SINGAPORE - What started as an initiative to occupy youths during their school holidays and steer them away from crime is now the largest football league in Singapore.
The Delta League consists of 2,000 players who make up 96 teams - a far cry from the 16 teams it started with in 2011.
A brainchild of Clementi Police Division, it is open to boys aged between 13 and 17. More than 6,000 have taken part to date.
The competition is held twice a year during the June and year-end school holidays, and typically lasts four to six weeks.
It consists of round-robin group matches and a knockout stage which leads up to a final for two categories - under-16 and under-18.
On Jan 3, in the finals held at Jalan Besar Stadium, Class of 98 - a team made up of 20 friends - emerged champion in the under-18 category, beating Vivala Paris, 3-0.
In the under-16 category, Dayak Boys Junior beat Regent Flowmaster by a score of 4-1.
The winning teams received a $2,000 cash prize while the runners-up received $1,000.
Class of 98 midfielder Muhammad Hami Syahin Said, 17 - a Singapore Sports School student - said: "Many of the players in the league can play football well, so it's quite intense and it's enjoyable.
"Instead of hanging out and getting into trouble, playing football is good because it's a form of exercise. I hope the competition can be held more often, though."
Among the police officers who acted as the youngsters' mentors was Station Inspector Mohamad Ismadi, from the Jurong East Neighbourhood Police Centre.
He said: "The students know that we're police officers, but there's no barrier and they're not shy to talk to us about their problems."
National Crime Prevention Council chairman Tan Kian Hoon said the league has grown from "informal football games between neighbourhood kids" to an islandwide programme.
He said: "Through the Delta League, we are inculcating the right values in our youths, keeping them occupied meaningfully in their spare time and motivating them to give back to society."
KEEPING OUT OF TROUBLE
Instead of hanging out and getting into trouble, playing football is good because it's a form of exercise.
- Class of 98 midfielder Muhammad Hami Syahin Said, on being part of the league
This article was first published on Jan 13, 2015.
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