Football: S-League champs Albirex aim to go local in long run

Danial Feroz of Swiss Cottage Secondary and Tan Yu Hen of Hong Kah Secondary were picked for a one-week football training and cultural experience in Niigata, where the parent club of S-League champions Albirex Niigata is based.
Danial Feroz of Swiss Cottage Secondary and Tan Yu Hen of Hong Kah Secondary were picked for a one-week football training and cultural experience in Niigata, where the parent club of S-League champions Albirex Niigata is based.PHOTO: DON WONG FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

For most students in Singapore, the September school holidays are a short reprieve from the looming end-of-year examinations.

However, the week-long break will be a new experience for Secondary One students Danial Feroz, 12, and Tan Yu Hen, 13.

The duo will attend the Yuhua Albirex Football Academy (Yafa) training tour from Sept 2-10 to train at Albirex's parent club in Niigata, Japan. Their trip, worth $3,000, is sponsored by the Albirex Sports Development Fund, an initiative from the club to develop sports in Singapore.

Danial, from Swiss Cottage Secondary School, said: "I'm very excited to go to Niigata to experience the football training there and the Japanese culture. I also want to share the Singaporean culture with my Japanese peers."

The trip for the two teenagers is just part of a myriad of outreach activities initiated by Albirex in Singapore since it first joined the S-League in 2004.

The White Swans are into its fifth year of collaboration with Yuhua Community Sports Club (CSC) in which Albirex will donate $1 for every fan who attends their home matches during the 2017 season.

To date, the reigning S-League champions based in Jurong East Stadium have donated a total of $75,534 to Yuhua CSC. Since 2014, the Yafa has also trained 600 youngsters aged five to 14.

In addition, Albirex conducted free coaching clinics for schools like Hong Wen School, Shuqun Primary and St Andrew's Junior College. It also partnered national sports movement ActiveSG to provide opportunities for players and coaches to train in Japan.

The club also works with charity Serving People with Disabilities to provide employment for people with special needs and includes among its staff a kidney patient, a diabetic amputee and a wheelchair-bound person.

"We always have the community in mind as without the community, there is no support," said Albirex general manager Koh Mui Tee, 47.

The club operates on three main sources of funding - sponsors from almost 50 companies, Football Association of Singapore (FAS) subsidies and revenue comprising merchandise sales and jackpot operations from their clubhouse.

According to Koh, the effort from Albirex to connect with the community is evidence the club is "definitely in for the long term" and their main aim is to "go local".

Even though the White Swans are the S-League title holders, they are ineligible to play in continental competitions like the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Champions League and AFC Cup.

He said: "We have initiated preliminary talks with the FAS on going local but they are in discussion with SportSG on the direction of the S-League.

"We'd maybe take two to four local boys initially and might not challenge for the title like currently, but we see it as a long-term thing.

"Becoming a full-fledged local club comes first and if we win the S-League, we can then go to the Asian Champions League and it'll be a dream that one of these boys from Yafa play in the J-League. That is our project."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 31, 2017, with the headline 'S-League champs Albirex aim to go local in long run'. Print Edition | Subscribe