Singapore unites behind the Lions

The fans were in full voice at the Jalan Besar Stadium during Singapore's 1-0 win over Philippines. (Photo courtesy of FAS)The fans were in full voice at the Jalan Besar Stadium during Singapore's 1-0 win over Philippines. (Photo courtesy …

COMMENT

The Lions are on the verge of making history as they take on Thailand in Wednesday's first leg final of the 2012 AFF Suzuki Cup after seeing off Philippines.

When the referee blew to signal the end of the semi-final second leg against Philippines, he confirmed what was a good night for Singapore football. In fact, it had been one of the most special nights for Singapore football since the Lions last lifted this very trophy in 2007.

The game itself was in honesty, not a great one for the neutrals. Chances at goal were few and far between and neither side could settle at a comfortable pace in a game that was broken up too often by fouls.

The result, however, was significant. It was enough to secure Singapore's progress to the Final of this year's competition. After a goalless draw in Manila last Saturday, Khairul Amri's strike turned out to the only goal over 180 minutes of football.

Above all these, the fans on the night at the Jalan Besar Stadium were superb — generating the atmosphere that had been missing from the game locally for some time.

Red mist in Jalan Besar

A lot of credit has to be given to the 7,000-odd fans that turned up at Jalan Besar on the night.

All tickets allocated to home fans this game were snapped up within a matter of hours after it went on sale. And to be fair to the Filipino fans, their allocations were also snapped up in hours.

On the day of the match, those lucky ones with tickets turned up at the ground dressed in red — many of them came with scarves and other apparels. There was a torrential shower from late afternoon, but it did not deter the few thousands that turned up early at Jalan Besar.

Before, the kick-off, Majulah Singapura was sung with the gusto and pride fitting of the occasion.

Jalan Besar itself is a unique stadium in Singapore. Without the traditional running track round the stadium, it is the only football-specific ground in the country and fans enjoy close proximity to the action.

Thanks to some renovation this year, the ground now has seating on three sides -- the King George's Stand being the latest addition. Being without overhead cover on the Gallery and the King George End, it is not acoustically the best. To generate the buzz, the fans at the ground need to cheer even louder than in other modern grounds.

And boy was Jalan Besar buzzing that night. During the game, the fans did everything they could to make keep up the volume at Jalan Besar. Particular cheers were reserved for Singapore captain Shahril Ishak and particular boos were reserved for Philippines midfielder Angel Guirado.

Co-ordinated chanting and scarf waving can be seen throughout the match.

After the game, most fans stayed behind to savour the glory. The players acknowledged the support by doing a mini victory lap. We had not witnessed something like this for a long while.

Online support

Of course this match is not simply just about the fans that managed to get their hands on a match ticket. There were tens of thousands of other fans who followed the game via the live telecast.

On the night, even widely followed social media group 9gag Singapore showed their support for the Lions via various status updates (we can expect more memes to follow).

Other socio-political sites like The Online Citizen also posted updates on the Lions' progress. On Facebook, these pages have followers in excess of 50,000, so their reach to Singaporeans is considerable.

Many others took to Twitter to post congratulatory messages to the Lions as well.

Singapore Prime Minister, Mr Lee Hsien Loong, not generally known to be a football fan,  made the effort to make not one, but TWO status updates on the Lions' progress.

PM Lee's first status update after the first leg of the semi-final even made news on various local newspapers. We probably can expect PM Lee to catch our Lions in action in the Final despite his busy usual workload and his handling of the current Michael Palmer mini-crisis.

All in all, evidence of Singapore fans uniting and backing their team wholeheartedly is everywhere. Any doubts of the commitment and abilities of our national players should have now been quashed.

180 minutes of football now separate Singapore and the Lions' fourth-ever ASEAN title and the bragging rights to be the region's most successful nation.

Side note: Many a times, nay-sayers enjoy pointing out the presence of naturalised Singaporeans in the football team.  Therefore, it is timely now to highlight that of the eleven players who started in the second leg of the semi-final, a total of eight were born in Singapore. Defender Daniel Bennett was not born here, but had been in the country since the age of two.

In comparison, only ONE player from the Philippines starting XI was born in Philippines — goalkeeper Eduard Sacapano. The rest of the team are players whom are born in Europe, namely Spain, Denmark and England. They all qualify to play for the Philippines by virtue of their parentage.

It is also worthy to know that every Singapore player, locally born or otherwise, has been singing Majulah Singapura at the top of their voice before every match over the course of this competition.