Lions blown away by new home
The old National Stadium has a special place in the heart of Hariss Harun; it was where he made history.
Aged 16 years and 217 days, Hariss the boy came on against North Korea, eclipsing Fandi Ahmad as the youngest player to represent Singapore.
But he - like Safuwan Baharudin, 22, two players who will lead the Lions into the future - was blown away by the world-class facility that has replaced the Grand Old Dame.
Speaking to The New Paper after he featured in the Singapore Selection's 5-0 loss to Italian giants Juventus on Saturday, he looked forward to more contests at the new arena.
"It's got a big capacity and the stands can be brought close to the pitch.
"That's what you need - a football-specific stadium for football games - and I'm really glad that this world-class facility has that capability," said Hariss, now 23.
"The fans were so close to the pitch that you weren't just hearing them, it was like you could actually feel them - it was hair-raising when I first stepped out there on Saturday."
Former players, from V Sundramoorthy to Razali Saad, have described the sensation at the old facility as "electric" and "magical", and it appears the new stadium has the same effect on the current generation of players.
While the sounds from the crowd could not be heard from the dressing room, Safuwan admitted to getting goosebumps the moment he stepped into the tunnel before the match.
And he is looking forward to more of the same when the stadium hosts the AFF Suzuki Cup in November.
"We are all definitely thinking about the Suzuki Cup that's just around the corner, it will be amazing to try and retain our title in front of our own fans," he said.
"And I hope we can play more games there before that."
Both players are hoping that the pitch, which was not as lush as they had hoped and sandy in parts, will get better by then.
Hariss said: "The field was not in the best shape (on Saturday) but I'm sure that will be rectified soon, when the grass has time to grow."
"Then, this will be an absolutely perfect venue," added the midfield stalwart, who plays for Johor Darul Ta'zim in the Malaysian Super League.
National coach Bernd Stange has called for more training time at the stadium, which is poised to host three of Lions' friendlies before the Suzuki Cup.
"We want the venue to be synonymous with the Singapore national team, who have to feel that they are at home at the venue," said World Sport Group chief executive Andrew Georgiou.
"That requires them to have access to it."
In response to TNP's queries, Football Association of Singapore (FAS) director of marketing and communications, Gerard Wong said: "We are currently working out our training and match requirements with the Sports Hub.
"We are also finalising our plans for a number of opponents for our Lions in preparation for the Suzuki Cup, and we will announce the dates of these matches at an opportune time.
"The FAS wants to make the National Stadium the home of our Lions."
Hariss is already looking forward to Nov 29, when Singapore will face Causeway rivals Malaysia, in the final Group B fixture of the Suzuki Cup. They will also play Thailand and a qualifier there.
"I hope we can have a full house to welcome our Malaysian counterparts, and show off this facility," said Hariss.
"We all know it's harder to defend a title than to win it. But we want to bring success to Singapore, by retaining our Suzuki Cup title and, hopefully, give an identity to the stadium."
We all know it’s harder to defend a title than to win it. But we want to bring success to Singapore, by retaining our Suzuki Cup title and, hopefully, give an identity to the stadium.
- Hariss Harun emerging from the tunnel at the new 55,000-seater National Stadium
We are all definitely thinking about the Suzuki that’s just around the corner; it will be amazing to try and retain our title in front of our own fans.
- National defender Safuwan Baharudin
Spectator experience will be better
Some complained of ticket prices, while others were annoyed by the long queues at food stands and the fact that beer was sold out at some stalls before the second half of the Singapore Selection-Juventus fixture at the National Stadium on Saturday.
But everyone The New Paper spoke to, after Juventus beat the Selection side 5-0, was blown away by the new world-class facility.
And World Sport Group chief executive Andrew Georgiou (right) believes the spectator experience will keep on getting better, as everyone behind the stadium gets better acquainted with the facility.
"There are bound to be teething issues with any new venue, and the Singapore Sports Hub has five facilities, not just the stadium, and that is challenging," said Georgiou.
"In a couple of months, Brazil will face Japan here, and from the caterer to the carpark folks and the ushers, all will get better.
"They'll understand the staffing requirements, how much beer to stock and the pressures involved with the carpark.
"But, every time we use the venue, all this will get better and better."
Dunga's Brazil will face Asia's No. 1 team Japan on Oct 14, and the Sports Hub's ticketing policy might change by the time Neymar and Co. arrive in Singapore.
"From the ticketing perspective, we've learned a few things from Saturday's match - the top two categories were probably a little more expensive than what people wanted to pay," said Georgiou.
While the cheapest tickets were $45 - for seats behind the goal area - the top two categories, for seats along the middle of the pitch, cost $110 and $180.
"We will take note of that for future matches and, while the Brazil-Japan fixture is of a different level, we will adjust pricing," he said.
Georgiou was pleased with Saturday's event, as well as the atmosphere created by the 27,388 spectators, and he is looking forward to better.
"The event went off very well, but of course there is room for improvement," he said.
"For 27,388 fans, the atmosphere was really good. When we get 55,000 in here, it will be amazing."
We’ve got a great team behind the Singapore Sports Hub, people who’ve done this before in all parts of the world, and they are working hard to figure out the best systems to put in place. With each event, things will keep getting better
- and it will be a well-oiled machine. — World Sport Group chief executive Andrew Georgiou