The day Soccer arrived in Singapore (No Raffles involved this time)
Fast forwarding a couple of years, good Sir Raffles was taking the final steps towards becoming a Singapore hero. A national symbol, later carved in stone and remembered forever, with Hotels, Cocktails and whole city districts named after him.
But that poor bloke from overseas, still shivering in his cold chamber after having created what today many call as much as “their religion”, what about him? Well, he would at least deserve his name to be put on some beer or sort of, but I guess no one remembers him really at all, isn’t it always like that?
However, his legacy should spread the world, just like the pest did those years. And one sunny and humid morning, that infamous leather ball finally bounced over the warm sandy beach of Singapore for the very first time. Soccer had arrived in Singapore.
And this is were it all went wrong.
Why Underwater Chess is more exciting then Soccer (in Singapore)
Soccer is a game of enthusiasm, screaming fans, sweating blood, tears and sometimes hugging and kissing strangers when your team scores seconds before the final whistle. Soccer has always been around, causing joy and trouble, wars and scandals. Well after all, you could say Soccer has entertained the world since that black and white ball was being kicked of the center for the very first time.
In Singapore however things, and especially soccer, work in a little but significantly different way. In a country were the government launches official campaigns to drive its people to more courtesy and kindness, where official reports say that local people loose out on jobs because they do not “open up” enough in their interviews, soccer being the emotionally driven game it is, becomes just exciting as a underwater chess game.
One of the best Decisions I made in Singapore
Rumors say that soccer in Singapore is supposed to be most exciting when watching from your sofa, with a cold beer in one and a remote control in the other hand. In the city where soccer temples become soccer shrines and supporters play Fifa on their PSP instead of doing their duty of “supporting” their team, that is probably not too far fetched at all.
Based on my own not existing memories of wildly excited crowds, I simply concurred, stayed home in my small overpriced Studio apartment and got used to analyzing slow motions of fouls and tackles instead of throwing my beer cup in the direction of the referee.
Being a Crazy soccer game lover for years, Singapore turned me into a soccer monk living on abstinence within a month.
Yesterday, after three years of comfortable boring couch surfing soccer games, I got my lazy back up.One of my friends had left over tickets for this years Suzuki Cup Semifinal, Singapore vs Vietnam, and so we took the travel over to the Singapore Stadium. And boy, it was a good decision.
Is it really THAT Bad?
When we arrived at the stadium, I was exited. I was longing for soccer like a drug addict longs for the next shot, but I wasn’t granted absolution yet. What we expected to see were thousands of people, floating towards the stadium entry gates like a multicolored wild river, but what we got, was a gray lonely car in the middle of an empty parking slot.
Standing just meters away from the main entrance, there was no one around, not a single soul. Devastated I sat down, “Is it really that bad?”
There was still an hour left to the kick off, but this total non existence of anyone did not only leave me puzzled but also my local friends, soon suggesting that something might be really wrong here.
Well it turned out we were at the wrong stadium. Simple as that. “Don’t worry, that can easily happen in a place as big as Singapore with soo many Soccer Stadiums around”, I hinted ironically to my local friend and driver while we were speeding over towards the correct place. Slowly some red flags started to pop up every here and there. We were on target.
55.000 Fans and 1 Surprised Ang Moh
Without being checked for any weapons or bottles, we walked through the security gates just a short time after having parked outside, a mere 5 minutes walk away from the main gates. Amazing. Our tickets were around ten dollar which wouldn’t even get you a beer in Europe. We climbed up some blank concrete stairs and arrived right in the middle of the stadiums grandstand. What a sight!
Officially there were around 55.000 supporters that night. Much more people then I had ever imagined to see. And that’s not where my surprise stopped. The stadium was massive, huge, and the people it was filled up with were even more astonishing. I turned my head and it was red wherever I looked. People showing their support, devotion, soccer, finally!
Fathers waving flags and banners, shouting and excited for the game to start. Little boys checking out the ice cream stalls, beer spilled over the floor, it was just like back in Europe. “Was this really still Singapore?” A whistle blow pulled me back to reality.
“Yes, it was!”
As Exciting as Singapore can get
What really took me by surprise that night, standing in the mid of that wild crowd, were the people around me.
Shouting, screaming, complaining and jumping on their seats whenever the referee decisions were questionable. Cheering and smiling upon good attacks, shots at the other teams goal or successful defense actions. The crowd was exploding!
And that night’s sweet cake of unexpected soccer excitement got topped with whipped cream when under my disbelieving eyes “the wave” took several turns around the stadium’s wild grandstands.
I had never seen and heard so many people letting their emotions free in Singapore before. And please don’t get me wrong, but it was a delight to see the people finally showing off some attitude. This is what its all about! Why sit home alone and stare at the square box when you can have this! It feels good man, it feels really good!
Sometimes This is all it takes!
Singapore lost by one goal. But in the end, it wasn’t a close defeat shining down from the bright score board high above, it was a big win for the “Lion City” and for everyone who was there that night.
What we got was much more valuable then any golden trophy or medal.
Having stepped on the shore of Asia three years ago, just like Sir Raffles did long time before me, I finally felt that I am closer to understanding the Asian culture and why people here are not like those back home. Why people keep quiet when I wish they would scream at me and why people do not smile when I would expect them to.. and of course, the other way around.
Sometimes, it only takes something as simple as a soccer game … to end a war … to solve some trouble … or maybe just to help someone like me getting rid of that sticky culture shock and start bridging the important gap between two cultures as different as Mr Raffles was to the young bloke in rainy England.
Thanks to both of them anyway, I am off for my Tiger Beer now! And you, get off your screen and see you in the stadium next time! You will be surprised, I promise!
Win a trip to the Fifa 2010 Worldcup in South Africa here: www.sonyericsson.com