-ethnic and multi-cultural nations in the world, incorporating several indigenous cultures, as well as large Indian and Chinese populations; it is comprised of two principal landmasses, Peninsular Malaysia, which borders Thailand and Singapore, and Malaysian Borneo, which borders Brunei and Indonesia; it has nine royal families from which the Monarch is elected to serve a five-year term; and it is famed for its distinct and diverse culinary culture.
I’m not going to lie; I learned most of this from a BBC cooking documentary hosted by the delightful Rachel Khoo. But do you know what? It didn’t even touch upon the most important detail in the country’s long and storied history. That’s right, world-renowned Town fan Sivan John calls it home.
Luckily, I managed to catch up with him last week and ask some incredibly insightful questions. So remember, when your TV Licence falls short, you can always rely on Thrice Champions to go the extra mile. Probably…
JC: To kick things off, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
SJ: My name is Sivan John. I'm 36 and I live in Malaysia. I’m a lifelong football fan and have been supporting Huddersfield Town since 2011, after a brief visit to see my Uncle who took me to watch the Town vs Wycombe game, which we won 3-0. I’ve never looked back since!
JC: So is your Uncle a town fan, then? It's lucky he chose that particular game. God knows what would have happened if he'd have taken you to the Swindon game where we lost 4-1!
SJ: No, he's a Liverpool fan—so is everyone else in his family. The initial plan was to go and watch a Premier League game, preferably Liverpool or Manchester City. You must know that Premier League football is HUGE in South East Asia.
But we were having difficulties getting tickets, so he suggested that we go watch a Town game instead. I said let's go for it. After all, I just wanted to experience watching English football in an actual stadium.
It was a beautiful English afternoon. I remember we were walking towards the John Smith’s Stadium with other Town fans. The atmosphere inside was surreal. It was just what I expected an English game to be like.
Prior to the game I did some research and I knew that Town were on an unbeaten run. Deep down I was hoping that I didn't jinx it that day. Guess what? We won 3-0! And the rest, as they say, is history.
It was that afternoon that I knew I’d found a club which I could start supporting. You see, my Uncle was the reason why I started to love football. When I was in the John Smith’s with him and my cousin it was an easy choice to make!
JC: It sounds like fate! Do you think if we'd have lost you'd have maybe come out of the stadium with a different opinion? Or if you'd have gone to, say, a Leeds game, do you think you'd have had the same reaction? Or do you think there's something special about Huddersfield?
SJ: I like to think it was fate. Honestly, it was never about the result, instead it was more about spending time with my Uncle whom I'd not seen in 20 years!
He left for the UK when I was very young so I didn't have the opportunity to experience watching football in a stadium with him until that very day.
However, if there was one special thing that made me fall in with love Huddersfield that day, it was the the blue and white striped kit. People who know me well (close friends or those via social media such as Twitter) will tell you why I'm obsessed with those colours.
Now that you've mentioned Leeds, let me tell you they were my least favourite club when watching the Premier League (before they got relegated, that is). Finding out who their biggest rivals are in Yorkshire gave me even more reason to love Huddersfield Town.
JC: ...is the right answer! I suppose it must be strange being Malaysia's only Town fan? What do your friends think about it?
SJ: I think the right word is “unique.” But yeah, to many others it seemed kind of odd.
This is especially true in a country that is obsessed with the English Premier League. Clubs like Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal have massive support here.
So there's always that question, like, why Huddersfield? Why not an EPL side?
My answer to them is pretty simple: why not Huddersfield Town?
I don't expect them to understand because in the end you’ve got to have some sentimental feeling about the team you support. So for me, that experience with my Uncle was more than enough.
Besides it's a nice feeling to be regarded as Malaysia's No.1 Town fan. Well, until someone showed me this photo.
I’m still trying to figure out who this is, by the way?!?
Supporting Town also gives me the opportunity to share some of our history, such as being the first Thrice Champions, Herbert Chapman, Bill Shankly and so on.
I do sometimes tease City and Chelsea fans with some friendly banter, saying “Your club has all the money in the world but you still haven't won three league titles in a row like us!”
JC: And they never will! So how do you go about supporting Town? Obviously, if you're a Liverpool fan you can just turn up at a local bar on match-days or catch the games on your TV at home. I assume you don't have that luxury as one of only two Town fans in Malaysia?
