Singaporeans cannot seem to get enough of five-a-side football, a smaller version of the beautiful game.
Three new venues housing five-a-side pitches have opened in the past seven months, adding to the more than 20 existing spaces that are scattered across the island.
The new spots are SkyPark Arena in Bukit Timah, FutsalArena @ Yishun and long-time operator Stadio Futsal's fourth outlet at the rooftop of the Civil Service Club in Tessensohn Road.
Later this year, long-time private operator Premier Pitch plans to open its fourth outlet in the Upper Thomson area.
A five-a-side game, as its name suggests, requires only five players in a team. This is unlike the traditional version of the game that requires 11 players.
"Both have their own beauty and their own diehard supporters."
There is less running and more opportunity to come into contact with the ball.
MR HONG DEQI, on the plus points of playing five-a-side
The pitch typically measures 25m by 15m, about one-third the size of an average football pitch.
The game can be played indoors or outdoors, but the pitches are usually enclosed to prevent the ball from flying out of the perimeter.
Five-a-side football is commonly confused with futsal, which also has five players in a team, but there are differences between the two.
Five-a-side pitches mostly have an astroturf or artificial grass surface that is easier on the knees for players. In contrast, futsal is officially played on a hard court.
The ball used in five-a-side is the same one used in regular football matches, whereas a smaller ball with less of a bounce is used for futsal matches.
Whatever their similarities and differences, futsal and five-a-side football are clearly a favourite activity among recreational players for the ease of organising a game compared to traditional football.
"It's really difficult to find 11 players a team, let alone 22 to play a match," says sailing coach Jackson Ho, 29, who plays five-a-side two to three times a week at SkyPark Arena.
He plays with different groups of football enthusiasts each time and is a regular at the rooftop facility.
For risk analyst Hong Deqi, 34, the smaller pitch size allows him to play a more eventful and less tiring game.
Besides playing 11-a-side football weekly, Mr Hong also kicks about on a five-a-side pitch once a month with his friends and colleagues at various places, including Kovan Sports Centre and Tampines Safra.
"There is less running and more opportunity to come into contact with the ball," he says, adding that each game is shorter compared to a traditional football match.
For slightly bigger teams, there are six-, seven- and eight-a-side pitches available too.
Booking a pitch at privately operated venues starts at $70 an hour during peak periods, which are usually after 6pm on weekdays and all day on weekends.
There are also a handful of public pitches that are managed by the People's Association and Sport Singapore. They are either free or cost from $15 an hour for Singaporeans or permanent residents.
The healthy demand for these smaller-side pitches spells good news for private pitch operators.
New entrants SkyPark Arena and FutsalArena @ Yishun have experienced a steady growth in bookings over the past six months.
Both cite location and regular pitch maintenance as crucial factors in drawing customers.
SkyPark Arena is situated on the rooftop of Sime Darby Centre that is minutes away from King Albert Park MRT station. FutsalArena @ Yishun is a short walk away from Yishun MRT station and the bus interchange. Both opened in July last year.
Mr Ian Wong, 32, director of Sky Sports Singapore, the company that runs SkyPark Arena, says he offers customers "a premium experience".
The company invested close to $500,000 in the 2,865 sq m space and the cost includes buying goalpost nets used in the 2014 World Cup.
Next door to the two five-a-side pitches is a cosy air-conditioned room with entertainment facilities such as a foosball table and karaoke system to cater to the partners or kids of the football warriors, Mr Wong adds.
Meanwhile, existing pitch operators have been working hard to continously draw and retain customers.
When The Straits Times reached out to some of the businesses, the majority say that demand has held steady or has been rising gradually.
Asia Sports Holdings, the operator of the Home United Youth Football Academy in Mattar Road, notes that its 12 pitches are almost at full capacity during peak periods on weekdays.
A spokesman adds that the company is looking into providing shade for its outdoor pitches to boost bookings over the weekends.
Others such as Uber Sports, which has three outlets, regularly organises tournaments and family-friendly activities such as carnivals. It recently closed its pioneer space at East Coast Park due to the land's redevelopment.
