The Midnight Football Tournament provided an opportunity for Serian district’s youths to showcase their football talents, but it also brought out the best in them with regards to sportsmanship, respect, and responsibility.
“What is success? It isn’t only about winning but playing in a certain way.”
—Kevin Keegan (former football player)
Nine teams, three days, and one first place trophy. The air was thick with anticipation as the football teams from different schools within the Sarawak district were gearing up for the Midnight Football Tournament to start at SMK Tarat. The tournament was an extension of the Midnight Football (MF) programme that empowers at-risk youth between the ages of 15-18 through football and leadership training. These kids, who display an immense passion for football, are recruited into the programme to sharpen football skills and build character to become holistic individuals. Midnight Football, one of the earlier projects carried out by Global Peace Foundation Malaysia, is proof in the pudding because two out of three teams under the programme won 1st (MSS Serian Tiger 1) and 3rd (SMK Tebedu Eagle) place during the tournament. The sportsmanship that all players demonstrated on and off the field was truly spectacular.
On the field the players did not solely focus on scoring goals but were wary about playing the game fairly by trying not to push and shove. Off the field, they showed respect to their coaches by listening to the advice given and not giving in to temper tantrums if they were substituted out of the game. Often, football matches aired on television show heated arguments between players. However, during the MF Tournament, respect and sportsmanship were practiced among players and coaches demonstrating that football is not merely about winning or losing. One team, which is also part of the MF programme (SMK Taee Tiger 2), while unable to make it into the final rounds, played each match with fervour. When asked if they were upset over their defeat, they admitted they were, but they knew that hard work and determination will help in future tournaments.
Respect was not only extended to people but also the surroundings. Before stepping onto the field some teams would stand by the side, say a little prayer, and touch the field. Chalk it up to either superstition or ritual but from a spectator’s point of view it was clear that this was their way of showing reverence before a match commenced. Once on the field each team had an exclusive team-chant recited before and after playing a match to boost morale. Even if a match was lost, spirits were never low. The next match was played with greater passion and determination. There was also camaraderie between members of the same and opposing teams. At the end of each match, it was common practice to shake hands with all players, coaches, and referees. However, in this tournament there were players who went the extra mile to have a conversation with one another to forge friendship beyond the field.
One team, SMK Padawan, bagged the “Most Sporting” trophy; a well-deserved win because these boys would go around and introduce themselves to other team members voluntarily and take pictures with other coaches and MF Tournament organisers. They were warm and approachable, which could be attributed to either the clean air in Sarawak or football trainings that help build character. There is a common misconception that sports produce individuals that have robot-like mannerisms, but this is far from true. Sports like football foster discipline, leadership, sportsmanship, etc., all of which were manifested in the tournament.
Kudos to the coaches too! The boys representing their schools in the tournament are young and impressionable and the coaches present during the tournament were aware of this. Instead of instructing their players to pick up empty water bottles and to dispose of their food containers, the coaches would do so themselves, leading by example. The boys witnessing this followed suit displaying another positive trait—responsibility. It was amazing to see them ensuring that the field and its surroundings were clean and conducive for playing. Hence, coaches like these should be valued for having gone beyond their focus of training and winning a match to instilling sportsmanship, respect, diligence, and responsibility so that there is a semblance of accountability in their players’ actions. Truly a tournament to remember, players to admire, and coaches to emulate.
Reshna Reem Ganesan