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Those Being Underutilized 'Portable Seats' ...

Back in March 1996, after a few pre-season friendly matches saw huge crowds turned up in thousands at stadiums like Bedok, Woodlands and Tampines to catch S.League teams like Geylang United and Woodlands Wellington in action, safety and security concerns were raised and highlighted in the newspapers.

According to The New Paper (TNP), approximately 7,500 fans packed the Bedok Stadium to witness a star-studded Geylang United skippered by Fandi Ahmad taking on Johor SEDC on the 12th of March.

When was the last time we had sights like this? (credit: NLB archive)

Headlined "Safety, security action" on one of the back pages of its 14th of March edition, the tabloid included a picture of a scene that had never since reoccurred at games in recent years - a sardine-packed crowd congested the main stand of the Bedok Stadium to see the aforementioned match.

Geylang star defender Kadir Yahaya was quoted in the same article saying: "Although the turnout was great, it was a bit scary too ... the crowd shouldn't have been allowed to sit on the running track. What if the ball hit a child?"

Sharing the same sentiment was Eagles' goalkeeper David Lee who expressed his concern about having fans sitting near to the playing field and fear they "might get carried away" if there was a commotion on the field.

That fear of Lee, who was capped 105 times by the national team from 1979 to 1996, was not unheard of when one long-time follower of the local scene witnessed some ugly incidents at the old Farrer Park Stadium because of such close proximity between the players and the spectators.

"It is always a concern if there is a close proximity between fans and players during a match, I remember there was a Business Houses League match being abandoned by the referee after incensed fans invaded the field as they were not happy with some of the players' conduct," recalled Adly Esmadi who shared this incident with me.

A similar problem was faced by upstart Woodlands Wellington at their Woodlands home ground where a total of 6,500 fans made their presence felt in two matches which resulted in the northerners charging admission for all their friendlies as a form of crowd control.

Don't doubt at all, Geylang did request to have their games be played at Kallang (credit: NLB archive)

Not taking any chances and unwilling to see another crowd-controlling nightmare like they encountered days earlier at Bedok, Geylang United shifted their next friendly match to the 55,000-capacity (old) National Stadium where they played against Malaysian side Pahang FA on 17th of March. The showdown against the "Tok Gajah" saw a new record broken with the TNP reported 16,000 paying fans made their way through turnstiles on top of those 2,000 who were at the game on complimentary passes or via invitation.

Such a "boost in confidence" prompted one of the most successful sides in the history of Singapore football to declare "Geylang United wants to play all its S-League matches at the National Stadium.", as read from the opening paragraph of the TNP article titled "Pleasant... but still a problem" (18th March 1996).

While acknowledged that such proposal may not be in line with the S.League policy to bring matches to the community, Geylang's chairman Don Ho felt this was the best solution to cater their growing legion of fans, a view that was supported by Sidek Saniff, the then Senior Minister of State for Education who was also the club advisor.

"Portable Seats" came in to solve the overcrowded problem (credit: NLB archive)

To overcome this pleasant headache, Singapore Sports Council (SSC, now Sport Singapore), the stadiums' landlord, decided to install "portable seats" at the six regional stadiums (not included SAFFC's Jurong Stadium and Police FC's Jalan Besar Stadium) that saw the addition of 500 to 1,000 seats at each ground (Portable Seats for use at six stadiums, TNP, 19/3/1996).

The installing of these seats was part of the interim upgrading program funded by the $10 million grant from the government and had largely altered the way how these neighbourhood stadiums looked in welcoming this country's professional football league when it was launched on the 14th of April 1996.

Prior to their installation, those who are old enough would remember sitting on the running track at any stadium that circled the pitch to catch some "semi-pro" Premier League (not to be confused with the ongoing AIA Singapore Premier League campaign - SGPL) actions in the late 1980s to early 1990s.

Match ticket to a semi-pro "Premier League" match in the early 1990s

Sitting on those tracks was no joke and those who wore light-coloured pants would find themselves facing the wrath of their mothers or wives when they returned home with the "soiled bottom" at the end of the day!

In spite of the up-close action on the field, the view from the running track may not necessarily be an ideal one, and like what Kadir mentioned there was always a tendency of having the stray ball coming at you.

One of the vivid memories I recall while sitting on the track was a linesman carried out his work with full concentration despite the endless taunting from those who sat next to me.

Soon with the transition into the S.League, I had my first opportunity to seat on those newly-installed seats to witness the first-ever S.League goal scored by Esad Seljic for Balestier Central against Police FC at the Toa Payoh Stadium.

Watching the match from the "Portable Seats"

Such seating arrangement eventually helped in making the crowd controlling easier during the early days but it may not necessarily be an ideal spot to watch a game given the distance between them and the playing field at some stadiums, remarked a fan.

"To me, those metal seats tend to be slippery after rain and I also don't find it comfortable sitting on them, the view from the seats isn't that great either given the distance between them and the field at some stadiums," said Abdul Razak who used to stay in the western part of Singapore.

He added: "Personally, I prefer the sitting arrangements at stadiums like Jurong East and Jalan Besar because the seats are nearer to the field."

Not everyone's cup of tea of this seating arrangement

Following the implementation of the ground sharing policy in this year's SGPL season, Jurong East Stadium, the home ground to both Albirex Niigata (Singapore) and Warriors FC, is the only stadium with those “portable seats”.

Nonetheless, it is, however, unlikely to see those seats being utilized for the time unless the boom returns like those early days that once saw lines formed outside the stadiums or having fans enjoying from spots overlooked the stadiums.

(P.S 1: Some images in this entry were reproduced from NLB online newspapers archives, as credited, should anyone feel it's inappropriate to have any of the media shown, please kindly email me as soon as possible and I will remove them upon request.)

(P.S 2: I stand to be corrected should there be any mistake in this entry, please feel free to email me should there be any mistake, thanks)


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