Never too late to have a five-a-side football game

Premier Pitch @ Turf City. -- PHOTO: PREMIER PITCH
Premier Pitch @ Turf City. -- PHOTO: PREMIER PITCH
Playlor! -- PHOTO: PLAYLOR!
Playlor! -- PHOTO: PLAYLOR!
Golazo. -- PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI FOR THE STRAITS TIMES
Golazo. -- PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI FOR THE STRAITS TIMES
The Cage. -- PHOTO: AZIZ HUSSIN
The Cage. -- PHOTO: AZIZ HUSSIN
Offside. -- PHOTO: LIM SIN THAI
Offside. -- PHOTO: LIM SIN THAI
Stadio @ Rooftop. -- PHOTO: DESMOND FOO
Stadio @ Rooftop. -- PHOTO: DESMOND FOO
Zuriel Sharul Isaac, 12, joins his father, Mr Sharul Isaac, who plays five-a-side soccer with his friends at Offside, a pitch located under a flyover in Whitley Road. -- PHOTO: ELRICA TANU
Zuriel Sharul Isaac, 12, joins his father, Mr Sharul Isaac, who plays five-a-side soccer with his friends at Offside, a pitch located under a flyover in Whitley Road. -- PHOTO: ELRICA TANU
At Kovan Sports Centre, one can opt to play soccer in ankle-deep water in an inflatable pool. -- PHOTO: KOVAN SPORTS CENTRE
At Kovan Sports Centre, one can opt to play soccer in ankle-deep water in an inflatable pool. -- PHOTO: KOVAN SPORTS CENTRE

Indoor five-a-side soccer pitches are becoming places for working adults to unwind after work

When the sun goes down on Fridays, Mr Imran Ayub swops his office wear for soccer gear and tears around a pitch like he is 18 again.

The 33-year-old field service manager at an oil and gas company is among a growing number of indoor football warriors - working adults, mostly men, who unwind after work with a game of soccer played on a sheltered pitch.

Unlike football, which is played on an outdoor field measuring about 100m by 64m, the indoor version commonly played here takes place on a far smaller court that measures about 25m by 16m.

It is known as five-a-side soccer as each team has five players instead of 11. It is also sometimes called futsal, but that is officially played on a hard-court surface.

Most pitch operators here carpet their grounds with synthetic turf to reduce the risk of injury. The pitches are usually enclosed to prevent the ball from leaving the court - another difference between indoor football and futsal, which is delimited only by lines.

The Cage, near Stadium Walk, was the first to introduce an indoor pitch here in 2005. There are now at least eight operators. Some courts can be found at unconventional locations, such as under a flyover. The pitches at The Cage are walled up, while others use nets to enclose the courts.

The rise in the number of indoor football pitches has drawn droves of soccer enthusiasts such as Mr Ayub. He says: "It's more convenient to make plans to play the game when you know that the location is weather-resistant."

It costs $90 to $120 to play an hour- long game during peak hours, which most operators define as after 6pm on weekdays and all day on weekends.

As fewer people are needed to play, it is also easier to cobble together two teams for a game, says Mr Ayub.

He adds: "The smaller pitch is also less demanding on our stamina, compared to an 11-a-side football game. I'm young at heart but my legs are not 18 anymore."

Mr Ayub, who is usually the goalkeeper, plays with 15 to 20 friends and colleagues aged 18 to 54 on Friday nights at Golazo in Jurong West. The team has been playing together since 2012 and chose the location because most of them live in the area and carpark lots are easy to find.

The long operating hours of these pitches are another plus for the working crowd. Many of the centres are open till 1am, with some operating around-the-clock when there are advanced bookings.

Mr Ayub and his friends usually book the pitch for two hours, from 6 to 8pm. And there have been occasions when he played from midnight to 2am with another group of friends.

"We sometimes book late games to accommodate those who want to wait for their wives and kids to go to bed before heading out. There are also some bankers, engineers or teachers who have to work overtime or odd hours," he says.

