SINGAPORE - Clad in blood-red shirts, scarves in hand and armed with large drums, about 150 fervent fans that make up the SingaBrigade are often in full voice in Section 136 of the National Stadium's East Stand when the Singapore football team are in action. For 90 minutes, the group sing, cheer and pay homage to their heroes.
But when the Lions take the field on Sunday (Dec 5) to kick-start their 2020 Suzuki Cup campaign against Myanmar, the SingaBrigade will be conspicuous by their absence, despite the game being sold out.
In a Facebook post last Saturday, it published "an open letter to all fans and our friends" to indicate it would not attend the Suzuki Cup as a group, citing high ticket prices and the fact that members are not allowed to bring drums into the stadium.
Syed Faris, 33, a member of the SingaBrigade, told The Straits Times: "We are the hosts and we had been looking forward to the tournament to support the team like what we've been used to. You can ask anyone who has attended Lions matches and they will know the impact when we have our drums."
When asked about the group's complaints, the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) said that it was required to comply with the law, explaining: "We understand the sentiments in the context of a sporting event, but as a responsible organiser, we have to respect the prevailing regulations in place as stipulated in the Covid-19 (Temporary Measures) (Sporting Events and Activities - Control Order) Regulations 2021, which came into operation in April this year and one we need to adhere to."
It added that the measures were consistent with its match-day rules for fans to adhere to for the Singapore Premier League 2021 season as well as the recent Asian Football Confederation Under-23 qualifiers, when musical instruments including drums were also not permitted in stadiums.
But Syed questioned the ruling, saying: "My question to the decision makers is this: Will our drums cause a Covid outbreak? It doesn't make sense at all to ban them. Perhaps if we are talking about a flute, we would understand. All we are asking for is just two drums to be allowed in.
"We are all going to be wearing our masks throughout so I just don't see the risk."
The group also clarified its sentiments on the pricing of the tickets, which are $25 each for adults and $15 each for children aged 12 and under. Each ticket allows fans entry to catch both matches that will be played at the same venue on double-header match days.
But while these are in fact lower than the last Suzuki Cup held in 2018, when tickets to Singapore's home matches against Indonesia and Timor Leste cost $28 (Cat 1) and $18 (Cat 2) each, Alvin Tan, 45, explained that the group did not see the value in the pricing for this edition.
He said: "With these restrictions on instruments and the fact that you can't eat or drink inside, we felt it was not worth it. Sure, we can pay $25 but why restrict us so much?"
Syed added: "The authorities need to understand that times are hard. The fans want to support the team. Before each match day, we spend close to $300 on preparing banners, flags and transportation of our drums to the stadium. So we are not ones to complain about the pricing for the sake of it. But when you factor in all the hurdles we have to face, the pricing does not feel worth it to us."
Wyatt Lim, 38, a co-organiser of the annual football tournament the SingaCup, said that while he understood that the FAS' hands were tied, he hopes a solution can be found.
He said: "Given the task of organising such a tournament during a pandemic, the FAS is unlikely to have the manpower and resources to deal with this and fight the fans' case. But the truth is, without the SingaBrigade, there will be a huge difference in the atmosphere at the stadium. We are hosts and it'll be hard to swallow the fact that our most vocal group will not be there."
The FAS said that it is "in discussions with all stakeholders as well as with a Singabrigade representative on this matter". It added that it hopes "that SingaBrigade, being one of the national fan groups that the FAS works closely with, are able to continue bringing about a vibrant match-day atmosphere... without compromising the safety and health of the attending spectators".