Make fans the top priority

Make fans the top priority

Just minutes before the international friendly between Singapore and Papua New Guinea kicked off, I struggled to estimate even 1,000 fans at the Hougang Stadium last Saturday.

Eventually, around 1,800 fans turned up to watch the ASEAN champions beat the visitors 2-1.

I wonder if any other nation in the region would have attracted such a paltry crowd on a weekend night where there were no "live" English Premiership games, especially when their own team are record four-time ASEAN champions.

As the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) buckles down for the new year ahead, president Zainudin Nordin and his team should make fans the No. 1 priority for the next 12 months.

NEW FANS

Singapore football needs new fans, it needs to reinvigorate the current loyal following and restore the faith among those who once believed but have been turned off.

The FAS annual general meeting will be held today and there has been much talk among the local fraternity that it will signal the start of a transition of leadership.

While Zainudin will remain president, his tenure will end in 2015 when it is believed he will hand over the reins, possibly to Bernard Tan - managing director of DBS (Indonesia) - currently one of three vice-presidents in the FAS.

There are exciting times ahead for the FAS, and big tournaments to look forward to for Singapore football.

The Under-23s will open their Asian Games campaign in Incheon, South Korea, on Sunday against Tajikistan.

The Lions will kick off the defence of their ASEAN title in their new home at the Singapore Sports Hub in November.

And the Republic will try to make history at the South-east Asia (SEA) Games here next June as the U-23s target a first gold in football.

Next year will also be a big year for the S.League, which enters its 20th season.

Zainudin, Tan, FAS general secretary Winston Lee and the rest of the team have to target growing the Singapore fan base.

If that is the main goal, then major funds still need to be sourced and football standards have to improve.

Talent identification and youth development programmes must be enhanced.

Crucially, programmes must be set in place to develop more top class coaches.

Young stars like Hariss Harun, Safuwan Baharudin and now Sahil Suhaimi must be marketed to become heroes to fans.

While the U-23s face a tough mission in Korea, coach Bernd Stange and the national team must be backed to the hilt in their bid to retain the ASEAN crown at the end of the year because the new 55,000-capacity National Stadium has to be turned into the Lions' den.

Maybe the Lions' three Suzuki Cup group matches - Thailand, Malaysia and a team that emerges from the qualifiers - can be free for Singapore fans.

It will be a fantastic gesture.

And football gold at next year's SEA Games will cap off the upcoming football year in grand style.

There is much to do, and improve.

Let's march together, FAS.


This article was first published on September 12, 2014.
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