Football: Revival under way for women's football scene

Team TPSS Titanides (in red) playing against Team Bullet Girls in a five-a-side tournament during Women's Football Day last month. About 550 women and girls took part in the event. Women's football here is poised for a revival after years in the dold
Team TPSS Titanides (in red) playing against Team Bullet Girls in a five-a-side tournament during Women's Football Day last month. About 550 women and girls took part in the event. Women's football here is poised for a revival after years in the doldrums. ST PHOTO: WONG KWAI CHOW

The buzz in Singapore football isn't just happening in the S-League. The women's game is also enjoying a boost in popularity with a surge in the number of teams and players. The Straits Times looks at the recent growth.

There has been a buzz surrounding Singapore football in recent months, with the S-League enjoying a surge in attendance following the additions of former LionsXII players, as well as marquee signings such as former Arsenal and Liverpool winger Jermaine Pennant.

And it has not just been restricted to men's football. The often neglected women's game is also garnering much more attention than in past years.

For instance, more than 550 participants turned up at last month's Women's Football Day at the Home of Athletics field, all decked out in colourful jerseys and shiny boots and eager to show off their ball control skills.

It was the latest in a slew of activities introduced by the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) in the past year to engage the women's football community, which has an estimated outreach of 3,000 players.

Last April at Queensway Secondary, it launched its first all-girl training centre for its Cubs Programme, attracting more than 40 girls aged between seven and 12. Two more of such centres opened, at Hong Kah and Bowen Secondary School.

COME AND WATCH US

We lack support and I don't think most people know of the national team's existence. During games, the only people in the stands are our parents and friends.

PAMELA KONG, national goalkeeper, calling for more backing for the women's game.

Last June saw 14 teams participate in the Singapore Primary Schools Sports Council/FAS Inter-School five-a-side Junior and Senior Girls Football Fiesta.

The women's national team are also enjoying a revival of sorts. Last July, the Lionesses travelled to Hong Kong to compete in their first overseas tournament since 2013, and came in third out of four teams.

Then in January, they also had their first international match in two years, losing 0-1 to Sri Lanka in an international "A" friendly at Jalan Besar Stadium.

Said national player Angelyn Pang, 25: "I'm happy that there are now more opportunities to give us more exposure. We have had many players with potential who didn't have the chance to develop their talent.

"We used to only have the national team, but now we have Under-14, U-16 and U-19 teams. It's good that the girls get to start from a younger age now and I hope we can sustain this kind of exposure for the kids.

"In terms of competition, we are also getting more exposure with more tournaments. For the Women's Premier League, we also have 11 teams this year, as compared to eight last year."

FAS vice-president Lim Kia Tong credited the return of Julie Teo, the general manager of the FAS' grassroots and women's football department, for the recent revival.

Teo, 52, was previously the head of women's development in the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) from 2008-2014 and returned to the FAS last year.

She acknowledged the numerous challenges she has faced since her return: "We had to build up all the programmes, as there were a lot of gaps. You cannot promote women's football if there are not enough programmes and no proper pathway for players to move up.

"The national team were inactive in the Fifa rankings because we were not participating in any competitions. Now, we are starting slowly by taking part in some tournaments."

So far, the signs have been positive. A check on the women's football calendar for this year shows a packed schedule, with the senior national team taking part in the Asean Football Federation Women's Championship in Myanmar in July and the various age-group teams being involved in the AFC competitions throughout the year.

With the surge in activities for women's football, FAS technical director Michel Sablon plans to use the existing grassroots Cubs Programme as the catalyst.

Said the 68-year-old Belgian: "We are using this programme to introduce things like fun games that are related to football. This is where young girls start to play and learn about football.

"We have four women's national teams now and we will be aiming to develop more. There are a lot of girls out there who want to play football and it's our responsibility to develop them properly with the right training."

Nevertheless, there are problems that have perennially plagued the women's game over the years that will take longer to eradicate.

Said national goalkeeper Pamela Kong, 25: "We lack support and I don't think most people know of the national team's existence. During games, the only people in the stands are our parents and friends.

"If we have more public support, we will be able to do more and there will be a wider pool of talent to choose from for the national team. Only the best players should be picked to play.

"Right now, we have a really small talent pool and we have no other choice but to work with what we have."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 28, 2016, with the headline 'Revival under way for women's football scene'. Print Edition | Subscribe