More football at Sports Hub
National Stadium made the Home of the Lions after FAS and Sports Hub sign MOU
The $1.33 billion Singapore Sports Hub opened its door in 2014, but to date, the national men's football team have played only 11 of their 22 home matches at the National Stadium.
That proportion is set to change after the Sports Hub and Football Association of Singapore (FAS) inked a memorandum of understanding yesterday to officially make the National Stadium the Home of the Lions.
Between seven and 10 football matches will be played at the 55,000-seater venue annually for three years, starting from 2018.
These matches will feature the national men's and women's teams and domestic clubs. It also includes tournaments such as the AFF Suzuki Cup.
This month alone, a total of four matches will be played at the National Stadium.
The national women's football team will host an international friendly against Maldives next Monday, before the national Under-23 side face their Indonesian counterparts on March 21 in a friendly to commemorate 50 years of bilateral ties between both nations.
The Lions will also take on the Maldives on March 23 in preparation for a dead rubber in their Asian Cup qualifier against hosts Taiwan four days later.
Domestic league football will also feature at the venue with the Great Eastern Community Shield between defending champions Albirex Niigata and Tampines Rovers on March 31.
By bringing this localisation of flavour here, it will connect with more people... this is not a one-year affair, this is something we want to build on.Sports Hub CEO Oon Jin Teik
Ex-Singapore international striker Aleksandar Duric welcomed the move, citing memories of his playing days there.
The 47-year-old told The New Paper in a phone interview: "It's good that they're naming (the stadium) after the Lions.
"It makes us proud of the national team, and to know that whenever they play their games, it will be played there."
Duric reminisced: "I remember scoring my first two (international) goals (against Tajikistan) in 2007 at the old stadium.
"That was the first time I played for the national team, the crowds were big and the fans cheered for us. The stadium was ours to own.
"So this is a good gesture from the Sports Hub and it's nice that the Lions have finally found a home at the National Stadium."
FAS also mentioned that the two parties will try to accommodate as many matches for the national men's team as possible.
Former national goalkeeper David Lee, however, believes that for fans to fill up the 55,000-seater stadium, there must be quality on the pitch.
The 59-year-old said: "Right now, the state of Singapore football is not too good, so to draw in the crowd, you really need a top game.
"Maybe if the national team are playing against a good team, and you can expect a crowd of 20,000 to 30,000, then hosting it at the National Stadium is a good idea."
Another former Lions goalkeeper, Rezal Hassan, believes that it will take time to draw the crowd back but the MOU marks a good start.
Said the 44-year-old: "The FAS is doing a good job... so it boils down to Singaporeans to help our own national team."
Rezal reiterated that besides the officials and fans, players must also do their part.
"Results have not been good for the past few years," he said. "But with this partnership, it's now up to the players to prove their critics wrong."
Sundram and Lions hail move by FAS, Sports Hub
National footballers have long grumbled about how they do not feel they enjoy home ground advantage whenever they play at the National Stadium because of their unfamiliarity with the venue and its playing surface.
This could all change after the Football Association of Singapore and the Singapore Sports Hub yesterday signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to make the $1.33 billion Sports Hub the home of the Lions.
As part of the MOU, seven to 10 football matches featuring either the various national teams or domestic clubs will be played at the 55,000-capacity National Stadium for three years, starting from 2018.
Extensive branding elements will also be incorporated at escalators, gates and pillars at the National Stadium, as well as areas inside the venue such as the tunnel which leads to the pitch.
Lions coach V. Sundram Moorthy hailed the initiative.
"This is a great deal for Singapore football," said the 52-year-old, who thrilled fans during his playing days at the venue.
"With the team playing more games here and, more importantly, getting more training sessions, they will definitely get familiar with the pitch and will feel more confident."
National player Faris Ramli said the players welcomed the move.
"So far, for games at the National Stadium, we get to train only one day before the match, and it's not enough for us to get familiar with the pitch," said the 25-year-old winger, who plays for Malaysian top-tier side PKNS FC.
Said FAS president Lim Kia Tong: "We have now taken a huge step to realising our dream of making the Sports Hub the home of the Lions and, through that, benefit the entire football spectrum."
Sports Hub chief executive officer Oon Jin Teik said that the long overdue tie-up "is not a commercial deal" for the venue.
The Straits Times understands that the FAS and Sports Hub will manage the costs of holding matches at the National Stadium between themselves.
Oon added: "We also think that by bringing this localisation of flavour here, it will connect with a lot more people and this is not a one-year affair, this is something we want to build on."