Singapore targets armchair fans

SINGAPORE, Jan 20 (Reuters) - Singapore football officials think they have found an answer to dwindling attendances and a lack of interest in the local game - play ball with the English Premier League.

Singapore is a football hotbed in Asia but fans are more passionate about English sides such as Liverpool and Manchester United than the S-League's Geylang United and Tampines Rovers.

The Football Association of Singapore (FAS) hopes scheduling domestic fixtures in the afternoon to let fans get home and switch on the television to watch English football will boost attendances and help the game grow.

"This could allow fans time to watch an S-League match and get back in time to catch their English Premier League matches on TV," FAS General Secretary Winston Lee was quoted as saying by the Today newspaper.

"It will be a pilot project and, if fans like it, we'll look at how we can implement it more."

The sorry state of Singapore football saw the FAS disband the national team following a spate of lacklustre performances including failure to qualify for the AFF Cup knockout stages - the premier ASEAN football tournament.

FAS President Zainudin Nordin pointed to youth as the way forward for football in the city-state and the association has put top priority on youth development, requiring all clubs to set up training programmes for under-16 and under-18 players.

Centres of Excellence will be created to complement youth programmes at the national level.

"When you look at our Youth Olympic Games team, they captured Singaporeans' imagination because this is their team," he added.

The new S-League season kicks off on February 12.