The City Stadium – Where Sports are Worshipped

loading The Grand Stand.

It has seen The Gunners play Malaysia’s finest 11, and Mohd Faiz Subri’s physics-defying free kick.

We do it at home, we do it at the mamak stall, we do it in front of the Astro store in shopping malls. Football matches are great fun to watch, but what’s more thrilling is to experience it at the stadium among die-hard fans.

And for Penangites, home ground is the historic City Stadium.

The Pride of Penang

Penang’s City Stadium is the oldest stadium in Malaysia. The site was originally a venue for official functions circa 1932. Construction of the stadium started after the Second World War and finished in 1948. It was then known as the Penang National Stadium. Further expansion and renovation followed until it was officially completed in 1956. It was considered the most modern and well-equipped stadium back then.

But a stadium is far from mere architectural and engineering planning; it is sacred ground for local supporters – especially when it comes to the good game. For over 60 years, the City Stadium has stood witness to the birth of many great football players and to many unforgettable matches.

From the 1950s to the 1970s, Penang FA was a name to be feared by other teams in Malaysia. This period saw the birth of many great players; among them were the Pang brothers (Siang Teik and Siang Hock), Aziz Ahmad, G. Vasu, Soo-Toh Kim Poh, Zainal Ghani, K. Linganath, Shukor Salleh, and Aziz Ahmad’s nephews, the Abdullah brothers (Namat and Shaharuddin Abdullah). Just like his uncle, who was a top scorer for Penang FA in the 1950s, Shaharuddin was a prolific scorer in his prime. Some avid football fans even claim that he was better than Mokhtar Dahari.

The intimidating factor of Penang FA came not only from the formidable line-up, but also from its fanatical fans. An away-game to the Penang City Stadium would give the opponent the chills. The old timers were a force to be reckoned with – back in the glory days, their thunderous “keramat” chant would make any player in the opposite team nervous. At the height of Penang football, the City Stadium was fearsome ground at which to play.

Its prestige and top-notch facilities were equal to Stadium Merdeka back then. As such, the City Stadium played host to a number of important matches. One of them was a match between the Malaysia XI versus Arsenal FC, held on May 13, 1975, that ended in a 1-1 draw. It was the second encounter between Malaysia’s best 11 and Arsenal FC as part of the Gunners’ Asia Tour. The first encounter was held two days earlier on May 11, 1975 at Stadium Merdeka, which saw a 2-1 win over Arsenal.

The results of both matches stand proof to the claim that it was Malaysia’s strongest national squad ever, with legends like Mokhtar Dahari, Namat Abdullah, Shukor Salleh, Soh Chin Aun and Isa Bakar on the team. On top of that, two back-to-back matches in a tour series in 1975 attest to the existence of a huge football audience in Malaysia, as well as the country’s capability to host international matches.

The turf needs a lot of care and proper handling.

The City Stadium's Hall of Fame.

The Green Green Grass of Home(ground)

A stadium is primarily recognised for its field quality and its high-standard facilities. That is why when Penang’s football prowess dipped from 2003 to 2012 – losing many supporters along the way – the City Stadium still continued to host many international matches, such as the Malaysia-Singapore friendly match and Malaysia-China pre-Olympic match – both held in 2005.

For a stadium, field maintenance is of utmost importance. The task demands tight regulation and supervision; this, and the job of managing the stadium, falls under the supervision of the Penang Island City Council’s Community Service Department (JKM) – which is also responsible for many other recreational facilities on the Island such as Padang Polo, Padang Brown, Padang Kota Lama, the Penang City Park (formerly Youth Park), futsal and tennis courts, and many others.

Field maintenance is more than just the regular mowing routine. “A well-maintained pitch is necessary to provide a high-quality game. It requires regular supervision of all aspects of the field, especially the turf,” says Rashidah Jalaludin, the director of JKM.

The turf needs a lot of care and proper handling. JKM imposes strict regulations on and off the field – from dress codes and the type of events on the schedule. Some shoes are disallowed on the pitch to prevent harming the grass; functions on the pitch are solely restricted to football matches; and there must be a gap between games to let the grass breathe.

“We really are strict when it comes to field regulation – the grass is really sensitive. There is a maximum capacity for the number of people on the pitch at one time. This is in order to minimise the harm on the grass, and the field is used for the sole purpose of playing football; anything other than that would cause serious harm to the turf and would require major restoration,” says Assistant Administrative Officer of JKM, Amir Ali Abdul Raheman. “Another important thing is to give time for the grass to breathe – usually two to three days. During that time, we would also mend and patch the turf if necessary.”

Haria Penang Haria!

Besides regular maintenance, the pitch also undergoes major restoration twice a year. During this period, the stadium is closed for a month for re-turfing, spiking and general maintenance. “We usually close the stadium during Ramadan since there are not many bookings then. For the maintenance, we would call for open tender from contractors. They would first undergo tight screening to confirm their expertise, particularly for football turf,” says Rashidah.

Other than football matches, the City Stadium also receives consistent bookings for track and field events, and training for the athletes is held twice a week. In April this year, the stadium had the honour of hosting the Malaysian Schools Sports Council’s (MSSM) track and field tournament. More than just an arena, it is the heartland for sports in Penang.

For further enquiries on facilities and bookings, visit

Razan Rose writes to put food on his table. He can be reached at

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