By Damon Yeo
The S-league is widely expected to kick off its 16th season on 7th February, a couple of days after the celebration of the Chinese New Year in Singapore. This year, more eyes will be on the domestic league, after a very unfortunate 2010, which many had described as the darkest year for Singapore football.
Below is my personal wish list for the upcoming season:
1) Tanjong Pagar United (and playing in the Queenstown Stadium)
I grew up as a Tiong Bahru United fan and had followed the club since before its heydays in the late 1990s. When I first read that they are planning for a comeback to the S-League, I felt that it would do domestic football a good deal. Very few people will disagree with me when I say that I rather Tanjong Pagar United be the 12th club in the S-League than Beijing Guoan (or ANY other Chinese club).
Also, the Jaguars need to play in Queenstown. I fondly remember the times huddling into the small sheltered portion of the stadium on rainy days and rustic feel to the whole place. Current incumbent Etoile FC did generate a fair bit of crowd during their stay there, but let’s be fair – the French-based club does not really aim to draw fans from around the proximity of the stadium in the first place.
2) Free entry / better accessibility for all
Last season, there was much media spotlight on the small number of paying spectators attending S-league games. According to media reports, there were less than 100 paying fans for many of the games. Doing a quick mental sum, a club probably earns less than a thousand dollars per game from gate receipts. If the gate collection is so meager, why not make all the games in the S-League free?
Free entry to all S-league games will encourage the younger crowd (whose few dollars mean a lot more) to turn up to games. In any case, this anticipated larger crowd will help generate higher sales at the various stalls inside and around the stadium. This may not be the one and only solution to bring the crowd back to S-league games, but by the simple economic theory of pricing, I cannot see why this wouldn’t help.
How about free bus shuttles for away fans during match days? Yes Singapore is geographical small, but trips from Tampines to Chua Chu Kang on weekdays can still deter some fans from turning up.
3) Scrap the League Cup/Expand the Singapore Cup
Personally, I see little value in the League Cup in Singapore. Interest is already thin for the main S-league competition itself, why dilute it further by organizing another tournament for the 12 clubs? The Singapore League Cup, in its various incarnations since 2007, never had a consistent format and time frame, swinging from knock-out to round-robin, from pre-season to mid-season.
I wish to see an expanded version of the main Singapore Cup. I personally like the conception of foreign teams in the Singapore Cup. I attended several Cup games last year which involved Bangkok Glass. I am impressed by the turnout of the contingent of Thai supporters, their flag waving and chanting of unique chants (in Thai). There was much gripe in the media when Bangkok Glass won the competition but I don’t think that is a fair reflection on the quality of the local teams at all. Tampines Rovers were unlucky to lose that Final and our Young Lions also finished fourth.
If the Singapore Cup can be expanded to, say, 24 teams (12 S-league; 12 foreign) and the format be changed to round-robin, more interest can be generated. The invitation can be extended to our counterparts in Malaysia and Indonesia – I am sure many fans here will relish a SAFFC-Selangor match in a Cup tie or Noh Alam Shah playing against his ex-club Tampines Rovers.
4) Increased Local Media Coverage
Media companies are in business for the same reason as any other companies – profits. That I understand, but as the most popular source of local media, national papers like The Straits Times and The New Paper need to realign their focus to local football.
It is always very discouraging for me to see our local papers devote pages and pages of reports to the Premier League and just have a small section at the tail-end for the S-league. The local media have a responsibility to sell S-league to its readers and at the moment they are not doing enough of that. Back in the our Malaysia Cup days, people feel that they know our then-players inside out, because they read about them all the time in the local papers. This proximity and support is definitely missing now and the media has the opportunity to bring all that back, if only they want to.
Also, how about more “live” games on television? The “one-game-a-week” tie-in with MediaCorp is by no means enough. Cable TV also broadcasts local football games, but I propose more “free-to-air” games on the MediaCorp channels to reach out to the wider group
5) New Foreign Players
No disrespect to the current crop of foreign players in the S-league now, but recycling the pool of foreign players year in year out is not going to generate more interest. A decade ago, Geylang United managed to sign an Iranian duo that went out to play in the 1998 World Cup Finals. In recent history, a certain Issey Farran Nakajima launched his career in the S-league before moving to Europe and playing for the Canadian national team. The S-League is now crying out for players like them.
I have taken the liberty to find the below list of relatively well-known players who are not attached to any clubs at the moment. If we can sell the concept of living in an urban city like Singapore to them …
i) Jeremie Aliadere (Ex-Arsenal / Ex-Middlesboro)
ii) Michael Mifsud (Ex-Coventry City / Malta National team captain)
iii) Celestine Babayaro (Ex-Chelsea)
iv) Febian Brandy (Ex-Manchester United trainee)
v) Stelios Giannakopoulos (Ex-Bolton / Euro 2004 winner with Greece)
vi) Lee Hendrie (Ex-Aston Villa)
vii) Khalilou Fadiga (Ex-Inter / Ex-Senegal international)
viii) Andy van der Meyde (Ex-Ajax /Ex-Everton)