Local S.League clubs may have to travel to Malacca for Harimau Muda games
Singapore's S.League teams might have to pack their bags for a three-hour road trip when the new season kicks off, likely in March.
According to Razip Ismail, coach of the Harimau Muda 'A' team competing in this season's Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League, his side will play their home games at the Hang Jebat Stadium in Malacca.
Razip told The New Paper yesterday: "Yes, I have been told we will play our matches at the Hang Jebat Stadium for the coming season.
"I don't really know what the rationale is, but the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) was the one that picked the stadium."
When contacted, FAS spokesman Gerard Wong said: "We have yet to receive official confirmation from Harimau Muda on where they will be based for the upcoming season.
"We hope they will get good fan support wherever they are based in Malaysia as this will add more excitement when they play at home in front of their fans."
In the past two seasons, the Malaysian developmental side played their home matches at the Pasir Gudang Stadium in Johor.
In their first season in 2012, the team, then coached by Malaysia Under-23 coach Ong Kim Swee, were based at Yishun Stadium.
While Ong will lead the Malaysia U-23 team at the South-east Asia (SEA) Games in Singapore in June, Razip was recently named coach of the S.League side by the FAM executive committee as he will lead the Malaysian U-22s in their Asian Football Confederation (AFC) U-23 qualifiers in March.
Razip and his charges have started pre-season training in Kuala Lumpur and have yet to train or play at the Hang Jebat Stadium.
Said the former Kuala Lumpur FA coach: "I've not been to Hang Jebat Stadium in almost two years, but I hear the quality of pitch there is better than the one at Pasir Gudang.
"Overall, it's a bigger stadium with a larger capacity (40,000) and better facilities, and maybe that's why the FAM made it their choice."
If it is confirmed that Harimau Muda will be based in Malacca, Singapore clubs will either travel up a day earlier, or on the morning of the match.
With Malaysian kick-off times scheduled at 8.45pm, it would mean local sides will either stay in Malacca for the night on matchday, or return to Singapore by coach in the early hours of the following morning.
Balestier coach Marko Kraljevic has no qualms about more travelling time.
"Listen, we are professionals," said the former Kelantan FA forward and reigning S.League Coach of the Year.
"It's okay, no big deal to me. I'm fine with it. Anyway, to go there and come back in a bus can be good for team bonding.
"If this is the final arrangement, we are okay."
Hougang United coach Salim Moin added: "They (Harimau Muda) have the right to choose where they want to play, and the most important thing for them is to look for a place they can get fan support.
"Maybe, by picking Malacca, they felt it would be more convenient for the S.League teams than, say, Kuala Lumpur.
"It's a good chance for our local players to build their mental strength, travelling three hours then playing a game the next day, which is something they are not used to."
2015 S.LEAGUE ROSTER
- Warriors FC
Uniformed giants move north
Two more S.League clubs will "shift house" ahead of the 2015 season, which is set to kick off in March.
Home United will move from Bishan Stadium to Yishun Stadium, while champions Warriors FC will move from the Choa Chu Kang Stadium to Woodlands Stadium.
This means that the northern region of the country, traditionally regarded as the hotbed of Singapore football, will feature two giants of the local game.
The moves were necessary because of upgrading works at the Bishan and Choa Chu Kang arenas, ahead of June's South-east Asia (SEA) Games.
On Dec 17, The New Paper had reported that Tampines Rovers will play at the Jurong West Stadium this year, after playing their home games at the Clementi Stadium for the past three seasons.
Speaking to The New Paper yesterday, Home United chief executive Azrulnizam Shah Sohaimi said: "We look forward to our move to Yishun Stadium.
"It has been a strong area of support for local football since the days of (the now-defunct club) Sembawang Rangers.
"The club are committed to work hard to continue engaging our fans in Bishan and from our new base of Yishun in the coming year.
"We believe in the power of football to bond the community together and we see this move as an opportunity to build stronger bonds with even more people in the coming season."
Warriors head coach Alex Weaver was also happy with his club's move.
Said the Briton: "The club actually put in a request to play at Woodlands Stadium this year, so I'm pleased that we got it.
"I like the pitch and it's close to Choa Chu Kang, so it's not a bad move at all."
- SAZALI ABDUL AZIZ and ALI KASIM