LionsXII players and fans stuck in stadium amid rioting, violence

LionsXII players and fans stuck in stadium amid rioting, violence
An ambulance up in flames outside the stadium after being torched by a group of rioters at the end of the game on Saturday night.

It was a dream result for the LionsXII, making their first-ever Malaysia FA Cup final.

But Saturday evening also turned into a nightmare following their 2-3 loss to Terengganu in the second leg of the semi-finals.

The Singapore outfit advanced to the final on away goals after the aggregate 4-4 draw, following referee Amirul Izwan Yaacob's decision to disallow Terengganu midfielder Ahmad Nordin Alias' 88th-minute effort for offside, leaving the 30,000 home fans seething and they turned to violence to make their anger known.

Rosminah Kadis, a 62-year-old retiree who had made the nine-hour bus trip to catch the match at the Sultan Mizan Zainal Abidin Stadium in Kuala Terengganu, told The Straits Times that the Terengganu fans "threw cans and other things" at the Singapore fans.

The LionsXII and their supporters were stranded in the stadium for close to five hours, until they were finally escorted back to their hotels by about 100 policemen in the wee hours of yesterday.

A senior LionsXII player said: "I've experienced crowd trouble with the team before in Sarawak and Kelantan but last night was really bad.

"I was honestly afraid for our safety at one stage after we heard a loud explosion coming from outside the stadium. We had no clue what was going on as we were stuck in the dressing room for hours. I'm just so relieved to be back home again."

Veteran tour operator Akbar Hashim, 54, lamented: "It's quite sad, no one wants this type of thing to happen, we just want to support our side."

He had around 200 LionsXII fans, including Rosminah and her husband, in his party travelling in four coaches. They had stayed in the stadium until 2.45am. The team returned to their hotel only at 3am, the fans an hour later.

Angry Terengganu fans smashed the side windows of two coaches, which Akbar estimated would cost up to $6,000 to repair. The damage also resulted in the fans having to squeeze into the two remaining coaches for the trip back to the hotel.

Pictures of the violent scenes have been shared on the Facebook page of a LionsXII fan group, ExcluSinga.

Malaysian news agency Bernama reported that Terengganu fans broke glass doors and burnt an ambulance stationed in the stadium compound. They also hurled stones at Terengganu Chief Minister Ahmad Razif Abdul Rahman's car outside the stadium.

The situation forced stadium authorities to call the Federal Reserve Unit (FRU), which fired 30 tear gas canisters to disperse about 15,000 rioting fans.

The Star reported last night that Kuala Terengganu police chief ACP Idris Abd Rafar said that 25 male fans aged between 16 and 36 were arrested for rioting and would be remanded for four days from yesterday. One will be charged for possession of flares.

However, LionsXII striker Khairul Amri, who scored two goals on Saturday, said some Terengganu fans had behaved sportingly, saying: "I can understand why Terengganu fans were upset. That is the passion they have for their team.

"But the Terengganu players, and even a number of their fans congratulated us for getting into the final, which made us feel very good."

This is not the first time that the LionsXII have faced fan violence in Malaysia. In 2012, after a 1-0 win at Sarawak, the team and fans were kept in the stadium after furious home fans pelted the players with water bottles, which defender Safuwan Baharudin likened to a scene from the computer game Angry Birds. The team bus was also attacked, with the driver being hit.

Despite the unsavoury experience, Rosminah, who started supporting the LionsXII last year and has yet to miss an away match, will be going to Bukit Jalil on Saturday to watch the final.

"We expect this kind of thing to happen, but the police did provide security, so all we need to do is to stick together, don't retaliate, and we will be safe."

This article was first published on May 18, 2015.
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