THE BYZANTINE OF SPORTS POLITICS AND STEVE DARBY

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KUALA LUMPUR, 30 July – Englishman, Steve Darby had a pleasant stay in Johor when he set foot in Malaysia in 1998 and had a headstart when he led the Scorpions to the FA Cup title the same year and the League title the following season.
Things were made very much easier for Darby as he had a wonderful team manager in Ahamad Mohamad who was the Kulim Malaysia Berhad managing director. Ahamad knew the roles each had to play to ensure success for Johor.
Ahamad told Darby: ”You are the CEO on the pitch and I will be the CEO off the pitch.”
The chemistry worked very well, especially with Darby’s honesty on and off the pitch – something which could land the Englishman in trouble.
“He (Ahamad) knew my like of honesty but he taught me to be like a ‘bamboo’, in that I had to learn how to bend but not snap.
However, the bamboo “snapped” – not in Johor but in Perak in 2008 and it was due to none other than late salaries for the players and the coaching staff.
He joined Perak in 2005 after stints in Vietnam as the national women’s head coach and with Home United (Singapore League).
”I made an appointment to see the new MB (Menteri Besar Nizar Jamaluddin after a change in the state government). I was told I wouldn’t get an appointment…but I did. The players and other staff had not been paid their salaries.
”He basically told me footballers should be playing for the honor of representing the state (Perak). I was quick to reply ‘so you (Nizar) will also be MB for the honor’?
“I knew (my) contract renewal had gone out of the window. At the same time, I told him to pay the players their contractual dues and replace them with players who would play for honor,” said Darby, adding that the fans are also voters.
There were more to come for Darby and his team after the change in the FA’s office-bearers due to the change in the state government and the most bitter blow was that Perak had an AFC quarter-final fixture in Lebanon.
”I had a separate AFC grant account to pay for the travel but it was running low. I rang the AFC and asked for help. All I got was ‘you will be fined if you don’t complete the fixtures. I thought how do you fine someone with no money.”
With his back against the wall, Darby worked out the cheapest way to Beirut and reduced the squad to 14 players plus three subs and took only three staff. By then, Perak also lost two foreign players who left as they were not getting paid.
However, there was another shock when Darby and the team reached KLIA. There were seven of the new committee members who traveled on business class.
”The good thing is that we never saw them as they went shopping in Beirut and the next day to Damascus. They only turned up for the official training and sat in the coaches’ box by the pitch.
“By the time I left Perak, the players and I had not been paid. I was eventually paid after 18 months of going through FIFA. I think the players are still owed. How could lads who couldn’t speak English and had no access to laptops and faxes possibly claim their contractual dues?,” he added.

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