National Day honour for LionsXII

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (C) celebrates victory with Singapore's LionsXll players after they defeated KL Felda United in Jalan Besar Stadium during the Malaysian Super League in Singapore on July, 2 2013.

SINGAPORE - There was a time when specifics were not required in conversations about local football.

That V Sundramoorthy overhead kick, the Quah Kim Song header, and that glorious day at the Shah Alam Stadium in 1994.

They are all images seared into the Singapore psyche, and not just among football fans.

The LionsXII (above) have been the toast of the country since they lifted the 2013 Malaysian Super League (MSL) title.

In an unprecedented move, coach Sundramoorthy and his men will feature in the National Day Parade (NDP) at the Floating Platform on Aug 9 as the republic celebrates its 48th birthday.

While it is still a long way off from the days of the Malaysia Cup, the fraternity is hopeful that this is a signal that local football is beginning to capture the imagination of the country.

"The NDP is carefully organised and there must be a bigger objective to include football in it. And I'm glad because this means that football is coming back into the Singapore psyche," said former Singapore international r Sasikumar.

Themed "Many Stories... One Singapore," this year's NDP will call on Singaporeans to share that which defines and identifies them as Singaporeans.

The inclusion of football in the celebrations makes John Yap, chairman of former S-League club Gombak United, hopeful that there will be more support for the local game.

"Does this mean that there will be more patronage and a keener interest from the top regarding the development of the sport, and the S-League, which is in want of official support?" mulled Yap.

"Either way, (the LionsXII being included in the NDP) is a promotion of the sport that augurs well for the future."

Former national captain Nazri Nasir was among the pledge-takers at the NDP in 2000, but this is the first time a full team will be included in the parade.

The national team were crowned ASEAN champions last December - becoming the first nation in the region to lift the title four times - beating Thailand in the final.

Like many in the fraternity, Sasi was surprised that it is the LionsXII who will make history.

"I must admit that I'm a little surprised. It's nice that a football team has been elevated, but I would think that the national team are more deserving having won a regional competition," he said.

Speaking on condition of anonymity a local football fan said: "The MSL is not an international competition and this is, in fact, sending a wrong message to the public.

Bigger picture

"This (inclusion) could be a sign that football may be getting more support, but the question remains: Are we looking at the bigger picture - of development and international success - or are we just to be content winning across the Causeway?"

Bernd Stange's Lions start preparations for the Aug 14 clash with Oman in a critical Group A Asian Cup qualifier on Saturday, the day of the NDP fulldress rehearsal.

Speaking to The New Paper just before heading to the Floating Platform for his first rehearsal, LionsXII captain and national skipper, Shahril Ishak, was simply honoured for his team - and football - to be included.

"This is special for us, and also for Singapore football, to be appreciated off the pitch. I'm honoured and very excited as this is the first time that I'll be involved in the NDP," he said.

"When my daughter grows up, I'll tell her that daddy was there at the NDP."

shamiro@sph.com.sg


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