Senior IT executive Jason Seet, 38, says he enjoys playing the five-a-side game more than traditional football as it is more exciting. This is because "everyone gets to touch the ball and score often" due to the smaller pitch and fewer players.

The game is also played at a faster pace and he believes he gets a better workout.

Mr Seet, who plays the position of striker, is at Kovan Sports Centre on Thursday nights with 15 to 20 friends and acquaintances aged 20-plus to 50-plus.

He used to play with his colleagues, but after the group dwindled, he started looking for more players by posting on online forum HardwareZone. The strangers who responded have since become his friends.

For operations manager Darrel Teo, 31, who also plays at Kovan Sports Centre, the weekly game is a chance for him to catch up with his friends, many of whom he has known since secondary school. Since March, he has been playing with a group of about 20 friends on Thursday nights. They usually book the pitch from 8 to 10pm.

"Some of us don't meet except during these games because everyone is busy with work and family commitments," he says.

He catches up with his friends before the games and during the breaks, and they also sometimes go for supper or drinks at a nearby coffee shop afterwards.

And he has also made many new friends as other players ask their friends to join in the game.

Mr Teo says: "You get to meet bankers, engineers and teachers, people from all walks of life. What I like about soccer is that it is a game which brings people together."

And that includes family. Twelve-year- old Zuriel Sharul Isaac, for example, often tags along when his father plays. Band director Sharul Isaac, 39, joins his friends at Offside, a pitch located under the Thomson flyover, every Monday from 8 to 10pm.

Zuriel's small frame stands out among the group of 15 to 20 men in his father's team, whose ages range from 20s to 50s. But the Primary 6 pupil, who plays soccer for St Gabriel's Primary School, says he is not intimidated - not even after one of the men accidentally fell on him and stepped on his thigh.

"Football is fun," says the boy who hopes to be a professional footballer.

Mr Isaac says Zuriel asked to join in the game and that his wife does not mind as long as their son finishes his homework and revision.

Mr William Koh, 36, one of six directors behind pitch operator Golazo, believes there is enough of the pie to go around despite what seems to be an increasingly crowded scene here.

"Competition has grown, but there are still not many sheltered futsal facilities around. For example, we are one of two such facilities in the western part of Singapore. Different operators cater to people living in different areas."

He also works with vendors to provide other games such as speed and archery tag and bloop soccer (soccer played wearing giant inflatable balls) to stay competitive. Corporate organisations, which sometimes book the whole place for team-building exercises, make up about 40 per cent of his business, he adds.

Golazo offers students a 40 per cent discount on weekdays before 6pm, charging $30 an hour, and this has helped to draw traffic during off-peak hours.

Football academies also provide regular business, says Mr Derek Cheong, 30, who owns Offside in Whitley Road. Up to three such schools train at his facility and make up 20 to 25 per cent of his revenue.

He set up a new outlet in Mattar Road in the Aljunied area in February. It has 13 outdoor pitches ranging from five-a-side to 11-a-side. It is a collaboration with Home United Football Club. The Mattar Road facility is a training base for the Home United Youth Football Academy, which comprises six teams of players aged 13 to 18.

Audio, visual and lighting technical manager Ray Ng welcomes having more five-a-side pitches in Singapore. The 50-year-old, who has been playing soccer since his secondary school days, believes it is a good way for teenagers to spend their time and it also allows adults to sweat it out.

Not even a heart attack could stop him from playing his favourite sport. After undergoing heart surgery in 2011, he returned to the football pitch last year.

He is friends with Mr Isaac and plays with the group on Mondays at Offside. He admits he cannot keep up with the younger players, but says "being able to play is good enough".

