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Friendly Fixtures - From Sing Tao to Juventus

We may not see the return of the International Champions Cup Singapore (ICCSG) tournament due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic but it is worthwhile to look back on some happenings that took place in the past when foreign teams came to our shores to play a few friendly matches.

The arrival of those marquee names in the world football to this dot of the globe in recent years has always been a crowd-puller that not only drawn local fans from their couches from Jurong to Tampines and Woodlands to Bedok by making their way down to Kallang, the ICCSG, as it is commonly known as, has also been a lure for the regional supporters of those European clubs as well like how the Indonesian fans of Inter made their presence felt in their match against Chelsea in the 2017 edition.

Advertisement for Anchor Soccer Festival' 74 (NLB archive)

The trend of such visits by these foreign sides did not start during the 1970s when there were tournaments like the Anchor Soccer Festival in 1974 (source 1, 2) or the Caltex Cup in the 1990s which saw Arsenal versus Liverpool at the old National Stadium or visits by Manchester United in 1986 and 2001 (the Barthez incident).

Back in the colonial era, teams from British India (Bengal Gymkhana), Hong Kong, etc. were some of those who arrived in Singapore to play friendly matches either at the demolished Anson Road Stadium or the old Jalan Besar Stadium.

Hosting these visiting teams was an important assignment for the Singapore Amateur Football Association (SAFA, the precursor of Football Association of Singapore - FAS), as not only friendly fixtures like these were popular with the fans who would pack the stands to the rafters at some games and also it was a lucrative business for both the hosts (source 1, 2) and visitors (source 1, 2).

10,000 watched Singapore beat Sing Tao of Hong Kong (NLB archive)

According to some Hong Kong football journals, clubs like South China and Sing Tao were some of the frequent visitors to Singapore and Malaya during those days to see teams from "Pearl of the Orient" play a series of friendly matches against the local sides.

Such end-of-season tours were termed as "Southern Excursion" by these Hong Kong clubs where players were entitled to some cuts from gate earnings (despite their amateur status) from matches played during the visits.

Many local fans viewed players of these Hong Kong teams as star footballers and were popular especially among the local Chinese fans, so it was not uncommon to see games against these touring sides a guaranteed sellout whenever they took place.

Being a golden goose venture for them, it was said that the touring sides would assign their reserve players as "lookout" at turnstiles to prevent the local match organizers from any mischief that would jeopardize their revenue from these games (source: 「球員的背景和待遇」chapter of 「足球王國:戰後初期的香港足球」)

Caroline Hill FC team photo was taken at the old National Stadium (as credited)

Local teams also frequently toured around the region during those days by taking part in tournaments like the Ho Ho Cup which involved the Malayan Chinese and their Hong Kong counterparts.

However, from the 1970s to the early 1980s, visits by the Hong Kong club sides to Singapore were less frequent as compared to the pre and post wars years with notable sides like Seiko SA and Caroline Hill stamped their passports in June 1974 and September 1980 respectively.

Geylang International vs Persija Jakarta in February 2020 (credit: Geylang International)

When the local football league system was revamped in the mid-1970s that saw the creation of the National Football League (NFL), the FAS felt it was necessary to enforce some guidelines to ensure clubs would prioritize their commitments to both the NFL and the President's Cup (the premier cup competition in those days) which resulted in no friendly matches with foreign teams were allowed unless given the go-ahead by the local game governing body under the directive issued, as reported by the now-defunct "Singapore Soccer" monthly in their December 1975 issue.

Nonetheless, pre-season trips in recent years by our Singapore Premier League (SGPL) clubs to neighbouring countries like Malaysia and Indonesia have still proven to be a popular option for their preparation for a new season like Geylang International had theirs back in February to Indonesia.

(P.S 1: Some images in this entry were reproduced from sources like NLB online newspapers archives and others, 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 if there is, thanks)


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