Archive for September, 2007

Malaysia, Brunei and Vietnam.

Tuesday, September 18th, 2007

Still four more matches to report upon in the final week of my Asian tour. The first of these was Johor FC in Malaysia. As I explained in the Singapore piece, Malaysian football used to be entirely an competition between states. Malaysia is made up of 12 states, plus the city of Kuala Lumpur, which in a similar way to Washington in the USA is federal territory and not actually part of any state. 10 of the states are in Peninsula or Western Malaysia – between the Thai border and Singapore, whereas the two largest ones form the northern part of the Island of Borneo. The rest of Borneo is part of Indonesia, with the exception of the small sultanate of Brunei.

Until 1994, all of the states competed in the Malaysian League, while qualification for the prestigious Malaysia Cup was dependent on position in the league position. The actual format of the league tended to vary from season to season, changing every time the national team failed in international competition, with different formats for competition (in one or two divisions), or different numbers of foreign players allowed. The numbers in the league were normally 15 or 16 with the 12 states and Kuala Lumpur joined by Brunei, Singapore and on occasion by the Malaysian Armed Forces.

The rest of the set up was more similar to the County cricket system in England, than to our football competitions. If you consider the state FA’s as local equivalents of county associations – each then runs competitions for clubs within its region. In addition, there was a national cup (with very little publicity) for the same clubs, and a small number of them would compete in the Malaysian FA Cup (which is not the same as the Malaysia Cup) with the state teams. Within this framework, it should be noted that few if any of the club teams represent towns or villages, even though every town and village is sure to have its own football field. Instead most of the teams, especially the successful ones are named after companies. I have only been to a few matches in the local leagues, all in the Selangor League back in 1996. The first of these was on a town stadium, in Kajang – a sizeable town some 30 km south of Kuala Lumpur. The stadium was somewhat untidy, showing a lack of maintenance over the years, but was still a decent stadium. The home team for the match, however was not a representative of the town, but “Public Bank FC”. The match was played in late afternoon, trying to avoid the worst heat from earlier in the day, but having to complete before all light is lost soon after sunset. The ground is in a town centre, near a mosque, and the call to prayer at sunset was clearly audible. This remains the only match I have ever seen with an interruption for a “prayer-break”.

After Singapore left the Malaysian League in 1994 due to the corruption scandal, they carried on for a while with a single division of 15 teams, but in Malaysia, the pattern has always been to change things around every few years. Basically, every time they lose in qualifying for Continental or World Cups. The alternatives are to either increase or decrease the number of foreigners allowed, or to re-organise the league. During the late nineties, the introduction of a professional league was the big thing, (after the team’s failure at this year’s Asian cup, one of the letters to the paper said they would be better reverting to an amateur league), but when they decided they again wanted a two division league, they needed more teams, so from 1998, some of the club teams gradually entered the leagues. One of the first of these was Johor FC – which is connected to a company called the Johor Corporation (JCorp for short). For a while the shared the stadium with Johor state, in the city of Johor Bahru – meaning that we had two teams, called Johor and Johor FC sharing a ground in Johor Bahru. If this was not confusing enough, another club team called Pasir Gudang later joined the league, playing at a stadium owned by JCorp. For 2007, Pasir Gudang merged with the Johor state team and play in Johor Bahru – as Johor Pasir Gudang, while Johor FC play now play in Pasir Gudang. Apparently the locals are not confused. I am confused enough that while I knew the two towns were about 30 km apart, I could not work out whether Pasir Gudang was East or West of JB. At least some things are simple – when I looked the place up on the internet, I found only one hotel – the sketch map provided showed it in the vicinity of the football stadium, so I booked a room. I then took a bus from Singapore to JB – a wonderful journey as one has to get off the bus twice, to pass through Malaysia and Singapore border control. The second time you have to take your luggage with you. Arriving in JB, I found the bus out went from a different bus station about 5 km away. With the local taxi drivers somewhat reluctant to tell me how to get to the other bus station, I ended taking a taxi across to my hotel (Pasir Gudang turned out to be East of JB).