Mr Bertrand Thum, its events and marketing manager, says about 160 to 200 events were held last year.
More operators are opening up their pitches to other activities besides football too.
At The Cage in Kallang, the first company to introduce indoor pitches in 2005, more pitches are being booked in the daytime on weekdays for offbeat activities such as bubble soccer and archery tag.
The Cage's co-director Rajesh Mulani, 47, says, "We want to host more services so people have more options. Not everyone wants to play football."
Bookings at its other outlet at Turf Club Road has increased by 30 per cent in the past six months, he adds.
Will the popularity of five-a-side overtake 11-a-side football in Singapore though?
Ms Karen Magracia, 33, the sports operations and development executive for amateur football league organiser ESPZEN, says that is unlikely.
She says that there are more than 250 teams playing 11-a-side football actively with ESPZEN in various leagues compared to the 30 teams playing five-a-side.
"It is a bit unfair to put one in comparison with the other," she says.
Find a soccer mate on this website
For the past 1 ½ years, programme manager Derek Chan has been playing football with random strangers.
The 34-year-old uses Stranger Soccer, a home-grown football and futsal online booking platform that connects enthusiasts who need help finding enough people to play a game.
Matches are set up for each day at various venues and times. Users pick which option best suits their schedule and book a slot.
They can either choose to join a five-, seven- or 11-a-side game and the system ensures there will be enough players to form at least two teams for a two-hour match.
Users confirm their bookings by making payment using credit cards, PayPal or bank transfer. Rates start at $3.99 a person.
A game is given the go-ahead once there are enough players. Users will subsequently be notified.
If there are not enough players three hours before game time, the match will be cancelled and players get a full refund.
The portal was set up in late 2014 by two friends and football fanatics Andrew Gan and Owyong Jian Wei, both 29, who were frustrated by the difficulties of rallying enough people to play a game. Both have engineering backgrounds.
"As we grew older and started working, it became harder and harder to coordinate and find players. We figured this is a problem many others face too," Mr Gan says.
The number of games organised has risen three-fold since 2015. Now, an average of 60 matches are organised a week and there are more than 6,000 registered users.
Playing with strangers has its risks. Given that people can clash over diffferent playing styles and attitudes, there have been tussles. Some users have even been suspended from the system for a few months for bad behaviour.
Two features on the portal help to encourage friendly behaviour. The first is a rating system for users, similar to those in ride-hailing apps Uber and Grab.
The second feature is a host programme, introduced half a year ago. At every game, a designated host ensures it runs smoothly, that is, "all players have equal playing time and a solid two hours of friendly soccer fun", Mr Gan says. The hosts sign on for the job and they get paid $30 a game.
For users such as Mr Chan, strangers have now turned into friends whom he regularly plays with.
He says: "We all just want to play football and have a good time at the end of the day."
