The good, the bad and the FAS Elections (Part One)
With the festive season approaching, it’s a time for forgiving, which is rather handy considering the year Singapore football has suffered.
The year 2016 began on the high of Jermaine Pennant’s arrival and ended on the low of Singapore’s Suzuki Cup debacle. Neil Humphreys reflects on a haphazard 12 months for the struggling national game, starting with the good.
Jermaine Pennant’s arrival
Cynicism is easy. Getting a signature of a household name is hard. For the first time in the S.League’s history, a Singaporean club achieved the latter.
Pennant’s chequered career and declining fitness were a surprise to no one when he signed for Tampines Rovers. Had the former Liverpool winger been younger and healthier and brought less baggage to the negotiations, he wouldn’t have settled in Singapore in the first place.
Still, the 33-year-old’s initial impact was undeniable. Tampines’ S.League opener against Geylang United played to a near-capacity crowd, an unthinkable scenario just a few months before.
His tweets about the S.League reached parts of social media that previous footballers just hadn’t reached. And when his glamour model wife, Alice Goodwin, made a brief stop to watch her husband play here, the story was picked up by every major tabloid newspaper and football site in the UK.
What’s that got to with football? Everything and nothing. Pennant never quite shook off his persistent injuries, but then the Stags never really signed a footballer. They signed an alluring brand. And for a while, the cult of celebrity pulled punters back through the turnstiles.
Hail Hougang United and their Hools
In a relatively quiet corner of a housing estate, a neighbourhood stadium regularly hosted the potential future of the S.League.
Hougang United share their name with their community, their stadium, most of the streets in the area, their MRT station and even their major shopping mall. Hougang United are intrinsically linked with their community.
Chairman Bill Ng, along with his willing army of volunteers, deserve credit for fostering neighbourhood ties with their carnival-like atmosphere on match days.
Similarly prudent measures were applied on the field, too. A mid-table finish disappointed, but at least 10 first-teamers have already committed to next season, including the S.League’s Young Player of the Year M.Anumanthan; a tenacious battler. Atsushi Shirota has also signed from champions Albirex Niigata, joining compatriot and 2015 S.League Player of the Year Fumiya Kogure.
But the real heroes were the HOOLs. Loud, boisterous, wonderfully brash and unapologetically candid, the hardcore fans made Hougang Stadium the most vibrant, authentic sports venue of the year. The HOOLs were genuinely funny and their lyrics occasionally outrageous. In other words, Hougang were a proper football club.