Warning: Long and sad post ahead, read at own peril
Glad I made the impromptu decision to go down to Choa Chu Kang Stadium to watch Warriors FC take on Hougang United this evening. I have always been very envious of the unwavering and fervent support shown by the Hougang United fans (Hougang United FC Supporters’ Club, affectionately known as the “Hougang Hools”) towards their players, and even ex-players.
Tonight was no different – from start to end, the singing, the chanting, the beating of the drums never stopped. “Satu hati, satu Hougang” was the cry – “One heart, One Hougang”, in Bahasa Melayu. “COME ON HOUGANG, COME ON HOUGANG!”
I didn’t join in. After all, I am a Home United fan, and it would be weird to cheer Hougang on so enthusiastically and chant with the Hools. So I just sat by them and clapped to the beat. They must have mistaken me for a Hougang supporter, for they kept urging me to chant along with them, until I clarified that I was a Home United fan.
“WE HATE HOME U, WE HATE HOME U” was the cry then. I chuckled at the banter.
This should have been a post about how I had a good time tonight with the Hougang Hools, who were friendly despite me unashamedly sitting amongst them when I wasn’t even a Hougang supporter. Unfortunately, the focus of this post is not that.
Look at the picture featured in this post. You will see a bunch of banners belonging to the Hougang Hools, who had made their way to the game a couple of hours before kick-off, and painstakingly hung them up by one by one. You will also notice that none of the posters are obstructing the view of the fans, given that they were hung over a ledge.
So there the Hools were, chanting their lungs out, having a good time, especially after Fumiya Kogure had scrambled the ball home from a few metres out for a precious 1-0 lead against the much-fancied Warriors, who had ex-Dutch and Greek League player Joel Tshibamba in attack.
Enter CCK Stadium security personnel. Two men came down and spoke to one of the Hougang Hools, telling him to remove the banners. They cited stadium rules and FAS regulations, and said that the maximum size of flags and banners allowed to be brought in was 1m x 1m. To say the Hougang supporters were annoyed is an understatement.
They felt that there was no reasonable basis for such a rule, given that these banners had been brought all over Singapore to other S-League grounds, without incident. In fact, stadium personnel at Jalan Besar Stadium, right where the FAS Headquarters are located, had no similar objections to such banners. They also repeatedly asked security personnel whose view they were obstructing. The security personnel had no response to this rather valid question.
Things were getting heated, so I decided to step in and break up what I perceived as increasing hostility between parties. I immediately told the security personnel that I was not a Hougang supporter, and that I was only trying to help. I asked them to show me where they got the rule of 1m x 1m from – they could not answer. So there was this farcical moment where all of us whipped out our mobile phones and tried to verify if this was indeed an FAS regulation.
“You see the FAS website, it’s there.” It wasn’t. The FAS website is by no means a great source of current information, but that’s another complaint for another day.
I told the security personnel I understood that their hands were tied, but asked if they could “close one eye” just for today, and then both parties could write in to clarify if the rule applied to banners from supporters’ clubs that did not obstruct anyone’s view. They said they would have to escalate it, but they understood the point I was trying to make.
I returned to my seat and thought that was the end of it. 10 minutes later, a club official by the name of Eugene, came down and asked to talk to me. Eugene was exceedingly polite, and I think this situation could have been so much worse if Eugene had been more abrasive in his interactions with the Hougang supporters. Eugene explained to me and some of the Hougang Hools that rules are rules, and that this came from an FAS directive at the start of the season, which FAS came up with in consultation with the Singapore Police Force.
After much debate and some angst, a compromise was reached – Eugene promised he would raise this issue in the post-match report, and seek clarification. For this match, since it was coming to an end, he wouldn’t ask for the banners to be removed. A happy ending of sorts.
Given that I took on the role of a pseudo-mediator in this dispute, I had to try to maintain some neutrality when I was there. While I pushed for proof that such a rule existed, and asked for its rationale, I also ensured that I re-directed some of the angst away from the security personnel, because at the end of the day, they were just doing their jobs. In my mind, I felt they could have been more flexible, but they were not doing anything wrong. I didn’t want things to get ugly.
Now that I am at home though, I would just like to say that I think this is farcical, and puts our league in a terrible light.
1m x 1m. The maximum size of a flag or banner printed to support your team.
To offer some perspective, that means if you were at a stadium to watch an international game between Singapore and say, Japan, in a crucial World Cup / Asian Cup qualifier, you would not be allowed to bring your Singapore flag along.
Let that sink in for a bit.
Now, look at the picture again. The banners were draped over a ledge. The supporters would be seated in the blue area you see in the picture. Exactly who is being blocked by the banners / flags? With respect, I cannot think of a reason for limiting the size of such banners. Perhaps, the original intention of the rule was to prevent fans from making huge banners and then lifting them up while in the stands, obstructing the view of others. If so, then perhaps some clarification from FAS, or some flexibility from security personnel, or club officials is necessary.
This has been a very long post, so let me just end by saying this: I think it is sad, that in a dying domestic league suffering from a dwindling number of supporters, supporters (who are not paid for this, mind you) are not allowed to express themselves fully, and add to the colour of the league.
I think it is sad, that in a dying domestic league suffering from a complete lack of atmosphere in certain games, you have a band of fans who are easily the most committed and the loudest in the league, and officials try to dampen their spirits.
And I think it is incredibly sad, that when I assured the Hools that I would write in to FAS to seek clarification, and also to ask that such banners be allowed, some of them told me not to waste my time. Is that borne out of a lack of faith that even after the elections, nothing is going to change, and our league is gonna die a gradual death?
I hope not, and I will do everything in my power to ensure it doesn’t happen. But I am only one man, so I urge everyone reading this (if you’re still reading this, haha) to come down and watch an S-League game sometime. Noone to go with? Just give me a shout and I’ll gladly accompany you if I have the time. Eddy not free? Just go down and make new friends!
So, Football Association of Singapore, please do something. I have faith in the new administration. Come together with the supporters. Let’s save our S-League.