Football: Compact S-league schedule a big plus

S-League champions DPMM with the trophy after winning the title on the very last day of the season. This year, the nine teams will meet each other thrice in the 24-round league, which will end on Oct 28.
S-League champions DPMM with the trophy after winning the title on the very last day of the season. This year, the nine teams will meet each other thrice in the 24-round league, which will end on Oct 28.TNP FILE PHOTO

Having most matches from Thursday to Saturday will benefit clubs and national team

The release of the fixtures for the new S-League football season, which kicks off on Feb 13, was met with relief by officials and players alike.

This year, most matches will be played from Thursday to Saturday. In contrast, the lack of a clear pattern to the scheduling last season drew the ire of players and coaches as some clubs waited up to two weeks in between games.

For the new campaign, only three match days fall outside the Thursday to Saturday block - May 4 (Wednesday), June 14 and 15 (Tuesday and Wednesday).

The former is to accommodate the Sultan of Selangor Cup game on May 7 and the latter follows an international match week.

The league curtain-raiser, which doubles up as the Community Shield, pits defending champions Brunei DPMM against Singapore Cup holders Albirex Niigata.

THUMBS UP

It's more structured, which gives us more rhythm and consistency in terms of training and preparation.

JORG STEINEBRUNNER, Warriors coach, on games being quite evenly spaced out.

Following the withdrawal of Malaysian team Harimau Muda, the new S-League season will feature nine teams, who will play each other thrice. The last round of fixtures will be played on Oct 28.

Warriors FC goalkeeper Yazid Yasin, who has played in every season of the S-League since its inception in 1996, said: "Last season, we'd get regular fixtures for 2-3 months, then it'd go haywire. It messes up our system and how we prepare. Players like regular games, and it's good that the matches are spread out more evenly next season."

His coach Jorg Steinebrunner said the new calendar was "a step forward" for the league.

He said: "It's more structured, which gives us more rhythm and consistency in terms of training and preparation. Last season was challenging, things got a little frantic at some point, so this is certainly a step forward."

Singapore's hosting of the SEA Games last June, coupled with the postponement of matches owing to the haze, also resulted in a fixture pile-up for clubs at the tail-end of the season. For instance, Home United had to play four matches in 10 days from Oct 30 to Nov 8.

It is a scenario the team's head coach Philippe Aw hopes can be avoided this season. "When you have a fixture pile-up, you also run the risk of players getting injured. Having regular matches will allow us to build a good momentum throughout the season," he said.

The new calendar also means centralised training for the national team, held every Monday, can proceed as planned. The first such session was held this week in the form of a seminar.

A Football Association of Singapore spokesman said the fixtures were drawn up after considering factors such as "major events affecting stadium usage, competition schedules including Asian Football Confederation matches, travelling schedules for matches in Brunei (against DPMM), national team preparations including the national team training day, and deciding on an ideal TV viewership timing for live matches".

While having matches on Saturday means potentially competing for eyeballs with the popular English Premier League, Aw believes the fixtures' uniformity will alleviate the problem. He said: "It's easier for the fans to set aside time for the S-League when there's a routine to the fixtures."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 16, 2016, with the headline 'COMPACT S-LEAGUE SCHEDULE A BIG PLUS'. Print Edition | Subscribe