Why every S.League stadium should be like Hougang

As part of FourFourTwo’s series on Southeast Asia’s Best Stadiums, Neil Humphreys explains why an unremarkable, compact arena in a Singapore neighbourhood offers the best atmosphere in the S.League...

A visiting friend once asked for advice on watching an S.League game. He wanted a taste of regional football, something quintessentially Singaporean.

There was only one place to go. The cynical Englishman was packed off to Hougang Stadium to hang out with the ‘Hools’.

He came back surprised, to say the least. He had decided to sit with his children near Gate 3, the occupied territory of the Hougang Hools.

Hougang Stadium's distinct kampong feel and intense local support can be attributed to its location. The clue is in the title

They drummed. They sang. They swore. They chanted funny stuff about referees and injured opponents. The friend had to lie to his children about what certain Hokkien and Malay words meant in English.

In other words, Hougang Stadium hosted a real football match, the kind seldom seen in Singapore on a regular basis. The Hools’ cheeky tribalism replicates the unique flavour of lower league English football, in particular, thanks to their venue’s obvious advantages.

Hougang Stadium's distinct kampong feel and intense local support can be attributed to its location. The clue is in the title.

The club embraces its local community. Photo: Hougang United FC

Hougang Stadium sits in a quiet corner of Hougang, beside the Hougang Swimming Complex and the Hougang Sports Centre.

On all four sides, Hougang’s avenues 2, 4, 8 and 10 surround the stadium.

Hougang lacked the obvious advantage of a hundred years of community engagement, so they took a shortcut

The nearest MRT station is Hougang. The nearest mall is Hougang Mall and the town is obviously called, wait for it, Hougang.

Only it’s not obvious, not in Singapore, where the S.League scene has never let common sense get in the way of a little bureaucratic madness.

Geylang play in Bedok. Balestier play in Toa Payoh. Home United represent various government departments, but play in Bishan. Jurong FC no longer feature in the S.League, so Jurong East Stadium currently hosts Albirex Niigata.

The modest stadium outside hides a plush dressing room. Photo: Weixiang Lim/FFT

Tampines Rovers are the only other side to actually play in their hometown, but until very recently they played their home matches at Jurong West Stadium.

Of course, quirky, geographical anomalies and naming issues are not unique to Singapore football.  

Management wisely simplified matters, taking advantage of the stadium’s location and its pre-existing links to the community

West Ham supporters currently lament their alleged loss of identity after moving to the London Stadium. But they previously played at the Boleyn Ground, which no one ever called the Boleyn Ground. Their stadium was known as Upton Park because it was in the same street as Upton Park Station.

They didn’t play in West Ham either. In fact, Upton Park was closer to East Ham. Now they play in a different postcode altogether.

But the Hammers have nurtured their grassroots for more than a century. They’ll survive.

Hougang United lacked the obvious advantage of a hundred years of community engagement, so they took a shortcut to establish their identity.

For a long while, they had the right location, but the wrong name. Before they settled on Hougang United, the club was called more names than the American President.

There was Marine Castle United, a name given to a club that isn’t particularly near the sea. Then there was Sengkang Marine and Sengkang Punggol, even though the club isn’t in either Sengkang or Punggol.

Until finally, management wisely simplified matters, taking advantage of the stadium’s location and its pre-existing links to the community.

Hougang United was born. But it was made by the Hougang Hools.

[NEXT: The legend of the Hools is born]