The stadium was indeed, no more than a ten-minute walk from the hotel. I passed a small shopping centre and the bus station – but apart from that the place seemed to have nothing to offer. The roads were wide, but near to empty, I could spot some industrial sites in the distance but little else. The stadium at Pasir Gudang is sandwiched between two high stands of concrete steps. The centre section on one side has a high roof, with a couple of radio commentary boxes at the top. Behind one goal is a large, manual scoreboard, while spectators behind the goals can make use of small sections of rather high wooden benches. The game itself was truly entertaining, with the visitors, Sarawak trying hard to escape their fate at the bottom of the table, but finding Johor FC too good for them. The final score was 3-1 in Johor’s favour.

The following morning, and from Pasir Gudang’s bus station, I made the five hour journey up to Kuala Lumpur and from there, a day later onwards to Brunei. The flight was with Air Asia, the biggest of the budget airlines which have spouted up across Asia since deregulation. You may recognise the name – it will displayed on the kit of the referee and his assistants at today’s game. Air Asia are also a sponsor of Manchester United. This is one of the biggest problems for Asian football – it is considered more productive to sponsor English football than to put money into the local games – even though the increasing demands of the Premiership to consume money, means that only subscription channels show the matches in most countries.

Brunei took its independence from the UK later than Singapore and Malaysia, in 1984 and has never espoused democracy. Instead the Sultan is an absolute monarch. It has been a sultanate with the same family ruling for over 500 years. Indeed 500 years ago, the territory covered by the Sultanate included the entire island of Borneo, plus parts of what is now the Philippines. Over the years, different countries and the European empires sliced away at this territory, and what was left became a British protectorate in 1888 to avoid the risk of disappearing absolutely. The country has a population of around 380,000 and is a rich and prosperous country, thanks mainly to oil. It must leave many of those no longer in the sultanate envious of what they may have been part of. The Sultan himself was for a period, considered to be the richest man in the world, but a bad investments (mainly by the Sultan’s brother, who was accused of embezzling £8 billion from the country – although the charges were later dropped) have decreased that. The wealth does spread around the country, with free education and a health service, plus no income or corporation tax. As a result, certain things such as taxis and hotels are not cheap, and I was travelling with a German hopper on limited resources. The last bus into town from the airport left before our flight arrived, and so we hitched a lift to save the taxi fare. The friendliness of the locals was shown by the fact that our efforts to hitch lifts were always successful, and that people would go out of their way to drop us off where we wanted to go. As it happened, the visit coincided with the end of the Sultan’s birthday celebrations, (61 years old), which run for 5 weeks each year. The festivities were on the padang (a local word for the equivalent of a village common). Centre pieces appeared to consist of a tug of war contest, fireworks and a parade of floats all sponsored by either companies or government departments.

The city of the main town was very busy for these festivities, especially on match day – and in advance we were treated to a special performance of the FA of Malaysia’s competence. The match was scheduled as Saturday 8.45 as part of the last day of the Malaysian League season. About a week before the match, we noticed the date had changed to Sunday on the official fixtures – this turned out to be in response to a Brunei request to switch it away from the celebrations. On calling the Malay FA, we were told 4.15 on Saturday, before the main evening celebrations in Brunei, but by the time we arrived the match was back in the evening. Although listed at 8.15 in the local paper, it actually kicked off at 8.45 – the same time as the match in neighbouring Sarawak, as the winner of the title was between the two away teams, Kedah playing in Brunei, and Perak.

Brunei’s football team is Duli Pengiran Muda Mahkota Football Club. Not surprisingly this is generally abrieviated to DPMM.. The name of the football club is one of the titles conferred upon the crown prince of Brunei, Prince Al-Muhtadee Billah. Under the club name, the team was formed in 1994, with the Prince himself in goal. They played in local competition until 2005, when they took over the mantle of being Brunei’s team in the Malaysian League. Much of the support just refers to the team as Brunei, but the change has brought new life to the club, as they have moved from being mid-table in the Malay second division, winning promotion last season, and finishing in third place this time. As a Brunei team, naturally Brunei born players, who would be foreigners elsewhere in the league are not counted as such, and their one Malay player alos does not count as a foreigner. They have three true foriegners, signed from Korea, Chile and Croatia

