Revamped Geylang plan to bring back the glory
Sleeping giants awaken as they plot a return to their glory days
There was a time when a Geylang International-Tampines Rovers clash would resonate in local football circles and attract a strong crowd.
Since the S.League kicked off in 1996, the two pioneer members have clinched seven titles between them.
But Geylang have fallen on hard times. Last champions of the S.League 15 years ago, they finished a dismal eighth last season amid a backdrop of underperforming players and dwindling attendances.
As the 2016 Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League campaign prepares for kick off this weekend, few will expect them to stop hot favourites Tampines at Jurong West Stadium on Monday.
But the club's new regime, led by chairman Ben Teng, believe the Eagles are on their way back to the glory days, starting with better fan turnout at home games this season.
Speaking on the sidelines of the club's sponsorship-signing ceremony at Safra Tampines yesterday, Teng revealed that the club were considering mapping a 5km radius around Bedok Stadium as a crucial fan base to reach out to.
The club are pulling out the stops to try and grow the fan base.
Last month, players and officials joined over 800 residents, grassroots leaders and volunteers to distribute more than 15,000kg of rice to an estimated 1,900 households.
"We still need to do a lot of groundwork," said Teng. "Match-day experience is a very important thing."
Teng, who attended the AFC Under-23 final between Japan and Korea in Doha two weeks ago, highlighted the vibrant atmosphere at the game as something he hopes to emulate.
"Even though there were only 5,000 people, you could feel the passion. It's amazing," he added. "We must create that atmosphere in Singapore again."
But he admitted that getting good results on the pitch remained the key to attracting fans again.
"Realistically, if we are in the top four (at the end of the season), we will be satisfied for the first year," he said.
The club unveiled their 24-man squad yesterday, comprising a mixture of youth and experienced names like veteran striker Indra Sahdan and midfielder Isa Halim, who will skipper the Eagles this season.
In signing Croatian forward Branko Cubrilo, Geylang now have a dangerman capable of setting the league alight.
"The most important thing is to start the season well," said head coach Hasrin Jailani. "That's the main thing that we must do to win back the fans.
"Geylang have a good following, but for the past few seasons, the fans are not there.
"Hopefully, we can spring something this year."
Indra, a one-time star striker in the S.League, will take on a mentoring role at the club, and also try and make an impact on the field.
"Geylang have always been a powerhouse in Singapore football. This year, we went through a lot of changes; we have very good young players and the management has been very supportive of the team," said the 37-year-old forward.
"I think Geylang will do quite well this season."
Youth development resonates with Eagles' new main sponsor and adviser
Geylang International yesterday unveiled Epson Singapore as their new main sponsor, ahead of the 2016 Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League season.
While Epson Singapore declined to reveal the value of the deal, Geylang chairman Ben Teng said details of the collaboration will be revealed in the coming months.
At the sponsorship-signing ceremony at Safra Tampines yesterday, Epson Singapore managing director Toshimitsu Tanaka said: "I am proud to highlight that this partnership reflects our common commitment to youth development and sports, as well as in community outreach.
"Indeed, the sponsorship is a natural fit, with Geylang International's strong ties to the community, and Epson's commitment to contributing to the local football scene."
Other sponsors include two sporting brands, local firm Thorb, which will be the club's apparel sponsor, and New Balance, which will provide boots.
"We will not only choose the correct players with passion like us, but also find finances (for the club); build a business around it to make the club sustainable," Teng said.
Meanwhile, the Eagles also unveiled Member of Parliament Tin Pei Ling as adviser to the club.
The MP for MacPherson constituency is the first woman to hold the post at the club.
In her role, Tin will work with the club to attract support from residents of South East Community Development Council, especially for home matches at Bedok Stadium.
"I think this is a football club that has a long history with very eminent football players," she said.
"I am pleased to be able to be part of Geylang International also because we see eye to eye on a very important aspect… and that is youth development."
She added that the club's belief in giving back to the community is also something that is "very close to my heart".
Tin will also advise the club on community outreach programmes, corporate social responsibility, grassroots football programmes and fund-raising activities.
- AQIL HAZIQ MAHMUD