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Inside the 'Hougang Hools', Singapore's best local football supporters

In this current football climate where there is immense apathy towards the local game, people who actually watch and follow the S.League on a regular basis are few and far between. Yet one group of die-hard supporters are bucking the trend and making their voices heard across stadiums in Singapore.

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Known as the Hougang Hools, they are well-known for their boisterous and fanatical support for unfashionable S.League outfit Hougang United, traditionally one of the smaller clubs in the competition.

It was very quiet and the five of us decided to bring up the noise with our songs. They eventually won and broke their 13-match winless streak

- Hools founder Mervin Tan

FourFourTwo sat down with some members of the Hools at Hougang Stadium to find out more about their motivations behind starting the group.

“The first gathering was on 18 July 2010 where just five of us watched the S.League game between Sengkang Punggol (now known as Hougang United) and Beijing Guoan,” recalled Mervin Tan, founder of the Hougang Hools.

“Back then, we were a group of die-hard Manchester United fans who actually tried to establish the official Manchester United Supporters’ Club that you see today.

“The coach of Sengkang Punggol, Aide Iskandar, was our friend and we decided to adopt his team as we wanted to support local football.

The origin of the name

“During that game, it was very quiet and the five of us decided to bring up the noise with our songs. They eventually won and broke their 13-match winless streak. We were really heartened that what we did left such a positive impact on the players.

“This is why we started the Hougang Hools. We want to establish a culture of support where we stand by our team and create an atmosphere which will motivate the players to play with purpose and passion, rather than just a job.”

Expanding the Hools

From a small group of five, the Hools have since expanded over the years, with an average of 25 turning up on match-days to cheer on the Cheetahs.

We are inspired by the terrace culture and have a dress-code for every game, just like how Borussia Dortmund fans always wear yellow

While Hougang pride themselves as a neighbourhood football club, members come from all over the island and even beyond Singapore shores, with foreign fans from countries such as Australia, England and the Netherlands also joining in at times.

Decked in their black Hools T-shirts and armed with loud drums and gigantic banners, the energetic presence of the Hools is unmissable on match days.

And they have even situated themselves strategically at Gate 3 of Hougang Stadium during home games.

“We are inspired by the terrace culture and have a dress-code for every game, just like how Borussia Dortmund fans always wear yellow,” explained Sal Salihin, another founding member of the Hools.

“Most fan groups would associate their identity with a particular area in their own stadium, such as The Kop in Anfield and the Sudtribune at Westfalenstadion (Dortmund’s famed ‘Yellow Wall’).

“As for us, we decided to choose Gate 3 as it is on higher ground. And this allows us to project our voices better and also hang our banners where it is visible to the players.”

Inspiring future generations of supporters

While the Hools are certainly a passionate bunch of fans, the same cannot be said of most Singaporeans, who often favour the silky European game over the rough and tumble of the S.League.

Hopefully people will start treating what we are doing now as something normal in the future

But the Hools remain hopeful that their enthusiasm and passion towards supporting the local game can rub off on more locals and inspire future generations.

“Many Singaporeans say that they don’t watch the S.League because of a lack of atmosphere, but the reason why there is no atmosphere is because they are not at the stadiums to create the atmosphere,” said Shawn Tan, who joined the Hools in 2011.

“We hope to cultivate a mindset in the future generations that football is not a TV show that you can just switch channels when it gets boring. It is meant to be enjoyed then and there at the stadium where you can soak in the atmosphere and feel the sense of community.

“And we are just the seeds in terms of creating a strong culture of supporting local football. Hopefully people will start treating what we are doing now as something normal in the future.

Hools on tour... Shawn Tan on a trip to England

"This has been going on in football for years, but it is still something new to Singapore football.”

Sal added: “At the end of day, we just want a good football atmosphere in Singapore.

“When you go across the causeway to Malaysia, fans are seen coming out in droves to support teams like Johor Darul Ta'zim (JDT) and Pahang.

At the end of day, we just want a good football atmosphere in Singapore

"We are hoping that one day more Singaporeans will adopt this idea and support their own league like others do.”

As the interview came to an end more than one hour before kick-off in the S.League game between Hougang United and Home United, more than 10 members of the Hools had already gathered outside the stadium.

Pumped up by the crucial game, all of them started to sing one of their match-day songs with the verve and vigour of a professional choir, causing numerous curious passers-by to stop and watch.

While Hougang would eventually lose on this particular day, perhaps that gradual fan revolution in Singapore the Hools are trying to drive has begun.

The players saying thank you to the fans

Photos: Hougang United FC Supporters' Club