We arrived at the stadium around an hour before the expected kick off, and found the ground almost deserted – but by the time the match actually started, there were about 5000 people in the stadium,. The normal crowds are between 7 and 10,000 – which is around 2-3% of the population of the country. This actually makes Brunei one of the world’s football hotspots. Less than 1% of the population of England watch the game during a typical weekend. Only Monaco, where the average crowd of 13,000 equates to 40% of the population clearly has a greater support in these terms than Brunei – but then much of Monaco’s support comes from France, whereas few people travel from Malaysia to watch Brunei. The ground is a large bowl with a running track, and cover over one side only. Kedah, knew they had to win the game in order to take the Malaysian title, and started out looking as if they were determined to overpower Brunei, despite the home team’s third place in the league. It was no surprise that Kedah went ahead in the 14th minute. However, after that, DPMM made a substitution, and reorganised the formation, and they were the dominant team for the rest of the game. It was only by good fortune that Kedah managed to hold on to win the game and the title. Two weeks ago, Kedah added the prestigious Malaysia Cup title to their honours for the season, beating Perak with 77,000 watching at Bukit Jalil. (That is more than four times as many as turned up there for Malaysia’s Asian Cup games).

From Brunei, I flew directly back to Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam. In a change from the crowds on the budget airlines, I went on a near empty Brunei Airlines flight. From HCMC, I was able to arrange to see two matches in the Vietnamese League, one in each of the first and second division. Both were about an hour’s drive from the city, but I spoiled myself and rather than trying to sort out local transportation (there would have been bus services), I allowed the tour booking office to arrange transportation for me (car and driver) at US$50 for each game. The Tuesday match in the second division was a 3.30 kick off, as there were no floodlights. While this restricts the attendance, the league’s website shows similar crowds to the 1000 in the ground for my game on the previous Saturday. On a hot and sunny afternoon, I saw Dong Nai beat Quang Nam by three goals to two, in a really enjoyable game. The ground was fully enclosed with cover on one side only, and mainly concrete stands. The first division ground was similar in style, but much bigger in size. While Dong Nai would not hold 10,000 comfortably, Binh Duong frequently attract 20,000 to the Go Dau stadium. The figure for the previous Sunday against Da Nang (second in the league) had been 18,000 – but on a Wednesday, and with the game starting in heavy rain, my match was watched by only half that figure. Still the covered stand was crowded as the fans tried to avoid the worst of the weather. It took a long while for Binh Duong to assert their superiority over the visitors, with the opening goal coming from a penalty after 67 minutes. In the end Binh Duong were comfortable 2-0 winners, and since my trip, they have maintained form, so they will go into tomorrow’s final round of games already assured of the title. Good to see several hundred away fans in the ground, especially considering that by road or rail, the journey would have taken in excess of 24 hours!

It appears that local football is in quite a healthy state in Vietnam, despite the problems the league has had in recent years. Back in July, nine people, including a FIFA ranked referee were found guilty of fixing games in the 2005 season, with allegations suggesting games have been fixed since the current professional league started in 2001. However, with jail terms of up to seven years for this latest scandal, there now seems to be a feeling that the league is now clean. The results of the national team, in being the only one of four Asian cup hosts to reach the quarter finals is being seen as a success. The only remaining cloud on the horizon was that despite heavy security presence at both the games I saw (and no signs of trouble), there has again been incidents of crowd violence this season, although none as bad as when a linesmen was seriously injured by a rock thrown from the stands at Long An last season.

Platini Plan has Merit, but also opponents.

Tuesday, September 4th, 2007

Michel Platini presented his plans for the European Champions League and the UEFA Cup to the UEFA Congress meeting in Monaco. The plan makes good on his promises to open up the Champions League, by reducing the number of ‘big’ teams in it, but only just. In doing so, Platini has created more enemies than friends. However, the plan only details the mechanics – how many teams qualify and where they come from. It does not detail the financial package behind it, and it will be the financial package that will be the key to the plan’s success or failure.

