Game Details
Game Details
 By Dez Corkhill

LionsXII weren't perfect, but they brought Singapore fans together

It is two years since the end of LionsXII when they were unexpectedly kicked out of Malaysian competitions.

Their demise was due to financial and political reasons, rather than anything to do with football.

The return of Singapore's best players to the S.League was supposed to boost local football. Instead, it is in a worse state today than it was in 2015.

Here are five reasons why disbanding LionsXII was a mistake.

1. They brought Singapore fans together

"What is a club? Not the buildings or the directors... but it's the noise, the passion, the feeling of belonging, the pride in your city."

Sir Bobby Robson's immortal words summed it up best. LionsXII were the closest Singapore has got this century -- in a sporting sense -- to achieving a sense of football belonging.

With marketable stars like Gabriel Quak, LionsXII regularly attracted good crowds to Jalan Besar Stadium.

They were a team who regularly posted full houses at Jalan Besar Stadium in their four seasons of activity, and they frequently took hundreds to away games in Malaysia.

Over 5,000 went to the FA Cup final victory over Kelantan in 2013. The team meant something to many of Singaporeans. And that's what football is all about.

2. They were successful

LionsXII won two major trophies in their existence -- the 2013 Malaysia Super League under V. Sundramoorthy, and the Fandi Ahmad-inspired 2015 FA Cup to create positive headlines about football.

Television ratings, though officially unavailable, were strong. On StarHub in Singapore, and on Astro Arena in Malaysia, ratings for the Malaysia Super League and Cup competitions were much higher than for coverage of S.League matches.

LionsXII won the 2013 Malaysia Super League in only their second year of existance.

Hariss Harun, Safuwan Bahruddin, Khairul Amri and Izwan Mahbud were almost household names in Singapore. Gabriel Quak became the poster boy for a shampoo brand.

In the two years since LionsXII disbanded, when was the last, truly positive headline about football in Singapore?

3. The players loved it

Ask Khairul Amri what it was like to play in a pulsating FA Cup semifinal in front of 40,000 fans in Terengganu. He will look back at it as one of the most spine-tingling events of his life. Probe Baihakki Khaizan on how he felt after seeing his penalty against Armed Forces (ATM) saved in a Malaysia Cup semifinal, or question Khairul Nizam about his spectacular goal against Selangor in front of a packed house at Jalan Besar.

Speak to Sahil Suhaimi about the sheer joy following his FA Cup final goals against Kelantan, or quiz Hariss Harun about his part in inspiring LionsXII to come back from 2-0 down to draw 2-2 at a packed Larkin Stadium against Pablo Aimar's Johor Darul Ta'zim (JDT). All will look back on these moments with great emotion.

It's why players play. These kinds of experiences have been rare in the two years since the end of LionsXII.

LionsXII held their nerve at Bukit Jalil Stadium to win the 2015 Malaysia FA Cup final against Kelantan.

4. Rivalries were re-ignited

What is sport without rivalry? Even before LionsXII, the only real rivalry in Singapore football was the Eastern Derby between Geylang International and Tampines Rovers before the latter moved to the other side of the island for several years. And, of course, there is also the Uniformed Derby, with Home United facing Warriors FC, but neither club contains players from the police or armed forces.

While it was unrealistic to replicate the fervour of the 1994 Malaysia Cup-winning Singapore side, the LionsXII experiment revived the spirit of weekly competition against Malaysian teams.

Matches with Johor were spicy. Pahang saw LionsXII as a real challenge, as did Terengganu and Kelantan.

The games meant something again. And for most Malaysian teams, there was nothing worse than losing to the Singaporeans, especially at home.

Singapore's team vs. Malaysia
The Singapore national team flopped in 2016 and 2017 after the end of LionsXII.

5. They helped the national team

The Singapore national team have gone backwards since the end of LionsXII in Nov. 2015. Part of this is because Singapore's top players, most of whom were on the books of LionsXII, don't get the same kind of intense competition in the S.League.

Their best result since their 2012 AFF Suzuki Cup triumph -- the first year of LionsXII -- was a 0-0 draw away to Asian heavyweights Japan, in an AFC World Cup qualifier in June 2015. That was midway through the final season of LionsXII participation in Malaysia.

Since then, they suffered a first-round exit at the 2016 Suzuki Cup, without winning a game. And they have failed to register a single victory in 2017, losing to the likes of Chinese Taipei and Turkmenistan in their miserable Asian Cup qualifying campaign.

Singapore's players are simply not progressing or improving in the same way that they did when they wore a LionsXII shirt in the Malaysia Super League (MSL), Malaysia Cup, and Malaysia FA Cup. 

Is it too late for LionsXII to make a comeback to revive flagging interest in Singapore football while helping the national team find their teeth again?

With 25 years media experience, Asian commentator Dez Corkhill is a former VP of Astro Arena in Malaysia, and head of Sports Centred Media Services.


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