Good turnout vindicates Stags' chief Krishna
Turnout indicates Singaporeans can be galvanised to support local game, says Tampines chief Krishna
They were delayed while crossing the border, and only walked to their seats in the National Stadium some five minutes before half-time, but the hearts of Selangor fans clearly beat in tandem with their team.
Announcing their presence with a boom of a bass drum, the small band of some 200 Malaysians out-sang, and out-chanted the majority of the 11,875 that came to watch the final AFC Cup Group E encounter between S.League giants Tampines Rovers and Malaysia Super League (MSL) aristocrats Selangor.
Indeed, the thump-thump of the Malaysian beat seemed to spark a band of Singapore fans.
Chants came from one section, while across the other end, another sparked the Kallang Wave to life, and as the game ended local fandom seemed revived, with shouts of "referee kayu" inevitably coming from the stands.
Tampines ran out deserved 1-0 winners via a stupendous Yasir Hanapi strike in what was a do-or-die game and qualified for the Round of 16, dishing out some entertaining football en route and silencing Selangor coach Zainal Abidin, who had boasted pre-game that the MSL was a higher quality competition than the S.League.
It was not quite the packed-to-the-rafters Grand Old Dame before, but local football's love affair with Singaporeans is clearly still alive, judging from the turnout.
"I did say it looked like it (fandom) had flat-lined, but it's clearly still alive. It was such a quality crowd, the numbers were extremely credible for a Tuesday evening. For me it is very high on the barometer," said Tampines' chairman Krishna Ramachandra, who admitted that the crowd did get his pulse going.
"It was well worth it, there was a hair-raising moment when the crowd started chanting, and the roar came up from one side of the stadium; then they started doing the Kallang Wave," added the 44-year-old lawyer.
"That really made it all worth it."
Some Tampines fans were reportedly annoyed that football authorities had given out free tickets to other clubs while they had to fork out the $10 per match ticket, but Krishna believes the vitriol was unfounded.
"The negativity was totally uncalled for, as at the end of the day, the top priority was to galvanise football here," said Krishna who believes that crowd numbers clearly illustrated that the move by the S.League club to hold a game at the 55,000-seater National Stadium was the correct one.
"It was such a validation for my team as we have worked so hard to get things going against the odds," he said.
For a while last night, it looked like the endeavour was going to fall flat on its face.
An hour before the 7pm kick off, there were more security staff than fans inside the stadium.
But in true Singaporean fashion, people started streaming in, and continued to do so till the 35-minute mark, forcing organisers to open more and more sections.
"At 6.30pm I was thinking, oh my, did we get the dates wrong? But still people were coming to buy tickets even after the game started," said a beaming Krishna, who will support the cause for other S.League sides to play at Kallang in the future.
Tampines were the last side to play at the old National Stadium in the 2006 Singapore Cup final and became the first to do so at the new facility.
The Stags will not play its round-of-16 fixture against Indian side Mohun Bagan at the National Stadium - the draw had earlier decided that by virtue of being Group G winners Mohun will host the one-off match at its Kolkata home ground.
"The next team that comes along, whoever it may be, we will need to give our support - because we need to create momentum after what we saw here tonight," said Krishna.
"The establishment needs to take note of this and make opportunities more accessible, and of course, I'd say give more funding."
Tampines have been in the news recently with their cash-flow problems raising several eyebrows, but inspired by the fan turnout and what he believes was the "best performance" his team have put up on the back of that support, Krishna is dreaming even bigger.
"The fans have given a good signal that there is good interest in football, and I hope they come and support the S.League.
"The S.League has a credible offering, but I believe it needs to be tweaked and privatised with a new offering that reaches out to a brand new fan base," he said, without going into details.
"I want to promote this privatisation model so that it is commercially sustainable for football clubs."
It was quite packed, and that is another plus point (in addition to the team performance). The fans are coming, and that’s great, and if the quality (of football) improves, more fans will come to support.
— Victorious Tampines coach, V Sundramoorthy