Platini has promised that his proposals will reduce the inequalities in the distribution of money from the Champions League, and send a greater share down to the grass routes of the game – but if he does this, then he will antagonise the biggest earners – who may find their income eroded, as well as those that miss out. If he does not support the lesser earners, then they will not have the wherewithal to compete in the Champions League anyway, and the result will be a weaker contest where the like of Liverpool and Valencia are replaced by Levski Sofia and Zaglebie Lubin. In order to keep almost everyone happy, Platini needs to keep the earnings up for the big clubs, distribute a better portion of the money to the others and improve the profile of the UEFA cup so as those that miss out on the Champions League riches have a decent second prize to go for. If he does not manage all of this, then he may find the big clubs pulling out of European competition and setting up a rival concern – and if this happens he will find that the sponsors and TV companies are linked by an umbilical cord to the big football clubs, and that UEFA is merely a knot in that cord – one that can be easily untied!

The current situation is that 32 teams qualify for the Champions League group stage. 16 of these have no preliminary matches to play – these are the Champions of the top nine ranked countries, the runners-up from the top six, and of course the holders. In addition, third placed clubs from the top six countries enter the final qualifying round, and fourth placed clubs from the top three, while countries down the ranking list as far as 15 have both their champions and runners-up in contention somewhere within the process. In the current season, from the top six countries with three of four entries, only a single club (Toulouse) has failed to make it through to the group stages. From the fifteen countries with dual entry, only Belgium have not got a team into the groups, while only one club – Rosenborg, champions of 19th ranked Norway have made it through from lower in the rankings. So the final 32 of the Champions League consists of just 14 champions (including Milan as holders, even though they finished fourth in their league), along with 11 runners up, 5 third and 2 fourth placed clubs.

The new proposal will mean that 19 Champions will play in the group stage, with only six runners up and three third placed teams, plus a special bonus group of four cup winners. This means that nine clubs who have finished runners-up of their domestic league, three that finish third and all three fourth placed clubs are not given an opportunity to qualify for the group stage. The carrot to make this prospect more palatable to the clubs from these leagues is that 22, rather than 16 clubs reach the group stage without playing a qualifying game – that is the champions of 12 countries instead of nine, and the three third placed teams still allowed to participate. So for the country that is placed 11th in the rankings (i.e. Scotland), the Champions have direct access to the group stage, while the runners-up do not get to play at all (while at present, both play in qualifying rounds), and similarly for the country 2nd in the rankings (England), there will be three direct places, whereas up to now there have been four, two direct and two through qualifying. The final team to directly qualify will be the current Champions, so there would be some adjustment if they are already in the list.

One of the oddities of the plan is to keep two groups of qualifiers separately. In one group, the champions of all the lower ranked teams will be involved – with six places to be won, (three knock out rounds, as now). The other group will have the cup winners of the 16 highest ranked nations, with two knock out rounds, and four places to be won in the groups. The detail has not yet been explained, so we will have to wait longer what happens when the cup winners have already qualified.

The new plan calls for a revamp of the UEFA Cup as well. The new competition will have 48 teams in 12 groups of four. The ten teams defeated in the last round of Champions League qualification will get into these groups as a consolation prize, while the only other team guaranteed a place in the groups will be the cup holder. That means 37 further places up for grabs in the qualification process, but the number of teams that will start the process and how it will work has not yet been stated. Of course, 12 groups of four means 24 teams to qualify, so as now – they expectation is that 8 third placed teams from the Champions League group stages will play in the knock out rounds of the UEFA Cup.

As I have said, finance will be a big part of the equation. In monetary terms, the UEFA Cup is not a second division to the Champions League, but a very poor cousin indeed, but there is no need for it to be so. I have heard it said that the sponsors only want to be associated with the big clubs, but the idea that there is a ‘big four’ in England has only come about since the Champions league has given four clubs an advantage over the rest each term. Apart from the fact that one of the big four drops to the UEFA Cup given this plan, there are a number of other English clubs that are equally, or near equally good for sponsors – Newcastle, Everton and Spurs immediately spring to mind. The same is equally true for most other major countries in Europe.

