Singapore: New stage of top European football?

Will Arsenal, Stoke and Everton’s arrival here in July change Singapore’s position in international football?

Juventus FC and Andrea Pirlo, along with his legendary set-piece skills, are among the stars who have already graced the new Sports Hub stadium Photo: Photo Works / Shutterstock.com
Juventus FC and Andrea Pirlo, along with his legendary set-piece skills, are among the stars who have already graced the new Sports Hub stadium
Photo: Photo Works / Shutterstock.com

Arsenal fans in Singapore were over the moon when the club announced that it would be returning to our shores after a long 24-year wait.

After all, in recent years, fans of the Gunners have had to travel all across the region to catch their team in preseason. From Indonesia to Malaysia to Hong Kong in 2011 and 2012, Arsene Wenger’s team had seemingly forgotten about Singapore – until this year.

The Barclays Premier League Comes to Town

On Jul 15 and 18, Arsenal will be competing under a different arrangement from its usual summer tours. It will contest in the Barclays Asia Trophy in a four-team tournament, alongside Everton, Stoke City and a Singapore XI, at the Sports Hub in Kallang…

If the Barclays Asia Trophy tournament goes well, it may just be the start of an annual summer affair here for global teams looking to capitalise on their Asian fan base. Indeed, Singapore’s strategic position and economic growth, coupled with the spending power of the fans in this region, has birthed the phenomenon of a globalised Premier League.

Singapore the New Stage of European Football?

Is this the current trend for top football clubs? It’s no secret that the top clubs in Britain had been toying with the idea of holding the final match of the season in an Asian city, simply for the top value it could potentially bring.

“I think the point is there is a brand new billion-dollar stadium that makes it a much more attractive venue to host an event in. Combine that with the ‘wow’ factor and excellent supporting infrastructure that Singapore has, you have an attractive proposition to host an event there,” said an executive working commercially with the Singapore
Sports Hub.

The Barclays Asia Trophy aims to recreate an authentic English “match day feel”, with Premier League referees and television commentators flown in to add to the experience. It will be a complete package for fans here.

Premier League Clubs in Asia

The last edition of the Barclays Asia Trophy was held in Hong Kong two years ago, with the participation of Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur and Sunderland from the English Premier League and South China from Hong Kong. In this edition, Stoke City is particularly “stoked” that it will be coming to Singapore – or Asia – for the first time in its history!

“I believe it will represent the first time Stoke City will have played in Asia and it’s an opportunity we are looking to embrace,” said Stoke City Manager Mark Hughes, in an E-mailed statement to Weekender.

“The Premier League has an enormous following in Asia and other managers who have taken teams to the Barclays Asia Trophy in the past tell me there’s always a fantastic atmosphere at the games. We’re really looking forward to it,” said Hughes, a Manchester United legend.

Premier League clubs Arsenal, Stoke and Everton will be here in July to compete for the Barclays Asia Trophy
Premier League clubs Arsenal, Stoke and Everton will be here in July to compete for the Barclays Asia Trophy

‘Mickey Mouse’ Trophy?

But will this Barclays Asia Trophy end up a ‘Mickey Mouse’ trophy, or simply an excuse for clubs to capitalise on the spending power of fans here?

The president of Singapore’s official Arsenal Fan Club, Eric Ong, said, “From a Singapore point of view, we are delighted that Arsenal is coming here after a long time. Their decision to come here is not just for Singapore fans, but for ASEAN fans in general.”

“I can’t say if Singapore is a better choice than other countries but we have a sizeable contingent that travels to see Arsenal every summer, regardless of where they go. Our counterparts from Indonesia, Malaysia, Macau, Philippines, Hong Kong have all been in touch, so I’m very sure you’ll be seeing many Arsenal fans from the region here in Singapore,” Ong added.

New World-Class Stadium Draws Big Games & Stars

The newly-built 55,000-seater Sports Hub stadium has also provided opportunities for fans here to enjoy international football without having to jet out of the country. Japan and Brazil played to a sold out crowd at the stadium when they visited last September, and Juventus (along with stars such as Andrea Pirlo, Arturo Vidal and Paul Pogba) graced the opening ceremony in July.

The AFF Suzuki Cup held in December also brought regional attention to the stadium, despite Singapore’s humiliating elimination in the hands of its fiercest rival, Malaysia.

Despite concerns over the state of the pitch, it is widely believed that the stadium will be able to entice commercially-viable teams with a huge fan base. Borussia Dortmund, Valencia and AS Roma have all been linked to friendly matches in Singapore in July, although no dates have yet been finalised.

With big names and a world-class football stadium, surely it’s a step towards improving Singapore’s mark in global football, and drawing even bigger clubs and stars for us to be star-struck over.

By Ash Hashim

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