SINGAPORE - National footballers have long grumbled about how they do not feel they enjoy home ground advantage whenever they play at the National Stadium because of their unfamiliarity with the venue and its playing surface.
This could all change after the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) and the Singapore Sports Hub yesterday signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to make the $1.33 billion Sports Hub the home of the Lions.
As part of the MOU, seven to 10 football matches featuring either the various national teams or domestic clubs will be played at the 55,000-capacity National Stadium each year for three years, starting from 2018.
Extensive branding elements will also be incorporated at escalators, gates and pillars at the National Stadium, as well as areas inside the venue such as the tunnel which leads to the pitch.
Lions coach V. Sundram Moorthy hailed the initiative.
"This is a great deal for Singapore football," said the 52-year-old, who thrilled fans during his playing days at the venue. "With the team playing more games here and, more importantly, getting more training sessions, they will definitely get familiar with the pitch and will feel more confident."
The Sports Hub, built on the site of the old National Stadium that opened in 1973 and closed in 2007, was officially opened in June 2014.
Since its opening, the national team have played only half of their 22 "home" matches at the venue.
The other 11 games were played at the Jalan Besar Stadium (five times), Yishun Stadium (twice), Hougang Stadium (twice), Bishan Stadium and Jurong East Stadium.
National player Faris Ramli said the players welcomed the move.
"So far, for games at the National Stadium, we get to train only one day before the match, and it's not enough for us to get familiar with the pitch," said the 25-year-old winger, who plies his trade with Malaysian top-tier side PKNS FC.
"And, with the venue also used for concerts and other events, we don't even know what is the condition of the pitch before games.
"So it's great that with this agreement, we can play and train more frequently at the National Stadium.
"I think all the players will have semangat (fighting spirit in Malay) and get an extra boost."
To kick off the MOU, four matches will be played at the National Stadium this month.
The national women's team will play a friendly against Maldives on Monday (March 5), before the national Under-23 team take on Indonesia in an international friendly on March 21 to mark 50 years of bilateral relations between the two nations.
Sundram's Lions will then play a friendly against Maldives on March 23, before S-League clubs Albirex Niigata and Tampines Rovers kick off the new season with the Great Eastern Community Shield match on March 31.
Said FAS president Lim Kia Tong: "We have now taken a huge step to realising our dream of making the Sports Hub the home of the Lions and, through that, benefit the entire football spectrum."
Sports Hub chief executive officer Oon Jin Teik stressed that the tie-up "is not a commercial deal" for the venue. The Straits Times understands that the FAS and Sports Hub will manage the costs of holding matches at the National Stadium.
Said Oon: "This is long overdue. We want to be the premier destination for lifestyle, and this plan on both the competitive, recreational and community side... it makes a lot of sense for us.
"We also think that by bringing this localisation of flavour here, it will connect with a lot more people and this is not a one-year affair, this is something we want to build on."