Fans rank ‘familiar’ S-League over MSL

It may not be played in front of capacity crowds, or boast the same sort of intensity that come with leagues having teams with storied rivalries.

But, according to The Straits Times' online English Premier League fan survey, the Great Eastern-YEO'S S-League surprisingly ranks ahead of the Malaysian Super League (MSL) in terms of popularity among local football fans.

In fact, of the 3,046 respondents so far, 2,013 of them - or 66.1 per cent - ranked the MSL, won earlier this year by Singapore's LionsXII in their second year of participation, as their least favourite of a list of nine leagues.

The result is surprising given that the MSL has consistently attracted crowds of about 6,000 a game, while the S-League average gate for last season is about 900.

Fans told The Sunday Times that they chose the S-League over the MSL because of familiarity, with the local league into its 18th season this year.

Said Ashley Goh, a 34-year-old human resources manager: "I used to watch every Malaysia Cup match but now I'm not so familiar with the players.

"I read about the S-League more than I do the MSL, so it's something I'm more familiar with."

Some respondents admit that, when asked to choose between the two leagues, patriotism trumps rivalry. Said Leo Jianhui, a National University of Singapore undergraduate: "I'm a supporter of local football and I like to see how our players perform.

"I do follow the LionsXII's results, but not as closely," added the 23-year-old Tampines Rovers fan.

Jimmy Lye, 54, agreed. "I don't really follow local football but if I had to choose between the S-League or the MSL, I would rather support Singapore football."

However, on closer scrutiny at the statistics behind the results, there is also evidence that the MSL does have some fervent support in Singapore.

While it is the lowest based on a weighted ranking system, 116 respondents picked the MSL as their second-most favourite league - the highest among the four Asian leagues.

The S-League, on the other hand, has 62 respondents putting it as their second-most favourite league.

Furthermore, when comparing the number of times each league was ranked in each fan's top six, the MSL again came out on top, with 635 votes to the S-League's 518.

These figures would appear more reflective of 7,000-odd fans who throng the Jalan Besar Stadium on LionsXII match days.

As marketing manager Randolph Chew noted, watching V.

Sundramoorthy's boys take on teams from across the Causeway is an attractive prospect.

"You can feel that the whole country is behind the boys," the 30-year-old said. "The rivalry with Malaysian teams cannot be replicated in an S-League match."

And there is reason to believe that the LionsXII's success of this season will help the MSL's popularity continue to grow.

"Players like Fandi Ahmad and Malek Awab used to be household names," said 42-year-old Rosdi Hadi, a football fan since the early 1980s. "This year, Sundram's players have really won the fans over."

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