What price, Singapore football fans?

The Cubs at the Youth Olympic Games have won two out of their two matches thus far, scoring three goals each time. Not only did they pick up full points, Singapore have also played excellent football, keeping their heads up even when faced with physical disadvantages or having gone behind. The boys have certainly put their seniors to shame, maintaining their composure and sticking to their disciplined game much more strictly than the national team, which has resorted to hopeful long balls up the pitch despite having the talent to push the ball around on the ground.

They have also fed off the capacity crowds at the Jalan Besar Stadium, unlike a former coach of the national team, who has even used spectator stress as an excuse for poor performance. To be fair, a filled National Stadium holds 10 times as many fans as Jalan Besar can accommodate, and the atmosphere is something to be experienced. And neither stadium has seen full houses in a while, with the inferior quality of football compared to that of, say, European Champions League or World Cup matches available on TV, being floated now and again as a reason for poor attendances.

More so than quality on the pitch, prestige of the match in question has always been a big drawing factor for Singaporeans. I noticed this while watching the Asean Championships in 2007. Singapore’s draws with Vietnam and Indonesia were never watched by more than 20,000 spectators, and the 11-0 drubbing of minnows Laos had only 5,224 paying witnesses. Perhaps it was because the win was expected.

But the sold-out terraces for the semi-final against our arch-rivals north of the border Malaysia and the final against their northern neighbours Thailand showed that Singaporeans would make time for their team, provided the occasion was big enough. Likewise, the friendly matches against Brazil, Australia and Liverpool drew the crowds, though it was questionable who they were there to support.

Looking at the positive side of things, if we keep up the standard of play, fans will have fewer excuses to stay away from the stands. As it is, S.League teams cannot make a living based only on gate receipts, and have to rely on sponsors to survive.

The S.League teams have had 15 years to build a fan base for themselves. Some have done this very well, like Geylang, Tampines, SAF, Home and Woodlands. Some have had to merge to survive, like Balestier Khalsa and Sengkang Punggol. Others have fallen by the wayside due to financial or administrative troubles, like Jurong, Sembawang and Tanjong Pagar. Still others have succumbed to mischief off the pitch, like Sinchi, Liaoning, Sporting and Dalian.

How long, then, does it take for a club to settle down in a district and grow its supporter base? When will Singapore fans learn to cheer for their team and stick to one through thick and thin, or will we never do so?

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