Don’t blame fans for poor turnout at Brazil's matches: Neil Humphreys
A half-empty stadium is not indicative of a lack of sporting culture
The knee-jerk reaction is always to blame Singaporeans.
It's our fault. The poor turnout for Brazil's pair of friendlies was all down to the little red dot.
No one does self-flagellation quite like us. Indeed, the little red dot could be that sore spot where we forever tekan (Malay for punish) ourselves.
It's not you, Brazil. It's us.
It's always us.
On behalf of a cowed nation, let's doff our caps and apologise for leaving the National Stadium half-empty, twice, and not recognising how lucky we were to be considered worthy of the Selecao's presence.
Please come back and give us a second chance to display our gratitude by buying tickets that cost between $49 and $299 to watch a meaningless friendly.
Really, this has got to stop, or we'll never shake that inferiority complex that sticks, limpet-like, to Singapore's sports culture (or lack of).
But of course, the opposite has happened. A comparison between Kallang's empty seats and a negligible sports culture has inevitably been made, which arguably misses the irony.
An inconsequential friendly between two sides playing thousands of miles away from their home countries should not be used to define a host's sports culture, should it?
The turnout for Lions' internationals and the indifference towards the Singapore Premier League are more accurate barometers of the country's current football standing.
An expensive friendly between Brazil and Nigeria probably is not.
But the inward finger pointing has started anyway. A low crowd of 20,621 ensured a flat atmosphere in last Thursday's 1-1 stalemate between Senegal and Brazil, but that was blamed on the weekday setting.
But when Brazil's second game against Nigeria, played on Sunday, had a marginally worse attendance - 20,385 - the self-flagellation really intensified.
Only nine fans turned up to greet the Selecao at their hotel! Neymar was asked to sign Barcelona jerseys! The only song heard at Kallang was You'll Never Walk Alone for Liverpool's Roberto Firmino! Such shame. Such embarrassment.
Where's our sports culture? Where's our respect for Joga Bonito? Does Singapore have an appreciation for Brazil's storied history?
To which the answer is yes, especially their recent history, which could explain all of the above, without the predictable hand-wringing.
Under coach Tite, Brazil rarely captivate.
At the moment, watching Liverpool and the Selecao is similar only in the way that drinking champagne and flat grape soda is similar.
Meanwhile, Neymar's presence in a one-club league that scarcely registers in Asia means his star is not as bright as it used to be.
To criticise Singaporeans, in this instance, for not turning up in huge numbers is a bizarre reversal of "the customer is always right" motto.
Instead, the customer is apparently wrong for not succumbing to Neymar's cult of celebrity (the very trait that has been previously used as proof of Singapore lacking an authentic sports culture).
Maybe, just maybe, a positive line in the sand was being drawn last week.
Fans will probably continue to pay over the odds to watch glorified exhibitions involving apathetic superstars who don't really want to run around in a humid country on the other side of the planet.
They just won't do it every time any more.
When Brazil defeated Japan 4-0 at the National Stadium in 2014, there were 51,577 boisterous spectators in attendance.
But the stadium was new back then. Plus, there was a sizeable contingent keen on seeing the Japanese.
Senegal and Nigeria do not resonate in the same way.
The low crowds should not be lazily dismissed as the fault of fickle bandwagon jumpers, but a subtle warning instead.
There's a reason why Brazil and the International Champions Cup continue to pop up in a wealthy nation that currently occupies 157th position in the Fifa rankings. It doesn't have much to do with football.
These games are not coated in naivety any more. They are a financial transaction, which is fine, as long as they are mutually beneficial.
The Brazil games obviously weren't, or were not perceived to be. The silence from the empty seats was deafening.
Perhaps it was Brazil's recent lack of swagger, the opposition or the current economic uncertainty, but supporters issued a warning with their wallets.
They are going to be choosy, which isn't necessarily evidence of a declining sports culture.
It's common sense in an uncertain climate.
The crowds will return when an international fixture really appeals, but they are no longer willing to be unquestioning ATM machines.
On this occasion, the customer was almost certainly right.