It’s the same old story once again for the Singapore national football team with the ASEAN Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup looming.
No, I’m not talking about the Lions’ performances here. Instead, I’m talking about how the Lions, who have won the biennial tournament four times, have had their chances written off by some of its own fans even before a ball has been kicked.
Already, netizens have come out in force to dismiss the team – just look at the comments on Facebook in response to a Channel NewsAsia (CNA) report which painted a promising picture of the Lions’ chances at the Suzuki Cup, which begins tomorrow.
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“Totally give up”, wrote one netizen, while another, without mincing his words, added: “Been waiting for some good news but our Lions been more like pussy cats. Still have to wait long long ah.”
One even offered this damning judgment of the Lions: “Please don’t waste the time and money.”
The skepticism is perhaps understandable, given how critical football fans can be. The Lions did crash out at the group stages in the previous two Suzuki Cup campaigns in 2014 and 2016 while they failed to notch a single victory under the guidance of then-head coach V Sundramoorthy in the entire year of 2017.
But, the Lions have been improving since Singapore football icon Fandi Ahmad took over the reins as head coach. This is evidenced by the fact that the Lions are undefeated in their last four matches – the first time in three years that they have achieved this feat – as well as their improvements in the Fifa Rankings, where Singapore has climbed six spots to 165 in the past five months.
Still, the negativity surrounding the Lions persist.
So why is it so tough for us Singaporeans to show support and throw our voices behind a team of Singaporeans who are representing the nation?
Football fans in Singapore are known to be as passionate and loyal as any in the world. I’ve known Liverpool fans who have remained true to the club despite their inability to win a Premier League title. I’ve also known some Arsenal fans who continue to believe in their club despite years of underachievement. Ditto for fans of the struggling Manchester United.
Sure, fans of those Premier League teams have been critical, too. But when the games come around, the same fans would have no reservations in cheering them on – with some even willing to spend money and travel over 10,000km to do so.
But why is it when it comes to backing our own countrymen, all that suddenly seems to matter are the results and trophies?
Why do fans start showing up only when the team wins? And then disappear when the team loses, during which time the only thing you seem to hear from them are their merciless mocking of the Lions without a care for any of their past achievements.
The Lions are our national team after all, and surely, our loyalty should be with them regardless of the results?
Sadly, after many years of the same thing happening, this hot-and-cold approach to supporting the national team is something that players in the national team have grown accustomed to.
Goalkeeper Hassan Sunny, who has been with the Lions for 14 years, told The Pride that the team had expected to be criticised ahead of this year’s Suzuki Cup.
“I’m no stranger to this,” he said. “We need to think positive. If we start brooding over the negative comments from fans about us, we will only torture ourselves. If we win we have to respect them as fans, but when we lose we also have to respect them. They are our fans after all.”
The 34-year-old, who spent the past season playing club football in Thailand, shared that the fans of the club he represents would respect and appreciate the players for their effort and dedication at the stadium, even when the team is losing. He added that he had never once heard of any boos even when his team lost.
Hassan, however, says that it is “difficult” to find fans like this in Singapore.
“Fans (here) are more result oriented,” he explained. “When we win they will support us, but when we lose, not all the fans will be there for us. It’s very tough for us to please some Singapore fans.”
Indeed, in 2012, after the national team triumphed in the competition for what was then a record fourth time, plenty of fans turned up as the Lions paraded their trophy down Orchard Road on an open-top bus.
In 2014 and 2016, however, the Lions were viciously slammed online by local fans as their performances dipped and results began going against them. Ironically, it is during such periods of fallow form that the Lions need the support of the fans more than ever.
To those who have stuck with the national team in the past four years, that’s great. But for those who have been critical of the Lions, why not get behind them instead of jeering at them?
Do it not just as football fans, but because they are ultimately our fellow Singaporeans. This group of players have worked as hard as they could over the past couple of weeks, where they were in Osaka for a training camp, away from their family and loved ones, to focus on their preparations for the tournament.
All this just so they can, in the words of national team forward Faris Ramli, give the nation “something to roar and cheer for”.
It would not hurt to be kinder to a team of players who have worked their socks off in hopes of winning the title so they can share their joy with their country. Surely we can also feel proud of the Lions for trying their best despite shouldering the massive expectations of a nation and encourage them on in their quest.
So many of us will continue to stick with our favourite English Premier League team even during the worst of times. Why not extend that kind of support for the Lions? Why not back our Lions when they start their campaign against Indonesia tomorrow?
They are, after all, our fellow Singaporeans battling for us on the pitch and the least we could do is to make our voices count as they attempt to lift Singapore football from its recent poor run.