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Don’t be fair weather fans: Football chief Lim

SINGAPORE – The Singapore national football team kicks off 2018 with the task of clawing back from an all-time low of No 173 on the Fifa rankings, but Mr Lim Kia Tong, president of the Football Association of Singapore (FAS), is optimistic that the new year will deliver hope, and thrills for fans here.

Football Association of Singapore president Lim Kia Tong (third from left) and Singapore Sports Hub CEO Oon Jin Teik (fourth from left) at the MOU signing ceremony on Feb 28 at the National Stadium. Photo: Low Lin Fhoong/TODAY

Football Association of Singapore president Lim Kia Tong (third from left) and Singapore Sports Hub CEO Oon Jin Teik (fourth from left) at the MOU signing ceremony on Feb 28 at the National Stadium. Photo: Low Lin Fhoong/TODAY

SINGAPORE – The Singapore national football team kicks off 2018 with the task of clawing back from an all-time low of No 173 on the Fifa rankings, but Mr Lim Kia Tong, president of the Football Association of Singapore (FAS), is optimistic that the new year will deliver hope, and thrills for fans here.

On March 23, the Lions will play Maldives – which is ranked No 150 – in its first international ‘A’ friendly this year at the National Stadium as part of the FAS’ Memorandum of Understanding with SportsHub Pte Ltd (SHPL) first announced in November last year.

With the Lions struggling to fill the 55,000-seater National Stadium during recent outings at Kallang, Mr Lim admitted that it will take time to win over the fans, as the football chief stressed that supporters should look beyond results.

Speaking to TODAY at the MOU signing ceremony at the Sports Hub on Wednesday (Feb 28), he said that Singapore football “needs to bring back the fervour” of the Malaysia Cup days in the 1980s when the old National Stadium saw capacity crowds.

He said: “We have to analyse why the crowd is not coming forward. Is it because the national team is not doing well, if it’s because (of that), that is a fair weather crowd.

“We don’t want Singaporeans to be fair weather fans. If the national team goes down, they must be there to prop up the team and urge them forward. This is the culture that we want to foster. It’s all in the minds of the fans.”

The national football team's last two matches at the National Stadium against Lebanon and Bahrain on Nov 9 and Nov 14, 2017, respectively drew 3,571 and 4,628 spectators, while the glamour friendly against Argentina in June last year saw a turnout of 28,000 fans.

Mr Oon Jin Teik, chief executive officer of the Singapore Sports Hub, acknowledged that “spectatorship is a continuous challenge for all sports, for all countries”.

Bringing back the Kallang Roar, and fans, to the National Stadium would need a combination of selling points, including a good football team, talent and “continuous performance”, said Mr Oon.

He added: “We have to make sure we build a good atmosphere, tickets are affordable, and we instill pride (in fans), a pride that has to be built.”

The three-year partnership between SHPL and FAS will see the S$1.33 billion facility become “Home of the Lions” – hosting between seven and 10 matches per calendar year at the National Stadium, with four matches to kick off the 2018 season in March.

Football festivals and stadium tours will also be held to get the public and fans involved, and high traffic areas at the Sports Hub - including its perimeter walkways - will get a “Home of the Lions” facelift.

The March 23 clash against Maldives will also serve as a warm-up for the Lions’ final match against Taiwan in the Asian Football Confederation Asian Cup qualifier four days later.

While Singapore is out of the running as the Lions are bottom of Group E with just two points (no wins, two draws, three losses), national head coach V Sundramoorthy wants to kick off the year on a winning note.

He said: “Looking at 2018, obviously it’ll be a better year for us. Maldives is ranked higher than us, so it’ll be good preparation for us.

“As a player I always loved playing in the National Stadium…the players will feel at home here.”

Mr Lim added: “I believe with the emphasis on younger players and focus on discipline…I hope to see a change in attitudes to produce better teams (in the S-League), and I’ve given directions to national coach to try out younger players.”

Football fans hoping to catch big name teams such as Argentina, which played at the stadium in June last year, will also be keeping their fingers crossed, as Mr Lim told TODAY that FAS is looking into bringing more popular international teams here.

But financial prudence will be key, as he cited the high cost of bringing in teams like Argentina as an obstacle.

He added: “Indonesia will be having Iceland and they made an impact (in international football). Unfortunately they couldn’t come and play here.

“Shall we look at Europe? That will be a possible area as that will generate interest. There’s no point pumping in money when you know that the crowd is not there.”

Football action at the National Stadium:

March 5 – Women’s international ‘A’ friendly, Singapore vs Maldives*

March 21 – International U23 friendly: Rising 50 Celebrations, Singapore vs Indonesia

March 23 – International ‘A’ friendly, Singapore vs Maldives

March 31 – Great Eastern Community Shield clash, Albirex Niigata vs Tampines Rovers

*Entry to this match is free

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