A former Eastbourne Borough player has looked back on the past few years of his life after going from non-league football in England to scoring internationally for Malaysia.
Darren Lok’s life changed when his now agent, Scott Ollerenshaw, contacted him over the internet after spotting an interview Lok gave to a football magazine. The question Ollerenshaw asked was, ‘Have you ever considered playing football in Malaysia?’
Lok was playing for The Sports and balancing shift work at a south east NHS psychiatric hospital when he got the call.
“We met a few months later and Scott explained it in more detail,” said the former Eastbourne Borough man talking to the BBC, “and told me I would be eligible for a Malaysian passport through my father, and that if I moved I could have the chance to represent Malaysia at international level.
“Every non-league player knows how hard it is to juggle work with football, and to have the chance to focus on my football was really appealing.
“After giving it plenty of thought I decided it was too big an opportunity to turn down and one that I would regret if I did not take.”
Lok went on to make his debut for Malaysia in 2016 and scored his first international goal against Syria in 2017.
The striker said, “I didn’t realise how big football in Malaysia was.
“My debut for Malaysia was the first big crowd I’d played in front of, it was about 20,000. It was surreal having played in front of crowds of 500 people in England.”
According to the BBC, Lok’s team, Johor Darul Ta’zim, are the biggest club in Malaysia and one of the biggest in South East Asia. They have facilities and a following that could rival most Premier League teams and have 700,000 followers on Instagram.
Lok has seen himself in the presence of true football greats and influential people over the last three years. A leading figure is his team’s owner, Tunku Ismail Idris - a member of the Malaysian royal family.
The 28-year-old said, “The owner is extremely passionate and supportive, and has a great vision for the club moving forward. He is very well connected in the football world and is close friends with Peter Lim,” - owner of Valencia and co-owner of Salford City.
“Many players have visited the club since I have been here - David Beckham, Robert Pires, Ronaldo, Rivaldo, Alessandro Nesta and Hernan Crespo just to name a few.”
Lok has noticed changes both on and off the pitch since touching down in Asia.
He said, “The culture is very different and in terms of the football, the climate and the pitches took a long time to get used to.
“It’s a tropical country where temperatures tend to be 35-40 degrees all year round. The majority of pitches here are cow grass, the ball rolls a lot slower and that took time to adjust to.”
The Malaysian international spoke of the media whirlwind that accompanied him on his arrival, which he was admittedly not used to.
He said, “It was a crazy few months. It was things like having to do media interviews that I had to get used to - it was all new to me. Also all the games were televised. That’s normal for experienced pros but coming from non-league it was all completely new to me.”
Hailsham-born Lok is set to feature on the new Pro Evolution Soccer game due to his side’s participation in the Asian Champions League. JDT have also gone on to win six consecutive league titles in a row, the first ever team to do so.
JDT, founded in 1972, currently sit top of the Malaysian Super League and their next game is at their home ground, the Tan Sri Dato’ Haji Hassan Yunos Stadium, where they will take on Selangor in the semi-final of the Malaysia Cup this Saturday at 2pm.