SINGAPORE - Moments after the final whistle, the 3,392-strong crowd at Jalan Besar Stadium began singing Kit Chan's iconic National Day song, Home. The tune was apt, considering Home United had just emerged victorious on the pitch, and it was the eve of Singapore's 53rd birthday.
The players in red and white lapped it up, celebrating with the Republic's flag draped over their shoulders after their 3-1 aggregate win over Filipino club Ceres Negros in the AFC Cup Asean zonal final.
The result on Thursday (Aug 8) at least provided a temporary spark after the dark clouds that have loomed over Singapore football recently.
The Lions have not won a competitive fixture in two years, the national age-group teams have suffered lop-sided losses to regional rivals while Japanese outfit Albirex Niigata have dominated the domestic scene, winning three straight league titles.
But Home hope their victory, which has helped them progress into the last eight of the AFC Cup, will help lift some of the malaise.
Said coach Aidil Sharin: "I hope everyone starts to believe in Singapore football again from now.
"I cannot say much about other (local) teams, but I will say I am proud of my boys. But we know we still have another step to take, and they know they have to work even harder now."
Protectors captain Izzdin Shafiq, who put in a man-of-the-match shift in the centre of midfield, added: "Singapore football has been down for a while, but I hope, with our result, we are able to give local football hope to rise again."
Second-half goals from Shakir Hamzah (62nd minute) and Song Ui-young (74th) gave Home the 2-0 win last night. They had held Ceres to a 1-1 draw in the first leg in Bacolod City last week.
Home will now play a two-legged inter-zonal tie with North Korean side April 25 Sports Club on Aug 21 and 28. The first leg will be played at Jalan Besar, and Aidil hopes for a repeat of the full-throated support his charges were given last night.
"I hope those that came tonight can spread the word to their friends about our next game, because we need the fans," said the 41-year-old. "With them behind us, the boys are extra motivated out on the pitch."
The best performance by a Singapore club in the AFC Cup was by Home - featuring Aidil as a player - and Geylang United (now known as Geylang International) in the tournament's inaugural edition in 2004. Both reached the last four under the previous format which divided the 32 teams into East and West Asia zones.
The new format, started last year, involves 36 teams split into five zones (West, East, Central, South Asia and South-east Asia).