Fans call for more signings like Pennant
Another strong turnout as Pennant and ex-LionsXII players draw attention
Decked in the colours of Tampines Rovers, Arsenal and Liverpool, a throng of fans lined the stands closest to the players' tunnel after the Stags' 1-0 friendly win over Johor Darul Ta'zim II at the Jalan Besar Stadium last night.
They wanted autographs and photographs with the likes of Izwan Mahbud, Fazrul Nawaz and Christopher van Huizen, and the biggest name of them all, Tampines' new signing Jermaine Pennant, whom they mobbed after he was done with his media interviews on the pitch.
Outside, more than 100 autograph-seekers and photograph-hunters milled around the stadium's carpark, waiting for the players.
Such scenes have been missing from the S.League in recent seasons, and the interest level surrounding the Stags' pre-season friendly suggests a bigger fan turnout in Singapore's domestic football competition this year.
The influx of former LionsXII players - nine of them were snapped up by Stags' coach V Sundramoorthy - and the signing of former English Premiership star Pennant has breathed new life into the league, and especially five-time S.League champions Tampines.
A crowd of around 1,800 - current and former Tampines supporters, as well as curious football fans - turned up at Jalan Besar last night to catch the Stags in action, and were impressed by Pennant's 24-minute cameo in the second half.
And the fans are hoping that the Englishman's arrival will open the door for more former EPL stars to play in the S.League.
"There have been quality foreign players in the S.League in the past, and Singapore has had a long association with the EPL, so it makes a big difference for us," said Patrick Tan, a sales executive and a loyal Tampines fan since 2000.
"It (signing Pennant) is a very bold move by Tampines and a very big risk, but other clubs should follow suit if they can afford to do it and raise the profile of the league."
Andy Teo, 28, used to watch the Stags when they were playing in the east, but stopped going for games after the club moved out of Tampines Stadium at the end of 2011 due to the facility's redevelopment.
The customer service representative said: "I stay in Sengkang, so it was a bit far for me to travel to watch Tampines, but I did it, and also watched their televised matches.
"But, this season, I will try to catch their away matches if they are nearer to my home, like in Bedok or Bishan.
"Perhaps what the S.League can do is to offer free admission to some matches during the season, like tonight's game.
"This, along with other freebies, may help boost attendances."
Singapore Civil Defence Force regular Ferus Amir, 29, added: "Fans are expecting Pennant to do well since he is an ex-EPL player.
"Also, I believe the LionsXII fans will follow their favourite players at their respective S.League clubs and support them locally as well."
Razak Ali, 48, is one such LionsXII fan, and he was not impressed with what he saw last night.
The business owner said he did not watch S.League games before the formation of the LionsXII (end-2011) because he felt that the standard of the local league was not good enough.
He added: "I just came down to see how the former LionsXII players are doing... but I feel that the Football Association of Singapore is making a wrong move by putting these players back into the S.League.
"We should have left the Malaysian football league long ago and moved on to leagues in Hong Kong and Australia, no matter if the players struggle in the lower divisions in these countries."