There were spirited music and dance performances, a mini tournament for children, and best of all – over 15,000 fans in attendance at this particular football match.
Over 15,000 fans caught the Great Eastern Community Shield at the National Stadium. Photo: SportSG
It wasn’t an international friendly, nor was it a clash between Southeast Asia’s finest teams. It was an S.League match – and one that was like no other too.
Sunday evening’s Great Eastern Community Shield, a match that saw Albirex Niigata FC (S) beating the Tampines Rovers FC with a 2-1 score, marked the first time that an S.League match was being held at the new National Stadium.
It also saw the supporters out in full force, optimistic that this season-opener – with its efforts to appeal to fans from different demographics – heralded better days to come for Singapore’s professional football league.
With crowds making their way to the Sports Hub for some pre-game fun at the Football Fanzone at the OCBC Square, the festivities began early that afternoon. Activity booths featured the various S.League clubs, fronted by their mascots and players, while a kids’ football tournament took place to encouraging cheers from the crowd.
Hariz Mohd Farid, a youth football player from the national under-20 squad. Photo: SportSG
“This Fanzone is a first – I’ve never seen anything like that at a Community Shield match before! I thought the kids’ futsal tournament was really good. They were so cute, playing in front of such a big crowd! It’s a great effort to include all of them,” exclaimed Hariz Mohd Farid, a youth football player from the national under-20 squad.
The Albirex cheerleaders too, took the stage with an energetic performance at the Square. Meanwhile, ITE College East’s Soul Percussion Club brought the carnival-like atmosphere up another notch at the National Stadium itself.
The Community Shield contest itself was an intriguing one, with a goal from Tampines Rovers winger Ryutaro Megumi in the 36th minute drawing raucous cheers from the crowd – which comprised, predominantly, of Stags fans. The tables were turned, however, in the second half when Albirex found themselves with a numerical advantage after Tampines’ Yasir Hanapi was sent off. Albirex forward Shoichiro Sakamoto made full use of the situation to score a brace, sealing victory for the Japanese club, before the Stags saw two other players, captain Madhu Mohana and defender Ismadi Mukhtar, dismissed.
Long-time Tampines Rovers supporter Shameir Rafid (centre in red) and family. Photo: SportSG
The fans, nevertheless, were pleased. As long-time Rovers supporter Shameir Rafid, told us: “It was a great match! It’s also a proud feeling to be watching this here at the National Stadium, where you have such a large seating capacity to gather different fans from all walks of life, no matter who they support.”
Indeed, representation was a key feature at the game itself, with teams sharing the pitch with members from various segments of the local football community before kick-off. These included representatives from the ActiveSG Football Academy, Cerebral Palsy football team, women’s national team, National Football League, ex-internationals, men’s national team, S.League, National Football Academy, Junior Centre of Excellence, and the FAS Cubs.
Fans Lal Bharwani and Farezah Saleh. Photo: SportSG
Expanding on this notion of reaching out to more potential supporters, fans Lal Bharwani and Farezah Saleh enthused about getting more youths excited about local football through schools and half time entertainment.
Lal, who teaches football in a school, remarked: “I think schools should be given free tickets – they should encourage students to attend the games as much as possible! It’s about getting the local youths and their parents involved!”
“It would also be nice to have a cheerleading squad for the S.League! Half-time shows would really bring out the atmosphere better,” added Farezah.
Of course, holding games at iconic football venues like the National Stadium would definitely add to the prestige of the league, garnering greater awareness and reach – as evident from the impressive crowd at this recent Community Shield match – according to Hariz.
“As a player myself, if I were to play in the S.League in a few years time, I would also want to be playing in the National Stadium! It’s a goal for many of us. Having such a crowd is great for the S.League. Hopefully, in future, we’ll have larger group of fans coming out to the stadium, and the S.League will receive support from more Singaporeans,” he shared.