What: Five five-a-side pitches and three basketball courts Where: 32 Yishun Central 1 Open: 9 to 1am daily Rates: $50 an hour on weekdays from 9am to 5pm (non-peak), $90 an hour on weekdays from 5pm to 1am and all day on weekends and public holidays (peak) Info: www.futsalarena.sg
Kovan Sports Centre
What: Eight indoor five-a-side pitches Where: 60 Hougang Street 21 Open: 8.30am to 10.30pm daily Rates: From $65 (member) and $90 (non-member) an hour from 9am to 7pm (non-peak), $95 (member) and $110 (non-member) an hour from 7 to 10pm (peak) on weekdays. $46 for half an hour from 10 to 10.30pm. From $25 an hour, $50 for two hours and $60 for three hours for students (a minimum of five student passes need to be produced) on weekdays from 9am to 7pm Info: www.kovansports.com
What: Two outdoor five-a-side pitches and two outdoor seven-a-side pitches Where: Orto, 01-13, 81 Lorong Chencharu (the former Bottle Tree Park) Open: 9 to 2am daily. Bookings must be made for slots after 2am Rates: From $50 an hour on weekdays from 9am to 6pm (non-peak), $95 an hour on weekdays from 6pm to 2am and all day on weekends and public holidays (peak) Info: www.ubersports.com.sg
What: Four indoor five-a-side pitches Where: Woodlands Recreation Centre, 200 Woodlands Industrial Park E7 Open: 9 to 2am daily. Advance bookings must be made for slots after 2am Rates: $60 an hour on weekdays from 9am to 6pm (non-peak), $95 an hour on weekdays from 6pm to 2am and all day on weekends and public holidays (peak) Info: www.ubersports.com.sg
What: Three outdoor five-a-side pitches Where: 01-05 Punggol Sports Hub, 6 Tebing Lane Open: 9 to 2am daily. Advance bookings must be made for slots after 2am Rates: $50 an hour on weekdays from 9am to 6pm (non-peak), $95 an hour on weekdays from 6pm to 2am and all day on weekends and public holidays (peak). Info: www.ubersports.com.sg
Pasir Ris Sports Centre
What: One five-a-side pitch Where: 120 Pasir Ris Central Open: 7am to 10pm daily Rates: $23.20 an hour for Singapore citizens and permanent residents, $30.20 an hour for others Info: www.myactivesg.com
What: Four outdoor five-a-side pitches Where: 1/A Tampines Street 92 Open: 7am to 11pm daily and till 1am for two of the pitches Rates: From $42.80 (Safra member) or $64.20 (non-member) an hour from 7am to 5pm on weekdays (non-peak), $107 (Safra member) or $160.50 (non-member) an hour from 7am to 5pm on weekends and public holidays (peak) Info: www.safra.sg. Members can also book the outdoor pitch at Safra Jurong or the multipurpose court at Safra Yishun
What: Four indoor five-a-side pitches Where: 2 Jurong West Street 25 (it is moving to 21 Jurong West Street 23 in April with two indoor and two outdoor five-a-side pitches) Open: 9 to 3am daily Rates: $50 an hour from 9am to 6pm on weekdays, $90 an hour from 6pm to 3am on weekdays and all day on weekends Info: www.golazo.com.sg
Home United Youth Football Academy
What: Two seven-a-side, eight five-a-side and two 11-a-side pitches Where: 8 Mattar Road Open: 7am to 11pm daily for five- and seven-a-side pitches Rates: $50 an hour for a five-a-side pitch from 7am to 6pm on weekdays, $86 an hour from 7pm to 11pm on weekdays and all day on weekends. $70 an hour for a seven-a-side pitch from 7am to 6pm on weekdays, $120 an hour from 7pm to 11pm on weekdays and all day on weekends. Info: www.hyfa.com.sg. Enquire about discounts
Offside Futsal Park
What: Four indoor five-a-side pitches Where: 2 Whitley Rd Open: 24 hours. Make an advance booking for late timings Rates: $60 an hour before 6pm on weekdays, $90 an hour on weekdays after 6pm and all day on weekends and public holidays Info: offside.com.sg
What: Two five-a-side pitches that can be converted into one six-a-side pitch Where: 05-03 Sime Darby Centre, 896 Dunearn Road Open: 8am to 11pm daily Rates: From $60 an hour from 8am to 6pm, $80 for an hour from 6 to 11pm on weekdays, 8 to 11am and 4 to 6pm on weekends, $49 an hour from 11am to 4pm and 6 to 11pm on weekends. Students and NSFs pay $30 an hour on weekdays from 8am to 6pm Info: www.skyparkarena.com
