SINGAPORE - While local fans celebrated the Republic's 2-1 victory over Causeway rivals Malaysia in the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) Tri-Nations Series friendly match on Saturday (March 26), some of them also saw their evening marred by a "major malfunction" which delayed them from getting to their seats in time for the 8pm kick-off.
The derby match at the National Stadium was attended by a pandemic record of 14,896 fans.
When a fan, who only wanted to be known as Muhammad, reached the National Stadium at 7.35pm, he could not download his e-ticket as an error message showed up.
He was told by an usher to go to Gate 18 to get a physical copy of his ticket, but when he and his two friends reached, they saw a long line of fans also waiting to get their tickets printed at 7.50pm.
Observing that the queue was not moving, the 29-year-old approached staff from the Singapore Sports Hub for help.
He said: "Many other fans were also questioning them as they did not seem to know what they were doing and did not fully understand our frustrations.
"At this point, the match had already begun and there were definitely a few hundred people in the queue with more joining the queue."
A few minutes later, he heard from other fans that entry would be permitted if they showed proof of purchase. The confirmation e-mails did not state which gate number they were supposed to enter by, but Muhammad said he was told by SportsHub staff to enter via Gate 15.
He noted a "huge throng" of people at the gate while security and safety measures were "bypassed".
"Upon entering, we realised that our seats were in fact at Gate 4, hence we had to walk (round) the whole stadium to get to the other side. This was applicable to many other fans as well," he said, adding that security personnel eventually removed the barriers to allow them to move to other sections.
He reached his seat at 8.15pm. The pharmacist said: "The whole situation was extremely frustrating and disappointing. Being a world-class sports facility, I would expect SportsHub and their partners (like Sistic) to be able to anticipate a huge crowd and manage any potential hiccups without compromising safety.
"Thankfully, we enjoyed the match greatly as Singapore put up a good fight and we won."
Muhammad, who paid $20 for his ticket, added: "Despite being early, we were shortchanged (of) a portion of the match due to technical faults and poor planning, which were not our fault.
"And for the stress and frustrations that we were put through, I feel we should be compensated the full amount of the match."
Yasmin Yunus, who was watching the national team live for the first time with her husband, had a similar experience. She arrived at Gate 3 at 7.30pm but also could not download the e-tickets.
She was told to go to Gate 6 to get her tickets printed but saw many people in the queue. The game started while she was queueing so she tried to watch it on her phone using Mediacorp's meWatch app, but the reception was poor.
After a few minutes, she heard fellow spectators telling the crowd to go back to their respective gates. She then approached an usher who told her that she no longer had to show her ticket to enter.
Yasmin and her husband eventually entered without going through any checks at about 8.15pm.
Yasmin, 50, said: "It was very chaotic and I think it was overwhelming for the ushers too. It was like a maze and I didn't know what was happening.
"But once we were inside and got into the game, we forgot all about it. I just hope they learn from this and move on."
At 8.23pm, the FAS issued a statement on social media, saying it was aware of "a major malfunction with the Sistic ticketing system", causing fans to be unable to download their e-tickets.
The FAS apologised and added that proof of purchase via email or printout can grant fans access into the stadium.
Sistic also issued a statement on Facebook at 9.48pm on Saturday, apologising to the FAS, SportsHub and fans "for the distress caused and (they) regret the disruption to the match experience".
The post added that a "technical error on Sistic's part" caused the issue.
In response to queries from The Straits Times, Sistic said on Sunday the company's monitoring system detected errors with the e-ticket service before the match started.
The company, which supports over 1,300 events yearly, added: "This is the first incident related to accessibility of e-tickets for Sistic events and the issue was rectified on the day of the incident.
"We remain committed to thorough investigations, testing and checking to prevent similar situations from happening in the future."
Sistic's on-site ticketing resolution teams assisted fans to print physical tickets while staff from SportsHub and FAS also provided assistance, said Sistic.
It added: "We empathise with avid football fans who have missed the early part of the game. As a business that understands the importance of customer experience, we are sorry for the distress caused by a technical error.
"Sistic has been working with FAS and SportsHub since the onset of the issue yesterday and are working closely together to ensure a seamless experience for fans."
Fans who had already downloaded their tickets beforehand were also affected.
M. Shanjayan had reached the venue with two friends at about 7.30pm and was surprised to see a snaking queue to enter at Gate 3.
The 27-year-old said: "My friends and I walked for some time before finding the start of the queue with well over hundreds of people in front of us.
"That's when we realised that only one gate was open for this side of the stadium with only a few ushers who had to do (the security) checks."
He managed to get to his seat at 8.10pm and noted that people were still streaming in. He also observed seven personnel handling the ushering, security checks and ticket scans at the gantry and said that more gates should have been opened.
He added: "I felt a bit frustrated (at first) because it'd have been nice to see the teams coming out, and especially at home if the players had more fans present when they were coming out, it'd have been a more rapturous environment.
"But... I put whatever happened at the start behind me and watched the game happily.
"For myself, I don't think there needs to be a compensation because mistakes like this can happen and due to the lack of having to hold events due to Covid-19, it becomes harder on organisers as well in terms of experience and finding manpower needed. Only with more experience in holding events will we gradually become more efficient with situations like this."