It is, however, already clear that many of the biggest clubs are going to be against the changes. The revised concept may threaten their access to the competition, or their earnings within it. It is these big clubs that have the best scope to brief against the plans, so the opposition is likely to be loud, while support for the plan may find it difficult to get an airing. If they act together, the biggest clubs can simply refuse to be part of the new competition, and branch out to create their own European League. UEFA may think they have powers to stop this – but UEFA may find they do not have the powers they think they have. If Manchester United, Milan and Real Madrid are all together in the alternative European League, then where are Ford, Mastercard and Amstel beer going to want their money to go? And who is Sky wanting to televise? Even disenfranchising the clubs is not a serious threat, as there is no way you can stop them going their own way.

Overall, I find myself in favour of the Platini plan, subject to some reservations, and the big question over money. Certain we need to reform the competition and create a more equal playing field. There is a danger that in each of the major countries a small and unchallengable elite will come to the fore, perpetuated by champions league money, while the same factors are preventing clubs from other countries challenging for the honours – showing to all and sundry that their leagues are second rate. We should want competitive leagues in as many countries as possible, and also for these leagues to be able to compete with each other

I am uncertain about the cup-winners idea. The FA wanted to have the option to give a place to the FA Cup winners in order to restore the cachet of the competition, but most countries are ambivalent about cup competitions and would prefer a place for league sides. While ten of the failed qualifying sides have been accounted for in the UEFA Cup, the fate of the remaining 46 odd clubs remains uncertain – would some (or all) also get to the consolation prize? Finally, if the UEFA Cup is the second division of European football, then should its champions win promotion and enter the Champions League in the following season?

Singapore Slings

Tuesday, September 4th, 2007

On my summer trip to Asia, I managed to see a number of matches that were not part of the Nations Cup, but were instead matches in the local competitions. More than half of these were in Singapore. Singapore had failed to qualify for the Asian Cup, and decided to carry on its league programme.

A general view of the South East Asia region is that it is chaotic. There is a habit of not organising much in advance and to accept what life throws at you. The only exceptions to these rules are when it comes to results – either elections (which are closely controlled by the government), or sports events (for which there are always illegal betting concerns trying to effect the results). To a great extent, Singapore is not like the rest of the region, and life is far more organised there. There are far more laws in this small island state as well; so for example – in the only country where you may feel safe to cross the road – jay-walking is illegal! When Singapore first became independent from British rule, it started out as part of Malaysia, but Singapore broke away from its larger neighbour after about two years. Naturally, with everything else under control, election results in Singapore are not left to chance, and the country is not immune from the spectre of betting scandals.

Both under British rule and afterwards, and even after Singapore had become a state in its own right, Singapore played in Malaysian football competitions – so while there was a Singaporean league, this was a minor competition. The more important contests were for the Malaysian League and Malaysia Cup, in which Singapore entered as a state, playing against the states of Malaysia (and incidentally, Brunei as well).

This broke down in 1994, which should have been one of the great seasons for Singapore. They won the league and then followed it up with a Malaysia Cup victory. In the final, they beat Pahang by 4-0 with Abbas Saad – a Lebanese born Australian international scoring a hat-trick. But soon afterwards, news of a betting scandal broke, the guilty parties came from both Malaysia and Singapore – over thirty players were arrested. On Singapore though, the feeling was that they were being unjustly blamed, even though it was a Singapore court that convicted Saad for his part (he was fined S$50,000) and FIFA banned him for two years. Singapore used this as an excuse to pull out of Malaysian competition and to promote their own league, which was re-launched as the S-League two years later.

Singapore is a highly populated country, around 4.5 million people on an island not a lot larger than the Isle of Wight. This requires serious housing projects to accommodate everyone. The result is a series of townships, all apparently out of the same mould – low rise apartment blocks fanning outwards from a central hub. The hub will have a shopping centre, and transport facilities, (a station on the MRT, plus local buses). Every one of these townships has an array of community facilities, such as schools, churches (these are the only things that are racially or religiously segregated in Singapore), and of course leisure facilities. This does tend to mean that almost all the leisure centres look the same at first glance. A stadium with the football pitch within a running track – a main stand running the full length of one side, while opposite, and also perhaps beyond the curves and behind the goals – a few rows of uncovered seats built on to a metal scaffold. The main stand provides the only cover, and about two thirds of the seats are bare concrete – with just a section for VIPs in the centre. (One of the differences is that at some grounds anyone appears to be allowed into the central seats, whereas others are limited to invites only – meaning that they stay empty!).

