Ex-internationals challenge S.League clubs to build on hype
Ex-internationals urge S.League clubs to improve marketing efforts and bring the crowds back
Even before a ball has been kicked, there has been much buzz generated for the 21st season of the Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League.
With the LionsXII exiting the Malaysian Super League and the players snapped up by various local clubs, the level of competition will almost certainly improve this term.
The hype was then heightened, both locally and overseas, when former Arsenal and Liverpool star Jermaine Pennant signed for five-time champions Tampines Rovers.
Former Singapore captains Samad Allapitchay and Razali Saad have given the thumbs-up to the early buzz, but they also challenged the clubs to maintain and grow this interest in the local professional league.
"It is good that the LionsXII players are with the various local S.League clubs now," said Razali, 51, yesterday morning, on the sidelines of Great Eastern's SG50 Wishes event at the Jalan Besar Stadium.
"Hopefully, fans will go and see these players not just in matches, but also in training, and they will spread the word among their respective communities.
"This will create a buzz and, hopefully, more young children will dream of becoming football players."
The former defender, who played for the Republic in the 1984 Asian Cup, said that clubs should do more in marketing themselves to the fans.
He said: "In the early years of the S.League, we had kiosks selling jerseys and fanfares outside the stadiums on matchdays.
"Finances may be an issue with S.League clubs, but good marketing personnel is important to reach out to their fanbase."
To be sure, various S.League clubs have ramped up their promotional efforts in the lead-up to the 21st season, which starts next month.
For example, Geylang International players and staff distributed food and household necessities to Chai Chee residents last weekend, and are arranging transportation for their fans to watch their pre-season friendly against Johor Darul Ta'zim at Larkin Stadium on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Home United created an A3-sized poster of their 2016 squad for sale at their open training session and meet-and-greet with fans at the Bishan Stadium yesterday evening.
Samad, 65, believes the LionsXII players could have been more evenly distributed - Tampines have signed nine of former LionsXII coach Fandi Ahmad's stars - to ensure a more competitive league this season.
He warned that clubs, especially the Stags, will have to play at a higher level this season to sustain or build on the initial interest.
Samad said: "The LionsXII players have gained a lot of experience travelling and playing in Malaysia.
"Now they need to keep playing at that level in the S.League to help get the crowds in."
Dream comes true for Boys United FC
He is a big fan of local football legend Fandi Ahmad, but never had a chance to interact with the 53-year-old, much less play football with the former LionsXII coach.
Yesterday, Bukhari Mohamed Salleh's dream came true as the 38-year-old and his team of coaches from Boys United FC played a 20-minute, six-a-side friendly at the Jalan Besar Stadium against former Singapore internationals such as Fandi, Nazri Nasir, Ho Kwang Hock, Razali Saad, Shahri Rahim and Samad Allapitchay.
The ex-internationals then aided the coaches in holding an hour-long football clinic for 45 boys from Boys United, which gives children from low-income families in Yishun a chance to play football.
Also present was Ong Ye Kung, Acting Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills) and Senior Minister of State for Defence, who was invited by Bukhari to participate in the friendly.
WISH GRANTED: Football legend Fandi Ahmad (in white) playing in a friendly at the Jalan Besar Stadium yesterday, as part of Great Eastern's SG50 Wishes campaign. The match and football clinic were the wishes of volunteer football coach Bukhari Mohamed Salleh (in red).
The opportunity was made possible by Great Eastern, as part of their SG50 Wishes Campaign.
Bukhari, a private bus driver, said: "I saw this campaign on Great Eastern's (GE) Facebook page and decided to try, not just for myself, but also the children and the other coaches.
"I couldn't be happier when I was told in November last year that my wish has been selected."
Fandi said: "It is a fantastic initiative by GE and Boys United. The ex-internationals are honoured to be here today and we hope we made the participants happy."
Yesterday's event marked the end of GE's campaign, in which they granted almost 50 wishes.
GE's chief marketing officer Colin Chan said: "We are delighted to fulfil Bukhari's wish.
"He and his team of coaches are to be lauded for spending their Sundays volunteering their time and services to coach aspiring young footballers."
- LIM SAY HENG