Singapore Football

GOOD FOOTBALL, PLEASE

COMMENT

Anywhere around the world, there will be optimism among fans just before their season kicks off.

Clubs who perennially struggle will believe their fortunes are about to turn, their fans will cheerily look forward to a better season ahead.

Along with their fans, the teams billed as giants will feel they are on the cusp of something special.

Football is like that.

The excitement was palpable among the S.League community at the Jalan Besar Stadium last Saturday, as chief executive officer Lim Chin and his team organised a gathering to announce new initiatives for the 2014 season.

Lim Chin and his band have done well in a bid to heighten the fan experience for matches in the Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League.

He believes the quality of football and the off-the-field experience for fans will be crucial to grow the audience of the S.League.

I say the quality of football is what matters most - it is what the clubs in the S.League must deliver, as the 19th season kicks off tonight when heavyweights Tampines Rovers and Home United clash at the Jalan Besar Stadium.

Teams with skilful and fit players complemented by a sprinkling of stars and tutored by innovative, talented coaches will serve up many exciting matches through the course of a season and keep the fans coming back.

Crucially for the S.League, which is striving to haul itself to the next level, such a mix is what will bring fresh faces through the turnstiles.

Football Association of Singapore (FAS) adviser Assoc Prof Ho Peng Kee recently described the 2014 season as an important juncture, as the S.League heads towards its 20th anniversary next year.

As the associations around the region work towards forming the Asean Super League (ASL) next year, I believe it is vital that the S.League clubs put on a show this season because the competition is about to get tougher.

Some in the local football fraternity felt the LionsXII's annual joust in Malaysia's club competitions doomed the S.League.

With some clubs struggling to attract main sponsors and attendances falling for some years, they feared the S.League would suffer further as the public embraced the LionsXII and their cause against arch-rivals from across the Causeway.

But average fan attendance in the S.League has risen from a little over 900 in 2012 to around 1,200 last year.

REAL FEAR

Today, many predict the ASL will hit the S.League hard, and even knock it out.

With a limited talent pool and teams playing in the Malaysian Super League and the ASL, and the S.League struggling to convince a football-mad nation to embrace it, that is a real fear.

This is the season for the S.League to show it can sit alongside the competition, providing worthy entertainment on the field for local fans.

The marquee-player policy worked well in bringing Home United's Lee Kwan Woo and Tanjong Pagar's Monsef Zerka to our shores.

Their calm, vision and dexterity on the ball are unlike any local footballer in the S.League.

Let's hope the trio of new names hired this season by champions Tampines, Balestier Khalsa and DPMM Brunei live up to their star billing.

Teams have to ensure the fitness levels of their players resonate with the fact they are professionals.

Lim Chin and his team have put in yeoman's work to get it right off the pitch for the fans.

They will continue to try to enhance the match-day experience.

But it will fall flat if the standard of football is poor.

The seating can be cramped and hard on the backside, the burgers may be soggy, the nasi lemak basic and the rose syrup dilute with no ice, but all will be forgotten if there is excitement on the pitch.

Only good football sells match tickets.

Let's hope Tampines and Home get the ball rolling tonight.