Since being launched in the aftermath of the 94 scandal, the Singapore League (or S-League, as the marketing team have named it), has provided the only outlet for professional football on the Island. It currently consists of 12 teams, each of which has its own stadium in one or another of the townships mentioned. Crowds are quoted as around 1500 to 2500 for most matches – but the reality is somewhat different when you arrive at the stadiums. Only around 400 paying spectators turn out for each game, the rest of the number being made up of allocated complimentary tickets issued to the league or club sponsors. Few of these are ever taken up. It says something for the administration of Singapore football, that with gate receipts barely enough to pay a single players wages, they can find enough sponsorship to run a professional league. Most of this appears to be the work of the Football Association of Singapore. Club budgets anyway are strictly controlled, and there is no scope for a club to raise its own money to try and buy better players. The teams play each other three times during a season, which runs from March until about November or December. There are always a few short breaks when the players are required for international tournaments, or during holiday periods. The entire of the Singapore national team plays within the league. Teams are allowed to recruit four foreigners – and most have the number allowed, with a fare mixture of Africans, Europeans and South Americans dotted around. The only foreign internationals appear to be a couple of members of the Thai National side..

While most of the complimentary tickets are never seen, I did manage to get one for one game. It was the wet season in Singapore, and this normally means a very humid day, followed by a storm at dusk, the storms normally last around two hours, but tend to come around the start time of matches. So at Wellington Woodlands, I arrived in a heavy shower of rain, and was unimpressed to find I would have to venture out into the weather to find the ticket booth. A food seller than said he had comp tickets, but I had to buy some food from him. I said I did not want the food, but would pay the S$5 that a ticket would normally cost. This was turned down – apparently against the rules – so instead I had to buy the food and get a free ticket – the food cost S$3.50.

The big advantage for the groundhopping traveller is the league schedule – never more than two matches on a day (always evening kick-offs), and generally five or six fixtures dates per week. There are disadvantages, though; while a groundhopper may love to travel to different places, the point is lost when all the places look the same, and all the stadia are almost identical. The other disadvantage is the football is of a uniform quality – which is poor. Now, while I do not really mind watching a relatively low quality of football – I see a lot of low level non-League after all – and I believe that the commitment makes for a reasonable level of entertainment, even without the quality – in Singapore, there is a general lack of entertainment. I would say that only two of the six games I saw on this tour were worth the entrance money!

As I have said, Singapore consists of a series of townships, many with stadiums, and the clubs use these stadiums. However, only half of the clubs have a name which implies they are from these townships – and one of these (Geylang) do not play in the area they take their name from. Three more clubs belong to Singapore institutions – Singapore Armed Forces FC speaks for itself. Home United represents various departments concerned with home security –such as the Police and the Customs service, while the Young Lions is supposedly the national U-23 team. None of these trio are what they seem though – some national U-23 players play for other teams, while the Young Lions still includes its allocation of foreigners. The Armed Forces and Home teams also include foreigners, and are just professional football teams, although one or two of the Armed Forces players may be doing their national service. The final three teams are even more obscure – two have club names – but the clubs concerned are in China and Japan, the third is called Korean Super Reds. At least these have a clear provenance; each is made up with mainly young players, and these teams have 100% foreigners – all coming from the country of the teams origin. The idea has been running in Singapore for some time, although it does not appear very successful. All the clubs have an ‘official supporters club’, mainly youngsters who wear the colours and bang a drum during the match. Korean Super-Reds have only managed to recruit a lone drummer. There is little sign that a grounding in the Singapore league is enough to secure a professional contract back home, and the only members of these teams known to have stayed in professional football when changing clubs are still in Singapore.

