Washed out, but S.League awash with optimism
Warriors-Tampines match abandoned, as fans continue to flock to stadiums
Match officials took close to two hours to come to a decision last night, but it didn't stop fans from staying back and braving the rain at Jalan Besar until the announcement came at 9.29pm.
The Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League clash between Warriors FC and Tampines Rovers last night was abandoned after just 12 minutes of action, with inclement weather resulting in a waterlogged pitch.
The rescheduled date was not announced yesterday.
But even heavy rain could not snuff out the flame that seems to have been sparked by Tampines' marquee signing, Jermaine Pennant.
Even as several fans left Jalan Besar, there was a father-son pair sitting behind the Stags' bench - in Tampines jerseys no less - one wore the No. 9 of Pennant, while the other wore a Christopher van Huizen shirt.
A total of 2,898 fans turned up last night, taking the league's average attendance this season to 2,436.
The figure is almost double 2015's average of 1,302.
Fans are returning to the league, and that has not gone unnoticed.
"There's definitely a buzz around the league. The best local players (from the LionsXII) are now back at S.League clubs, and you would expect their fans to be spread across the league as they follow their favourite players," said Warriors coach Jorg Steinebrunner.
The German has evidently hit the nail on the head.
"Honestly, I'm here to support the S.League because I'm a LionsXII fan, and the players are with the various clubs now," said Ben Wong, the man wearing a Pennant shirt.
"I think the standard of football is good, with star players like Jermaine Pennant, and almost all the LionsXII players are in the S.League."
Wong's enthusiasm has rubbed off on 13-year-old son Andrew.
"I'm wearing this jersey because I think Christopher van Huizen is a skilful guy, and he's also scored for the LionsXII before, and that's when I started admiring him," said the youngster who has van Huizen's autograph on the jersey he wore.
"I've even met him (van Huizen) and taken a picture with him," he added with a smile.
The father and son live in Jurong, where Tampines are currently based, but the older Wong does not mind travelling to watch the Stags.
It is a sentiment shared by another former LionsXII fan, 60-year-old Roslan Abdul Rahim.
"I've been to five S.League games already. I must say that Tampines are a good team, and the Garena Young Lions look like a team with a lot of potential," he said. "I think the S.League has improved, and I will watch from now on."
While the league did not provide average ticket sales figures, the attendance numbers are very encouraging.
In 2011, the league hit a new low in average attendance of 944, which went even lower the following year with an annual average of 876.
But along with fans, sponsors seem to be returning, with Garena splashing out $4 million on a two-year sponsorship deal with the Young Lions.
The league is also being backed by SMRT with images of its clubs and players carried on MRT trains.
Steinebrunner insists that the football fraternity must not rest on its laurels.
"A lot of the games have been well attended, now the onus is on clubs to do well and, if the games continue to be as exciting as they are, there's no reason for fans to stay away," said the former Geylang International coach.
"But everyone must do his part, including the Football Association of Singapore (FAS), to make sure that the fans are well taken care of," he added, giving the example of informing fans early once the date for the rescheduled Warriors-Tampines game has been confirmed, as well as ensuring that ticket stubs from last night can be re-used.
The German also believes that his players, and even him, must keep their side of the bargain.
"Of course, on the football side, clubs must make sure that they keep playing good football."
It’s an important game because first home games always set the tone for the rest of the season. After our draw against title favourites Tampines, we need to start believing in ourselves that we’re actually better than what we really are.
— Geylang International winger Gabriel Quak looking ahead to the home match against league champions Brunei DPMM tonight