by Shamsudin Kirsch
A revolution in Malaysia’s football is in full swing. Its center lies in the southern city of Johor Bahru, in the district of Larking, to be precise.
This is the home of the Southern Tigers, or, as the club is officially known: Johor Darul Ta’zim, mostly abbreviated to Johor DT or JDT. The face of the “revolution” belongs to the crown prince of Johor, Tunku Ismail Idris, simply known as TMJ. It is him who pulls the strings, tirelessly pushing and professionalising the club. The know-how for the recent development of the young footballers, however, is an import from Germany. It comes from none other than Borussia Dortmund.
In the olden days, Larkin was known as the central intercity coach terminal of Johor Bahru. Nowadays it’s synonymous for the Tan Sri Dato Haji Hassan Yunos Stadium. It was built in 1964 with a capacity of 30.000 and last renovated in 2014. Today it is the stadium with the best atmosphere in Malaysia where the fans support their harimau selatan (Southern Tigers) with their famous chant “Johor luaskan kuasamu” (Expand your power, Johor). Since the beginning of the rebranding of the club—the so-called “revolution”—the Stadium has almost always been sold out and experiences days of glory again.
The FIFA U-20 world cup 1997 was one of the highlights with Larkin being one of the venues. Japanese football fans remember Larkin as the place where they beat Iran with 3:2 in a legendary match, thus securing their spot for the World Cup 1998 in France.
However, the days of Larkin as the playing ground for JDT are numbered. Soon there will be a new futuristic stadium built which can fit 40.000 to 45.000 people. The proposed plans see the new stadium being built on a man-made island between Johor Bahru and Singapore.
This breathtaking development began in 2012 when the Crown Prince of Johor bought the local state football association and took over as its president. His first act: The merger of the two teams Johor FA and Johor FC and their rebranding into Johor DT (respectively Johor DT II in the second tier). The Crown Prince also brought in royal money. A five-year plan was developed, a talent program was put to life, international top players were hired and a new modern training ground was built.
Besides that, foreign know-how has been imported: In Summer 2015, JDT announced a partnership with Borussia Dortmund. The German club sent its coaches Matthias Schwesig, Marc Oliver Stricker and Alex Kuschmann to Johor to facilitate German football knowledge into the JDT youth division.
On their initiative a school cooperation was initiated, as well as a U12 and a U15 next to the already existing U19 and U21 teams. According to Matthias Schwesig it is desirable to have one team in every age group. It is not foreseeable how long it will take to achieve this. The development of a youth division is something that takes years and decades, says Schwesig. That is why the cooperation between the BVB and the Southern Tigers has no defined final goal.
With its pro team, JDT already achieved some satisfying results. Being the Malaysian champion 2014, they qualified for the AFC Cup 2015 which is comparable with the UEFA Europa League and were able to win it right away. In the final on 31st of October 2015 against the Tajikian champion Istiklol the Argentinian Leandro Velazquez scored the only and decisive goal in the 23rd minute for Johor which gave the Southern Tigers the biggest success in the history of Malaysian club football. The statewide joy was so big that the following day was declared a public holiday in Johor! Earlier, another football fest had taken place when they took on their cooperation partner Borussia Dortmund in July 2015 in a friendly on home soil in Larkin, which they not surprisingly lost 1:6. The game was even broadcasted live in Germany.
By now the football fever has taken over the whole state. The blue and red jersey with the tiger badge can be seen now everywhere. The Club is the talk of the state. Another testament to TMJ’s ambition is the strength of the roster, which bit by bit has been filled up with Malaysian internationals so that a big part of the Malaysian national team consist of southern tigers. Meanwhile, the Crown Prince is thinking ahead, as he revealed to the Dortmund coaches: He dreams of forming a player who is able to join a European club. Maybe even the BVB.