SJ: Live streaming!
Thank God for the Internet! This is perhaps the best way to watch Town live, whenever possible.
There used to be Championship football shown by satellite TV but sadly that stopped last season. I’m proud to say that I have an unbeaten record whenever I get to watch Town on TV! This started from the League 1 playoff against Sheffield United at Wembley.
But perhaps the best way to follow a Town match is via social media, especially Twitter. There are plenty of updates from several Town dedicated accounts. It's also the best platform for me to interact with Town fans worldwide.
JC: Well, you're certainly popular on social media yourself! What do you think about Town's wider fandom? Have people made you feel welcome?
Wow, thank you!
Town fans have welcomed me with open arms!
I take inspiration from their passion for the club, despite the fact that we haven’t played top-flight football for a long time. I can totally relate to the joy and struggle, and this is what pure football is all about. It's a different feeling from the Premier League fan base.
I have been asked many times about when I’ll make my next trip to Huddersfield. If it wasn't for my work commitments, believe me, I would love to make it happen in the near future.
The best part about all this is that I've discovered fellow Terriers from various part of the world, including Asian countries such as Kuwait, China, Thailand and Singapore.
JC: That's great to hear! Hopefully your employer will recognise your work as Huddersfield Town's global ambassador and give you some time off to witness the 'Wagner Revolution' up close! Speaking of, what have you made of Wagner's tenure so far?
SJ: That would be awesome! I do like to think of myself as someone who is carrying the Town flag in Malaysia!
JC: Now, what about the Wagner Revolution?
SJ: To me, this was a somewhat risky yet refreshing move by the club because we were linked to some established names but ended up appointing someone who is unknown and an outsider.
Which is just what we all needed following Chris Powell’s departure.
I remember coming across the name David Wagner being linked to Liverpool because he was Jürgen Klopp’s best mate. But I didn’t pay too much attention.
Then several of my Kop friends told me that we were poaching their future assistant manager. I was like, What?
And there he was, David Wagner, the new head coach of Huddersfield Town.
I was optimistic and excited about this because of the work he had done in Dortmund.
The idea of Town playing gegenpressing or full throttle football was hard to believe! This is exactly what most Town fans wanted after having to endure the negative football displayed during Powell tenure.
I'm aware that some Town fans have been questioning Dean Hoyle’s motives at the club but we've seen this summer the commitment everyone at the top has made. We've been incredibly busy bringing in new players, many of whom are familiar with Wagner's methods.
Expectations have been very high, but as always, I like to approach things with a level-head.
And now that we are on top of the league and still unbeaten after five games, we can say at the very least that all the hard work and effort has paid off.
Nevertheless, we’ve still got a long season ahead so as we enjoy this moment, I will still take it one game at a time and wait and see where we go from here.
JC: Would you care to make a prediction for the season ahead?
SJ: I'm very modest when it comes to predicting the season ahead. Last season I was hoping that we would crack the Top 15 but that didn't happen. So I'm hoping we will do it this season. Anything beyond that is a mega bonus.
I would like to see us making steady progress in terms of the league, like how we've been doing from 2013 to 2015. Last season was exceptional so let's focus on the current one.
JC: Good stuff; I think we can wrap it up now. Is there anything you want to plug, like current projects, websites, social media links etc?
SJ: I just want to say that through my interactions on Twitter with Malaysian football fans I often do my part to spread the word about Huddersfield Town. There's always some kind of interesting response from them. Some do recognise the club because current Thailand national team coach Kiatisuk Senamuang used to play for Town. Of course, Steve Bruce being a former manager and Man United legend also helps.
I also want to express my utmost thanks to members of the North Stand Loyal for creating a wonderful atmosphere inside the John Smith’s. All their effort has not gone unnoticed, especially when it comes to opposition fans. I’d also like to give a special shout out to the Southern Terriers and other regional groups for mobilising Town fans from outside Huddersfield. What a great initiative from them as well!
Let's hope for a great year for Huddersfield Town. I want to see the club proving all the doubters and critics wrong. We're here to stay and the only way is up!
And last but not least, thank you for giving me this opportunity, James, to talk about our beloved football club. It's been a real pleasure.
You can follow Sivan on Twitter.
And you can follow James on Twitter.