By Les Tan/Red Sports
Our Singapore Lions were reduced to bit players in their own arena. (Photo 1 © Les Tan/Red Sports)
Have you always gone to a place you thought was home but suddenly felt unwelcome?
That was the bizarre, and some would say, humiliating situation the national football team found themselves in on Sunday night.
When they walked out to the pitch, the emcee bellowed “Welcome to Anfield!”
The 45,000 crowd was a sea of, not Singapore, but Liverpool red.
Then the crowd broke out in one voice with the Liverpool anthem, “You’ll Never Walk Alone”.
The song, a tune from a Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, completed the theatrical effect, and hammered home the fact that the Singapore team were just secondary extras in a show about a team whose starting XI earns multiples more than the average fan who paid to watch them.
No one should begrudge Liverpool fans their lovefest with their favourite team but we should not have let our national team play.
Find a collection of players, give them nondescript jerseys and let them get hammered 5-0, but why submit a team wearing the Singapore national flag to such insulting treatment?
“This would not happen in Australia,” said Michael Johnson of the Singapore Slingers, who is an Australian. “Australian fans may like Liverpool, but if Liverpool played our national team, they would get behind the national team. No questions.”
“I didn’t feel comfortable,” said Aleksandar Duric, the 39-year-old national forward who was the only Singapore player singled out for praise by Rafael Benitez for his 45-minute performance in the first half.
“I didn’t see any Singapore jersey in the crowd,” he recounted. “And when they said “Welcome to Anfield”, I thought, ‘What are they talking about?'”
When Singapore’s Mustafic Fahrudin gave Javier Mescharano a muscular challenge, the crowd voiced its disapproval. Mescharano then slapped Fahrudin in retaliation in an off-the-ball incident which the linesman saw, but the referee told the Singapore players to leave it because it’s just a friendly.
Noh Alam Shah, who captained the team in the first half, had mixed feelings.
“Yup, it’s a little weird when I stepped on to the field and the whole stadium is cheering for the away team. But I understand the situation very well as it’s not like Liverpool would come here every year. So I think they deserve to show their support to Liverpool. Despite all that, I am still happy as they had at least reserved some cheers for us. Next game, they will be supporting us once more.”
The irony was that on the same day of the Liverpool game, prime minister Lee Hsien Loong opened the Sengkang Sports and Recreation Centre, emphasizing that “sport is a good unifier… because it creates an emotional connection which not many other activities can do as well. And when our national team wins, or sometimes loses, then we share in the joy and the glory, or sometimes the tears.”
In this instance, some clear-eyed folks who don’t smoke the English Premier League weed saw it for what it was: a collective national insult.
If the organisers wanted to turn Kallang into the Kop, that’s their commercial prerogative. They hired the stadium and ran the whole show. The Football Association of Singapore had no say in the running of the event and the Singapore national team even had to buy their own tickets to the game for their family members.
But we should have some pride and not have let our national team play under such belittling circumstances.
We should know who we are and where we come from.
We are Singaporeans, not Liverpudlians.
And this is Kallang, NOT Anfield.
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