He adds: "These indoor pitches are done up so nicely, stepping onto them is like stepping into a mini football stadium. I find soccer a more fulfilling form of exercise than, say, jogging. It is not just about how fast you run, but also about teamwork and skill."

elricat@sph.com.sg


PLAY ON A ROOF

STADIO @ ROOFTOP

Where: Amara Hotel Singapore, 165 Tanjong Pagar Road

When: 24/7, booking is required, subject to availability

Admission: $100 an hour, 8am to 6pm on weekdays; $120 an hour after 6pm on weekdays, all day on weekends and public holidays

Number of pitches: One

Outlets: Five other outlets in Marina Country Club in Punggol (indoors), HomeTeamNS in Sembawang, Fairway Club in Jurong and Singapore Khalsa Association and Ceylon Sports Club in Balestier

Info: Go to www.stadio.com.sg or call 9721-8030

PLAY UNDER A FLYOVER

OFFSIDE

Where: 2 Whitley Road

When: 24/7, booking is required after midnight at least an hour in advance

Admission: $60 an hour, 3am to 6pm; $90 an hour, 6pm to 3am on weekdays and all day on weekends and public holidays

Number of pitches: Four

Outlets: Another outdoor facility in Mattar Road

Info: Go to www.offside.com.sg or call 9796-9570

PLAY IN AN ENCLOSURE

THE CAGE

Where: 38 Jalan Benaan Kapal

When: 24/7, booking is required at least 12 hours in advance

Admission: $54 an hour, before 6pm on weekdays; $96 an hour, after 6pm on weekdays and all day on weekends and public holidays

Number of pitches: Six

Info: Go to 2009.thecage.com.sg or call 6344-9345

PLAY IN WATER

KOVAN SPORTS CENTRE

Where: 60 Hougang Street 21

When: 9am to 11pm daily, online booking is preferred

Admission: $28 an hour for students (at least five student passes required), 9am to 7pm on weekdays; $95 an hour (with purchase of lifetime membership at $10), 7 to 11pm on weekdays and all day on weekends and public holidays.

Water soccer costs $35 an hour for students (at least five student passes required) and $90 an hour for adults (prices are expected to be adjusted in the near future)

Number of pitches: Eight

Info: Go to www.kovansports.com or call 6286-0256.

Water soccer is available upon request. This is played in ankle-deep water in an inflatable pool, which measures 16m by 8m and is structured to look like a soccer court.

PLAY IN A SHELTERED FACILITY

GOLAZO

Where: 2 Jurong West Street 25

When: 9am to 3am daily

Admission: $50 an hour, 9am to 6pm on weekdays; $90 an hour, 6pm to 3am on weekdays and all day on weekends and public holidays

Number of pitches: Four

Info: Go to www.golazo.com.sg or call 6794-6625

PLAYLOR!

Where: 200 Pandan Gardens

When: 24/7, booking and payment are required, subject to availability

Admission: $90 an hour

Number of pitches: One

Info: Go to www.playlor.com or call 8228-3083

UBERSPORTS @ EAST COAST

Where: 1020 East Coast Parkway

When: 9am to 1am

Admission: $50 an hour, 9am to 6pm; $95 an hour, 6pm to 1am on weekdays and all day on weekends and public holidays

Number of pitches: Four indoor five-a-side pitches and one outdoor seven-a-side court

Outlets:Two other outlets at Punggol Waterfront and Woodlands Recreation Centre

Info: Go to www.ubersports.com.sg or call 6448-2315

PREMIER PITCH @ TURF CITY (INDOOR)

Where: 200 Turf Club Road, Plot 9

When: 8am to 2am daily

Admission: $50 an hour, 8am to 7pm on weekdays; $98 an hour, 7pm to 2am on weekdays and all day on weekends and public holidays for five a-side; $100 an hour, 8am to 7pm on weekdays; $180 an hour from 7pm to 2am on weekdays and all day on weekends and public holidays for seven a-side

Number of pitches: Two nfive-a-side pitches and one seven-a-side court

Outlets: Two other outlets with outdoor pitches in Turf City across the road and at Singapore Khalsa Association in Balestier

Info: Call 6466-8211 or go to www.premierpitch.com.sg

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