Wardrobe clash at S-League match draws flak, ridicule

Match officials don colours similar to players' jerseys, sparking confusion

A wardrobe clash took centre stage during last Friday's S-League football game between Home United and Hougang United, that was shown live on television.

Referee Ahmad A'Qashah and his assistants had to change their black tops at half-time as the attire clashed with Home's dark blue jersey - leading to comical instances of players passing the ball to the referee.

But the drama did not end there for the men in black at the Jalan Besar Stadium. As their alternative orange kit also matched Hougang's jersey, the officials were forced to wear the league's anniversary shirts with "20" emblazoned on their backs for the entire second half. Their Fifa badges were hastily stuck on the front of the green tops.

Responding to The Straits Times, an S-League spokesman apologised for the "one-off incident", which drew criticism and ridicule from fans and officials.

The spokesman said: "Due to the shortage of time as it was a match that was going to be telecast live on television, the officials met, discussed and did their best to sort out the issue to allow the match to proceed.

"We will be reviewing it to prevent a recurrence."

The 1-1 scoreline will stand, despite both teams mistaking the referee for a player, particularly in the first half.

The Straits Times understands team colours are confirmed at least a day before a game. It is up to match officials to choose a kit - they typically have up to four variations - that best distinguishes themselves from the players.

Sources said A'Qashah, who officiated at the Brazil-Japan friendly last October, and his assistants first discovered the clash of colours at 6pm last Friday, 90 minutes before kick-off.

Lawyer Jeffrey Beh, who chaired the Football Association of Singapore referees' committee from 1996 to 2011, blamed the officials for their lack of initiative. He said: "The referees should be well prepared for every contingency. It is not up to the teams to accommodate them... The referees' department must take responsibility for this embarrassment."

But one senior referee, who declined to be named, said the league has issued them only black and orange tops so far this season. A third option (green) is due to arrive only in two weeks.

The S-League said that when Hougang, the home team, were asked prior to kick-off if they could wear yellow, they said the kits were not at the venue.

But Hougang team manager Matthew Tay refuted this version of events, saying: "We had our yellow kit on standby in the dressing room but were not asked to use it.

"We were shocked to see the officials in black for the first half as it was so close to Home's colours, causing both teams to be confused and misplace passes."

Home, meanwhile, rejected the league's request to don their red jerseys. Said chief executive Azrulnizam Shah: "We raised the point that the red kit would clash with the orange of Hougang. We were eventually told to stick to the first choice of our dark blue away kit."

The incident draws more unwanted attention to the competition, which recently backtracked on a proposed ruling to limit the number of players older than 30 at each club.

Football fan Eric Siew, 38, said: "The first and most important step to getting crowds back to S-League stadiums is to be credible and professional.

"When you have a referee receiving a pass or running around with a number on his back, it's more a comedy than a competition."

nsanjay@sph.com.sg