From Melbourne City to the Malaysia FA Cup, from the Lions XII triumphant to the Lions XII ripped apart, it’s been one hell of a year for Singapore football. Neil Humphreys picks out the good, the bad and the downright daft of 2015...
1. Safuwan the social media star
The stint was brief, but when Safuwan Baharudin joined Melbourne City at the start of the year, he offered hope where there was none. Like Hansel in the fairytale, the midfielder threw down crumbs of comfort for others to follow.
He was more than Singapore’s first footballer to play in Australia’s A-League. He was a trailblazer and a brief social media star, the first Singaporean player to benefit from Twitter’s instant global reach. His goal against Adelaide was a landmark achievement in itself.
But Melbourne City tweeted footage of his neat finish, which in turn was retweeted by the A-League and sister club Manchester City. He was familiar to millions. The moment was fleeting, but no less significant. His goal, combined with the might of social media, provided a glimpse of what a Singaporean footballer could achieve before a huge audience.
Safuwan has since earned a move to Malaysia Super League (MSL) side PDRM for the 2016 season. But his first goal for Melbourne offered a peek of a tantalising future. It only takes one moment, one tweet, one defining image to propel Singapore football forward in a way that was impossible just a decade ago. Now, we just need a footballer to provide that moment.
2. A cup win is a cup win
With the benefit of hindsight, Singapore’s unexpected Malaysia FA Cup win now assumes greater significance. The silver pot should be the last picked up by a Lions side, in any guise, in any of Malaysia’s domestic competitions (for heaven’s sake, Singapore, read the writing on the wall this time; there’s little to be gained from another soul-sapping trudge back across the Causeway).
Going out with a trophy at least allowed Lions XII to return without tails flapping between legs. Back in May, however, the triumph over Kelantan led to a rather unsavoury clash between the eternal optimists and the irritable nitpickers. Far too many felt obliged to point how insignificant the achievement allegedly was and how the Malaysia FA Cup didn’t compare to the actual Malaysia Cup lifted by the 1994 Dream Team.
If the sniping seemed churlish then, it comes across as incredibly ungrateful now. Considering the Malaysia FA Cup was sandwiched between a wretched start to the calendar year for all national sides and the SEA Games debacle that followed, the secondary pot now feels like a pinnacle.
3. The little keeper who could
Standing at just 1.79m, he’s rather diminutive in stature for a goalkeeper. But no Lion walked taller than Izwan Mahbud in 2015.
He took significant strides towards the spotlight in May, playing a pivotal role in the Lions XII’s Malaysia FA Cup triumph. His outstanding performance against Johor Darul Takzim II in the quarter-final caught the eye, but his messianic antics in Saipan captured the nation’s imagination.
On June 16th, he made 18 saves in a single game in Saitama. He enacted a cheesy pop song. He was big in Japan. He earned his overrun countrymen the unlikeliest of 0-0 draws in the 2018 World Cup and Asian Cup Qualifier. The Japanese media called the performance “god–like”.
Izwan earned a trial with J-League side Matsumoto Yamaga FC. Like Safuwan, the keeper’s impact transcended the game itself, reminding budding athletes that the Causeway marked a geographical border and nothing more. The confident 25-year-old has fixed his sights beyond Singapore’s horizon. Others should be encouraged to do the same.