The caged astro-turf pitch on your block where you learned to play as a kid will always have a special place in your heart. That’s for sure. But there are some 5-a-side courts you see on your travels that just outdo others in terms of location. After a recent browse through some old photo alba, we came across this masterpiece in George Town, Malaysia.
Malaysia is very much one of those countries that was shaped by European colonialism, in this case, on behalf of the British. It is difficult to imagine how the various states that make up the current Federation of Malaysia could have formed a union apart from much of what we now call Indonesia without the actions of the British and the Dutch who governed these lands in the 19th and at the beginning of the 20th century. And of all the federated territories of modern Malaysia, arguably none bears the tell-tale hallmarks of British imperialism more than Penang in the country’s north west.
Its capital “George Town” was founded in 1786. Named after King George III (the king after whom the planet Uranus was also originally named), George Town on the island of Penang and Province Wellesley on the mainland opposite were both purchased from the Sultanate of Kedah by Captain Francis Light acting on behalf of the British East India Company in exchange for promise of British military protection of Kedah from the Siamese armies to the north (and a wad of cash). The establishment of a modern port city within the Straits of Malacca (that to this day remains the most valuable shipping lane in the world) in the final decade of the 18th century was a big boost to Britain’s commercial interests in the East Indies. Although no-one knew it at the time, the purchase of Penang and Province Wellesley marked the start of the steady spread of British influence over the western half of the East Indies which would eventually culminate in the formal creation of the Federation of Malaya in 1957 (that later became the Federation of Malaysia in 1963).
The British chromosones within George Town’s DNA are easily visible when one walks downtown for just a few minutes; the surrounding architecture is unmistakably stout, functional and, well, British. Picture a tropical Liverpool if you will. But the large scale migration to British-controlled Penang from most notably China and the Indian subcontinent (two other places in which Britain had considerable commercial interest at the time) in the 19th century has contributed an enormous degree of colour and flavour that have culturally transformed and defined the region. Cultural diversity forms an integral part of Penang’s modern history, and the open-mindedness and tolerance of ideas that go hand-in-hand with diversity have allowed the region to emerge as a haven for entertainment, a digital start-up hotspot and a nucleus for nightlife in the 21st century.
Indeed, this 5-a-side Football court is located very close to the famous wooden jetties of George Town built and inhabited by the city’s Hokkien-Chinese communities. Any youngster going with his mates for a brief Tuesday afternoon kickabout will have to walk through narrow alleyways filled with fading painted Mandarin characters and paper lanterns fluttering gently in the breeze rolling in off the Straits. Unsurprisingly given its strong British connections, Penang has long been a stronghold of Malaysian club Football – traditionally a contest between teams owned and operated by the different states and territories of the federation. Penang is one of the most successful clubs in the history of Malaysian Football, having won 4 Malaya later Malaysia Cups and having appeared in 13 finals with 3 of its championships won in the 1950’s.
While we had plenty of time to explore George Town and Penang, we unfortunately could only admire this stunning court from a distance – we could not get to the entrance! What is your verdict? When was the last time you saw a Football court prettier than this one?