Fresh from the successes of the six-a-side Singapore Masters Football tournaments in Singapore in recent years, this year's edition will witness a different format in a one-off 11-a-side showdown between the Liverpool FC Legends and Singapore Ex-Internationals in The Castlewood Group Liverpool Masters at Jalan Besar Stadium on 15 November.
Tournament director Steve Black explained to FourFourTwo that the switch to the more traditional full-sided 90-minute affair is the effort of tournament organisers Masters Football Asia to enhance the experience of quality veterans football as well as provide more opportunities for former Liverpool players to travel the region and reach out to their loyal local fans.
“We felt that having organised a few six-a-side events which were well supported, but we wanted to have a change, provide something a little bit more different to the Singapore public,” said the 54-year-old Briton who had been running Masters Football in Britain, North America, Middle East and Southeast Asia for 15 years.
“We know the Liverpool fan base here in Singapore is huge. What you wouldn’t know is when we come with six-a-side, we come with a lot less players and it’s hard to accommodate all the Liverpool players that want to play.
“This time we are coming with 16 Liverpool players, we could have brought 25 of them. The demand for places is quite high. That was the swell of opinion and demand for it, so this year we are having 11-a-side game.”
Black felt the evolution of the Masters scene on and off the pitch over the years had helped to reinforce and strengthen the relationship between the club and their fan bases throughout the Southeast Asian region through the presence of former players who had once adorned and captivated the imagination of the fans on the small screen in their active days.
“The legends represent a great opportunity for the passion of football fans to meet their stars and heroes,” he said.
“It doesn’t surprise me at all that Masters Football fulfils the ambition of the local people to meet these players, to see what great stars they really are.
“The fact that we see support not just for the players but also by the clubs who are happy to see what we do and how we respect the players and the clubs. It’s a benefit to the whole family of football.”
Having a more intimate access to the local fans in Southeast Asia through the Masters events fills in the void of football fanatics looking forward to some top-class action from the retired stars even as competition intensifies for the demand of the active first-team sides to tour different parts of the globe in preseason.
The more carefree nature of the Masters allows the now-retired veterans to not only revel in the action on the pitch, but also soak in the local culture and nightlife at their own pace, where previously tight schedules, commercial and security demands made it impossible for them then to take a look at the foreign surroundings.
“Players retire and each year, that represents a new influx of potential Masters players. Some have had enough of playing and will never play, while others love playing and miss the big stage,” Black elaborated.
“Masters Football provides the platform for them to take the stage again, playing in front of an audience.
“When they come to the end of their career and come to these tours, they get to experience the culture of the place a lot more than when they were playing actively.
“When they come and play here (in their active days), they see a pitch, they see the inside of a five-star hotel. They are not allowed to go out, they don’t experience anything of the place.
“But when they become Masters, they are let off the leash, they can experience the cultures and traditions, meet the local people, even from their personal point of view, they can gain a lot more personal experience from being involved in Masters and that’s appreciated by the locals.”
Despite the change in format this year, Black has assured that the republic’s football fans will see an eventual return of the popular six-a-side quadrangular version and more plans are in the pipelines to bring more top-class veterans from other clubs to keep the passion and value of the Masters alive.
“There is still a place for six-a-side in my opinion,” he said.
“It’s a very exciting TV product and to watch live because there’re lots of goals, action and entertainment.
“11-a-side rekindles the memories and nostalgia in the past. We like to and offer both opportunities across this region. In the future for sure, we know the players love coming to Singapore, they provide the hospitality and passion for following the game.
“We will be back beyond this game, with more stars. There is a demand for Manchester United players and top European stars like Pierre van Hooijdonk. I am sure we will come with bigger, better events for the future.”
Among the events fans can look forward to in the future include a potential Manchester United v Liverpool 11-a-side Masters showdown and a possible rematch of the famed 2005 Champions League final between the greats of Liverpool and AC Milan.
With the retired stars looking forward to entertain more and give the local fans more joy, Masters football is set to be a permanent fixture in the Singapore football calendar for some time yet.
The Castlewood Group Liverpool Masters will be held at Jalan Besar Stadium on November 15, 2014. Tickets have now sold out.