EPL's great, but nothing beats live football

Great Eastern-Yeo's S-League 2014 - Albirex Niigata 2 vs Tanjong Pagar United 1. Anyone who loves football has been in real danger of piling on the kilos recently. -- ST FILE PHOTO: GAVIN FOO
Great Eastern-Yeo's S-League 2014 - Albirex Niigata 2 vs Tanjong Pagar United 1. Anyone who loves football has been in real danger of piling on the kilos recently. -- ST FILE PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

Anyone who loves football has been in real danger of piling on the kilos recently.

Instead of being outdoors working up a sweat with some actual physical activity, plenty will have been glued to their settees watching the best English Premier League season in years hurtle towards an unpredictable conclusion.

Every game involving Liverpool, Chelsea, Manchester City and Arsenal is now an unmissable event as each club attempts to win the title.

Manchester United matches cannot be skipped, as the Red Devils’ bizarre campaign feels like watching an empire crumble - with occasional glimpses of a glorious past. Even Southampton games, long the preserve of people born in the city or football nerds, have become essential viewing thanks to the Saints’ England connection ahead of the World Cup in Brazil.

Throw the Champions League into the mix and football fans have the perfect excuse for inertia, even before we head to South America in June for the biggest sporting event in the world.

Even though I am English I have no real concern over who wins the EPL title. Singaporeans who were born thousands of miles from the teams they feverishly follow have a much greater emotional connection with these clubs.

That’s despite me having a northern accent that drifts somewhere close to Manchester.

My own affiliation to my hometown club prevents me from becoming too close to these big guns, which affords me the privilege of watching this race unfold without the emotional turmoil that accompanies real supporters around the world.

Yet that same sense of detachment is also helping me breathe the somewhat smoky air of the great outdoors in Singapore to get my football fix.

Trips to watch S-League games have proved a welcome addition to the live broadcasts from Europe, with the kind of lively atmospheres that accompany fixtures around the globe.

It’s liberating to simply watch for fun without being weighed down by expectation or loyalty, and trips through the stadium gates provided a welcome respite from simply flicking the channel.

Going to a live game is also a welcome reminder of a place where the players can hear the shouts from the stands, instead of being oblivious to the growls made from armchairs on another continent.

Attendances at the S-League have been slipping in recent seasons, but there is a concerted push to turn the figures around.

At matches I have been to, fans were given free programmes listing the players and facts about the game, as well as other goodies such as ice-cream and food. Lucky draws at half-time also handed out games consoles. True, some people drifted away after that but the majority did not.

I saw Hougang come from behind against Albirex Niigata to score two late goals, with Brazilian Geison Moura netting both efforts just before the final whistle.

It was dramatic and the crowd loved it, energetically celebrating with the players before filing out of the stadium into the evening.There have been thrills elsewhere too, with Tampines roaring back from being 0-2 down against Harimau Muda in the 85th minute to win 3-2.Then that man Goura popped up again, this time against the Stags, to score twice in a mad-cap opening 12 minutes that saw Hougang race into a 3-0 lead before beating defending champions Tampines 4-2.

Anyone watching Geylang net their injury-time winner in Friday's match against Hougang won't have felt short-changed either.

It may not measure up to Manchester City against Liverpool, but there is no lack of excitement and a touch of English football even visits Hougang Stadium next week when former Blackburn boss Steve Kean brings Brunei DPMM to face the Cheetahs.

At times it can seem as though the grass is greener on the other side but, from where I was sat at S-League matches, the lush pitches here have plenty of colour too.

I can’t give up live football on the television but the S-League proved a worthy night out.

Walking to the stadium may even have helped trim some of the growing bulge caused by a steady diet of European football.

jturner@sph.com.sg