Oddly, it is not just the clubs that have foreign players in Singapore – the national team has taken some of the on as well. The various football authorities are quite concerned that International football could be compromised by a number of players changing their nationality and then becoming members of the national teams. They say it is OK if players change nationalities for other reasons, and then become national players, but not if the player concerned changes only for football reasons. The test is whether a player stays in his adopted country after his football career is over, but by then it is too late to rule on his eligibility. The habit is becoming widespread, especially in Asia, with a notable example being Qatar’s Uruguayan striker, Sebastian Quintana (he scored all his country’s goals in the tournament). The Singapore team includes an Englishman who changed nationality only after marrying a local girl, but also includes a number of players who came to the country first of all as foreign players in the league, and then only changed nationality when included in an FAS scheme. The scheme is required because players wages are firmly regulated and foreigners get paid more than locals, and basically gives those who change nationality the advantages they would have as foreigners (free of subsidised housing and more money). Personally, I think this will have a limited effect on the national team, as the players concerned still play in the Singapore league – but while they were not good enough to reach the Asian cup finals, the policy did pay off in last winters South East Asian Cup, which Singapore won.

So to finish, a summary of my games in Singapore, the first of which saw Korean Super Reds playing Tampines Rovers. The Koreans are rock bottom of the table, but still gave a good account of themselves against one of the leaders. The Yishun stadium is a very typical as described already. Generally, the game was never over exciting, and we had to wait for the last ten minutes before we had any goals – Tampines took the lead with just 8 minutes to go, but Super Reds got a penalty in the 89th minute. Jeon Hyojoon hot the post with this, but the ball was passed back into the area, for Hyojoon to eventually score! This match was played on the Tuesday when I was between Ho Chi Minh City and Palembang. Returning a week later, it was cup week. The Singapore Cup involves all 12 of the league teams, plus four invited foreign clubs – one from Cambodia, one from Brunei and two from Thailand. All matches, though are played in Singapore, and only Bangkok University took foreign participation into the second round. Before seeing them, though I went to see the Armed Forces at Choa Chu Kang. This ground is not quite typical, the main stand being a little larger, and the rest of the ground being out of bounds, with no more seats. It was a second leg tie, with the Armed Forces already 4-2 up, but we had a really fun time, right from an opening penalty which the Gombak keeper saved, then saved another shot from the rebound, only to concede to the third shot. Both sides threw everything forward throughout, and on a wet surface, most went in. The final score was 5-3 (9-5 on aggregated). Two of Gombak’s goals were scored by Thersdek Chaiman, who had played in the Asian cup for Thailand. The following day (a Tuesday), I saw Bangkok University play Balestier Khalsa on Balestier’s Tao Payoh ground (one of the typical ones). Balestier play a direct style with one tactic only – pass to the foreigners. Their Japanese striker put them 1-0 up, but they were undone by the wing play of the visitors, (it seems to me that few Singapore teams use their wingers much). By coincidence, one of the University wingers was also Japanese, and he scored the first two goals in a 3-1 win. I also saw they second leg, played on Friday at Jelan Besar. Every Friday, there is a game televised and this always takes place at the Jelan Besar ground, which belongs to the FA of Singapore. The ground is also the home of Young Lions in the league. This stadium has no track, with stands square along both sides, but nothing behind the goals. It also boasts an artificial pitch. Despite the University dominating the second game as well, they went down 1-0 – not enough to stop them reaching the semi-final. The following day I was off to Jakarta for the Asian Cup final, but on Monday I was back in Singapore for two more days of league action. The Woodlands Stadium, (Woodlands Wellington) and the Bedok Stadium (Geylang United) are both typical, although Bedok has seating inside the track behind the goals, and some of the support also makes use of a grass bank behind the open seating. Both games were dull, with Woodlands drawing 1-1 against Sengkang Punggol, while Geylang and Balestier Khalsa drew without troubling the scorer. This is a pity for Geylang, who have more support than most other teams, and support that appears to be more committed to their team as well. While most teams in the league have been recently manufactured, Geylang were one of the mainstays of the amateur leagues that preceded the S-League. One could only feel that such support deserves a better team.