What: Two outdoor five-a-side pitches and one outdoor six-a-side pitch. Where: Singapore Indian Association, 69 Balestier Road Open: 8 to 1am daily Rates: From $70 an hour from 8am to 5pm from Mondays to Thursdays, $90 an hour after 5pm from Mondays to Thursdays and all day on Fridays, weekends and public holidays Info: stadio.com.sg
What: One five-a-side pitch and one six-a-side pitch - both outdoors. Where: Ceylon Sports Club, 101 Balestier Road Open: 8 to 1am daily Rates: From $70 an hour from 8am to 5pm from Mondays to Thursdays, $90 an hour after 5pm from Mondays to Thursdays and all day on Fridays, weekends and public holidays Info: stadio.com.sg
What: One outdoor five-a-side pitch Where: Rooftop, Amara Hotel Singapore, 165 Tanjong Pagar Road Open: 8 to 1am daily Rates: $120 an hour from 8am to 5pm from Mondays to Thursdays, $140 an hour after 5pm from Mondays to Thursdays and all day on Friday, weekends and public holidays Info: stadio.com.sg
What: Two outdoor five-a-side pitches Where: Rooftop, Civil Service Club in Tessensohn Road, 60 Tessensohn Road Open: 8 to 1am daily Rates: $100 an hour from 8am to 5pm from Mondays to Thursdays, $120 an hour after 5pm from Mondays to Thursdays and all day on Fridays, weekends and public holidays Info: stadio.com.sg
St Wilfrid Sports Centre
What: One 11-a-side pitch and two five-a-side pitches - all outdoor Where: 3 St Wilfred Road Open: 7am to 9pm daily Rates: $23.20 an hour for Singapore citizens and permanent residents, $30.20 an hour for others Info: www.myactivesg.com
What: Six indoor five-a-side pitches Where: 38 Jalan Benaan Kapal Open: 24 hours, booking is required at least 12 hours in advance Rates: $54 an hour before 6pm on weekdays, from $72 an hour after 6pm on weekdays and all day on weekends and public holidays. $54 for two hours for students from 8am to 7pm on weekdays Info: www.thecage.com.sg
The Cage Sports Park
What: Three indoor five-a-side pitches that can be converted into one seven-a-side pitch. Three 11-a-side pitches Where: 220 Turf Club Road Open: 8am to 11pm daily Rates: From $35 an hour before 6pm on weekdays, $50 an hour after 6pm on weekdays and all day on weekends and public holidays. $50 for two hours for students from 8am to 7pm on weekdays Info: www.thecage.com.sg
The Rainforest Sports Hub
What: Three eight-a-side, one seven-a-side, two six-a-side, one five-a-side and one 11-a-side pitch - all outdoors Where: 2 Turf Club Road Open: 24 hoursRates: From $50 an hour on weekdays from 7am to 6pm (off peak), $80 an hour on weekdays after 6pm and all day on weekends and public holidays Info: therainforest.asia
What: Four seven-a-side and four five-a-side pitches - all outdoor Where: 2 Turf Club Road Open: 8 to 2am daily Rates:From $50 an hour before 6pm, $70 an hour after 6pm on weekdays and all day on weekends Info: www.premierpitch.com.sg
What: Four indoor five-a-side pitches and one outdoor five-a-side pitch. Two of the pitches can convert into one seven-a-side pitch Where: 200 Turf Club Road, Plot 9 Open: 8 to 2am daily Rates: From $50 an hour before 7pm on weekdays, $98 an hour after 7pm on weekdays and all day on weekends Info: www.premierpitch.com.sg
What: Three five-a-side, two seven-a-side and one 11-a-side pitch - all outdoor Where: 49 Balestier Road Open: 8am to midnight daily Rates: From $50 for an hour, $70 an hour after 6pm on weekdays and all day on weekends Info: www.premierpitch.com.sg
• The public can make bookings to use the three hard courts at the Singapore Sports Hub (www.sportshub.com.sg) as well as the hard courts at the various community clubs (CC) islandwide. Sengkang CC and Pasir Ris Elias CC also have dedicated futsal courts. More details on www.pa.gov.sg. Besides the astroturf courts at Pasir Ris and St Wilfrid Sport Centres, Sport Singapore also has hard and astroturf courts available for booking at Choa Chu Kang Sports Centre, Crest Secondary School and MOE (Evans Road). Go to www.myactivesg.com for more information.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 17, 2017, with the headline 'Small teams, big fun'. Print Edition | Subscribe
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