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Dream, create, toil...then reap the rewards1 Mar 2014
Jason is the face and force of football in Malaysia as host and executive producer for Astro SuperSport. Catch Jason and his guests on BPL Turning Points every Monday night at 9pm on channels 831 or 810.
The Taman Desa security guy at the guardhouse blinked twice and looked at me with a puzzled expression. I slowly repeated my instructions about the imminent arrival of a very special house guest.
“It’s John BARNES—kind of stocky with broad shoulders, late 40s, you know the one who played for Liverpool. When he comes, please let him in and send him immediately to block D.”
It was July 2011 and Liverpool were about to play their first ever match in Malaysia. John Barnes was one of our visiting pundits who’d flown out from the UK to sit alongside me and other guests at our makeshift set at Kuala Lumpur’s National Stadium.
But a shortage of suitable hotels meant that the man who once dribbled past half the Brazil team to score a wonder goal at the Maracana Stadium had to stay with Astro SuperSport’s executive producer—me. You can imagine how surreal it was to explain to the Liverpool-supporting security staff that one of their long-time heroes was about to pull up in a battered red and white taxi.
Later, I had to chuckle at the sight of the Jamaican-born legend wearing his pyjamas and tucked into bed in my spare room. I was two years into my contract at Astro and the momentum was building nicely.
Twelve months earlier, we’d hired a load of new people to more than double the size of our team after acquiring the Barclays Premier League (BPL) rights.
In many ways, the previous 12 months had been a coming of age for us. No longer a tiny team putting out a token 30-minute football show every week, we were now playing with the big boys, sharing the production of BPL games with regional giants, ESPN STAR Sports (ESS).
And one magazine programme per week had grown to more than half a dozen. Every weeknight at 9pm, there was a different programme that football fans could watch, including Bola@Mamak, Football Overload and FourFourTwo EuroZone. And instead of using imports, we wanted Malaysians to host and produce the shows. Our search for suitable talent uncovered some real gems like Ross Yusof and The Orange Man on Bola@Mamak and the excellent Belinda Chee in the first season of Football Overload. Adrian Jalaludin appeared on both—and was often the target of good-natured abuse.
We were surprised and delighted when both Bola@Mamak and Football Overload were nominated for Asian TV Awards in 2011 in non-sports categories: Talk and Comedy. Having been a judge for the ATA, I know this is no mean feat, after wading through hundreds of entries from across the Asia-Pacific.
The Bola@Mamak episode that was honoured featured John Barnes as the special guest. It ended with ‘Digger’ performing his part in the Anfield rap, surrounded by Liverpool fans at the Restoran al Barkath.
Liverpool’s first game in Malaysia came several months after Barnesy belted out the Anfield rap under the fluorescent lights of the Al Barkath. Yet he was almost mobbed as I led him through the crowd at Kuala Lumpur’s National Stadium to an autograph signing session into one of the parking lots nearby.
Fellow guest pundit Paul Parker joined Barnes at the autograph-signing table but to my delight, many of our SuperSport personalities were attracting almost as much attention as the ex-internationals under the marquee tent.
The masses also fussed over Dez Corkhill, The Orange Man and Roshan Narayan, asking for their signatures on the souvenir programmes and T-shirts. Less than two years earlier, there was no regular in-house sports programming on SuperSport.
Yet now our Bola@Mamak personalities were an established part of the Malaysian sports consciousness. It was enough to send a shiver of delight down my spine.
Dream, create, toil... and then reap the rewards. Who said miracles don’t happen?