2016 S-League season kicks off today

Teams playing their part in communities

The once-forgotten S-League is buzzing again. For the first time in more than a decade, Singapore’s domestic league is back in the limelight. From the signing of a former Premier League player, to the return of the nation’s best, there is something quite different about this season.

The clubs

She might have lacked the expert ball control of a professional footballer, but MacPherson MP Tin Pei Ling did not look too out of place as she took part in a game of "monkey" with a few Geylang International footballers during an open training session on Wednesday.

Her appointment as the Eagles' first woman adviser was the highest-profile attempt in what is a concerted endeavour by some clubs to reach out to the community ahead of the new S-League season.

Geylang team manager Aizat Ramli described the new season's buzz as a "breath of fresh air", and said that the club have stepped up their efforts at engaging the community in a bid to "fill the stadiums with fans".

He added: "Geylang traditionally have strong support, but the number has dwindled in the past few years. To bring back the fans, we have to be more open and engaging to the community.

"We want the fans to have a sense of affiliation with the club."

Prior to Ms Tin's appointment, Geylang players and officials also helped distribute rice to needy Chai Chee residents together with Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin last month.

Home United have also been active off the pitch, holding open training and meet-and-greet sessions at Bishan Stadium on Jan 23, with almost 500 people turning up to mingle with the likes of Faris Ramli and Irfan Fandi.

Home's chief executive Azrulnizam Shah Sohaimi said: "We would love for it to translate to more seats being taken up, that is the (desired) outcome. The process is that we want to think differently, and engage people on a personal level. If we get that right, it will translate to results."

The Garena Young Lions have also got in on the act, distributing goodie bags and interacting with male destitute persons at Acacia Welfare Home on Jan 30.

Despite average crowd attendances hovering at 1,000 last season, some clubs have yet to focus their efforts on community outreach.

Hougang United team manager Matthew Tay stated that, aside from plans to organise friendly street soccer matches and school tie-ups later in the year, the club will "focus on football" this season.

Similarly, Balestier Khalsa general manager Cheng Tim Nee indicated that nothing is set in stone for this year, in terms of outreach efforts.

For pre-season favourites Tampines, the main objective of their fan engagement is to raise the profile of initiatives close to their heart.

The Stags held their official jersey launch on Jan 30, with fans getting up close and personal with the players, including star signing Jermaine Pennant. They are also planning tie-ups with educational institutions to provide scholarships to young footballers.

But Stags team manager Desmund Khusnin said: "If it translates to more fans, it is a bonus.

"The main goal is to reach out. There are many causes to fight for: youth, studies, the needy. All these need awareness, and it would be great if we can play a part in improving one cause or another."

•Additional reporting by Alvin Chia and Pan Zaixiang

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 13, 2016, with the headline 'Teams playing their part in communities'. Print Edition | Subscribe