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Why I am excited about the S-League 2011

by Damon Yeo

The 2011 edition of our domestic league kicks off officially on 12 Feb, when Courts Young Lions take on powerhouse SAFFC in a 5pm kick off at the Jalan Besar Stadium.

In any preview article, it is in every pundit’s interest to claim that the upcoming season is going to be more excitable than the one before. Without shooting myself in the foot further, allow me to present five reasons why I am indeed excited about the 2011 S-League season.

1) Tanjong Pagar United

After six long years in hiatus, Tanjong Pagar United have finally made a comeback to the S-League. Yes, this might be a very personal reason for me, but there is no arguing that the Jaguars had been a very well-supported and successful club before its demise in 2004. The club won the Singapore Cup back in 1998 and also finished second in the S-League that year.

History aside, this season will no doubt be a very tough one in terms of results. Club General Manager Francis Lee had already expressed that not finishing last in the S-League will be considered a mini-success. Nonetheless, a comeback is a comeback and I look forward to cheering on a local club which I can truly associate myself with.

2) No more Chinese clubs

For the first time since 2003, there will be no involvement of any Chinese clubs in the S-League. Many readers out there will probably second when I proclaim this a good thing.

There had been four different establishments in seven seasons and besides Shi Jiayi and Qiu Li, it is difficult to say that Chinese involvement had left a positive mark in the league.

From match-fixing allegations to on-the-pitch fracas, these Chinese sides have tainted their own credibility and reputation.

In terms of fan-base, none of these Chinese sides had ever managed to generate the interests of their countrymen in Singapore. Albirex Niigata (S) have done much better with a smaller expatriate population (Japanese).

Well, ok, it is weird to say that I am excited about not seeing any Chinese team in the S-league – let’s just say that I am glad.

3) Project Tribe

For those not familiar with this term, it is a codename of Vanda Sports’ (an events company) project to “transform” the Young Lions.

It is also touted as a pilot project for the company which is hired by the FAS and if successful, the company is likely to be tasked to market the entire S-League.

So far, the reception to Project Tribe had been quite remarkable. Courts, the local retailer, had committed $1million over two years to sponsor the team. The magnitude of this amount is considerable in local football standards.

The renaming of the Young Lions to Courts Young Lions will probably need more getting use to, but perhaps more local companies will step forward to pump money into the league.

Also, the company had lobbied successfully for 5pm kick-off for Saturday games. This shift of timing is aimed to attracted more families and also football fans who are also fans of the Premier League (Premier League games sometimes kick off from 8pm on Saturdays).

It is still way too early to produce a detailed report card of this project, but from what I have seen and read, I am excited about its prospect.

4) Kim Dae-Eui

Before you say “who?” let me say that Kim is not just any other Korean import. He may already be 36, but Kim had arrived at Home United with a very impressive CV.

The Korean winger joined the Protectors from K-League side Suwon Bluewings, having won two league titles and two domestic Cups during his time there. He has also been capped 13 times by South Korea.

Arguably, Kim is not as big a household name as his fellow countrymen Park Ji-Sung or Cha Du Ri, but it has been a while since the S-League had managed to attract talents like Kim. Over the past few seasons it had been more a matter of the league losing talents to other leagues in the region.

Kim’s arrival alone will not ignite the league overnight, but it can be the catalyst for many good things to come in terms of foreign signings.

5) Up from the Abyss

2010 was probably the rock-bottom for our domestic league and our national team in many aspects. The backlash in the media and from the fans is understandable and it showed one thing positive at least – that people still care.

Yes there were very unconstructive comments on some forums and very discouraging remarks about the state of local football. How I choose to see it is that at least they bothered to leave comments and be heard, when it was perhaps easier to ignore and say nothing.

The cold hard truth is, no one likes to support a losing team and no one likes to follow a sinking league. Collectively, fans can make or break the success of S-League 2011.

I am excited that there will be a return of interests from the fans because, quite honestly, when you are at the bottom the only way is up.