Singapore’s AFC Cup representatives Tampines Rovers and Balestier Khalsa are having a decent run in the group stages so far, with the former faring a little better than the 2015 League Cup runners-up.
It’s great for Singapore football to have two representatives in continental competitions, exposing local talent to top level football in Asia’s second tier tournament, behind the AFC Champions League. Having the likes of Jermaine Pennant to guide the Stags’ local players through the tournament is another plus as well.
With Tampines being granted the use of the National Stadium to host Malaysian side Selangor in their final group game in May, one issue that should be brought up among the local football fraternity is why AFC Cup games are not being played at the club’s real home grounds, and instead played out at Jalan Besar or the Sports Hub?
Sure, Jalan Besar and the National Stadium are bigger, grander football grounds. They fit the AFC stadia guidelines, in terms of lighting and facilities, and can fit more people in a much more comfortable setting.
these should remain for the national teams and cup finals
However, the Football Association of Singapore (FAS), its S.League and the clubs involved are forgoing a possibly lucrative opportunity from their participation in Asian competition.
First, aside from stadia requirements, playing AFC Cup games at the club’s real home grounds would possibly have attracted a greater crowd to the stadiums, considering the relative importance and grandeur of an Asian game compared to a normal S.League match.
Though Tampines Rovers is currently on the other side of the country at Jurong West Stadium (only moving back to Tampines Stadium in 2018), AFC Cup games hosted at home turfs would have played a vital role in pulling more fans within the community to the stadium, to watch their own club’s stars pitted against the continent’s best in their own backyard.
asian games will bring more nearby fans in
Next, hosting AFC Cup games on home grounds would have afforded clubs the opportunity to improve their stadiums to AFC standards. It would certainly have been an added incentive for the clubs’ management to heavily invest in their playing squad, so as to give themselves the best chance to qualify for AFC competition. What harm would there be for stadiums to be improved functionally, to look better aesthetically?
Fans would be more drawn to stadiums if they looked prettier and had more about them, rather than its current stale, almost dilapidated state. The FAS should take it upon themselves to subsidise the ground improvements required to meet AFC standards for clubs that qualify for continental competitions.
local stadia like toa payoh’s could do with much improvement
With better stadiums drawing more fans, such financial carrots could be what’s needed to truly push clubs chairmen to go for the jugular and invest in truly high-quality overseas talent, like what Tampines did in the last off-season, to play alongside our best local professionals.
As the next few years go by, more clubs would make the AFC Cup, at the minimum, and with more stadiums being improved to a higher level, this can only bode well for the future of Singapore’s local football scene.
Last, in a football sense, allowing clubs to play their AFC Cup games at their home grounds would likely provide a better, more advantageous, atmosphere for the home team, and perhaps an intimidating one for their visitors. With more fans from the community coming to support their local club in continental competitions, what’s to say the passion and support within, say Toa Payoh Stadium, would not be more intense than at Jalan Besar?
balestier could do with all the help they can get
The improved support for local clubs could give them an edge over their opponents, possibly inspiring the players more and giving clubs the best possible chance of progression in the tournament.
Opposition teams would have a better feel of the local clubs’ individual flavour, while away supporters would get a better taste of the local fans’ spirit. Playing AFC games at home grounds would provide foreign teams, officials and fans a much more holistic glimpse of Singapore football.
Our participating clubs would then be better adverts for Singapore football, without even having to travel out of the country. Back home, this could even produce a greater affinity between fans and their nearby local clubs. On a national scale, regional rivalries, within Singapore, could finally become a thing, and eventually produce the kind of intense club rivalries sorely lacking within Singapore football.
This can all happen, but has to start with moving AFC Cup games back into the heartlands, back into the clubs’ true home grounds. Of course, this would require much investment into improving stadiums to meet continental standards, but such financial commitment would be worth it both in the short and long haul, and one that the clubs and the FAS should make.
One simple switch could end up being one of the main reasons for the revival and resurgence of Singapore football within the next decade.