Twelve Sailors receive Lions’ call

The Lion City Sailors are well-represented in Tatsuma Yoshida’s 27-man provisional Singapore squad for December’s  Asean Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup 2020 that was postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.  

(Photo credit: Football Association of Singapore)

From Lions’ captain Hariss Harun to Tajeli Salamat, the Sailors will see 12 players who are in line to fly the Singapore flag as the Lions prepare for their 13th campaign in Southeast Asia. 

Hassan Sunny, Amirul Adli, Nur Adam Abdullah, Adam Swandi, Saifullah Akbar, Shahdan Sulaiman, Song Ui-young, Faris Ramli, Gabriel Quak and Hafiz Nor, are the other Sailors competing to make the final squad that will represent the Republic at the tourney that will be hosted on Singapore shores between 5 December 2021 and 1 January 2022. 

The squad will commence centralised training from 25 October, two weeks after the Singapore Premier League season ends. The Football Association of Singapore (FAS) is exploring opportunities for friendly matches and a training camp with details to be announced at a later date. 

Up to 30 players can be registered for the final tournament squad, which will be confirmed at the end November.

Nur Adam and Saifullah – two of the three players nominated for the AIA Singapore Premier League Young Player of the Year award – are also included in Nazri Nasir’s provisional Singapore Under-22 squad that is charged to qualify for the finals of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Under-23 Asian Cup 2022 for first time in Singapore history. 

The qualifiers for that tournament will be hosted in the Lion City later this month, from 25-31 October. 

Singapore has won four titles in the 12 editions of the AFF Suzuki Cup, just one behind Thailand who are the most successful side in the region. Vietnam, widely regarded as Southeast Asia’s dominant side of recent times, has two racked up two wins, with the Lions’ Causeway rivals, Malaysia, winning once in 2010. 

Sailors in Tatsuma Yoshida’s Lions’ squad: 

Goalkeepers: Hassan Sunny 

Defenders: Amirul Adli, Nur Adam Abdullah, Tajeli Salamat

Midfielders: Hariss Harun, Saifullah Akbar, Shahdan Sulaiman, Song Ui-young, Adam Swandi

Forwards:  Faris Ramli, Gabriel Quak, Hafiz Nor


Feet on the ground, hearts on sleeves: Sailors ready for one final performance

The clock is ticking down on the 2021 Singapore Premier League (SPL) season. Some eight months of hard work will come down to the final 90 minutes of football this Sunday (10 October). 

The script of this year’s title race could not have been written any better. With multiple protagonists, plot twists, postponements, and even moments personifying poetry in motion, the captivating story of the 2021 SPL season stands at the cusp of its resolution with the Lion City Sailors and Albirex Niigata (S) locked on 45 points going into the season finale. 

The Sailors hold the upper hand, with a superior goal difference of +35, four better than the White Swans (+31), and also the advantage of having scored more goals (55, to Albirex’s 46). As it stands, should the Sailors beat Balestier Khalsa 1-0, Albirex will need to defeat Tanjong Pagar United in a concurrent match by at least 6-0 to be crowned kings of Singapore football.  

Given the circumstances, Kim Do-hoon’s men are widely viewed as the favourites for the title, but the players are adamant that nothing will be taken for granted – they will need to go out onto the Jalan Besar Stadium’s plastic green stage, do their jobs and defeat a tricky Balestier side. 

The last time these teams met in August, Marko Kraljevic’s Tigers put in an impressive shift with the Sailors requiring a 95th-minute Stipe Plazibat penalty to rescue a point at the Toa Payoh Stadium. 

“We’re of course excited (at the prospect of winning the title), but we are clear that we have not won anything yet, and we cannot get ahead of ourselves at all,” emphasised Hariss Harun who has been a constant presence in the team since arriving from Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT) in the mid-season transfer window.  

“We didn’t do that well against Balestier at their home ground, but this time we’re playing at Jalan Besar so we need to take advantage of that. It’s important that we keep the focus to finish this final step.” 

Young full-back Nur Adam Abdullah sang from the same hymn book.

“Once we step on the pitch, we have to adopt a winning mentality, play with our hearts out and settle for nothing less,” said the 20-year-old, who is in his first season with the Sailors after joining from Young Lions.  

“If we score one, we have to keep going for more to boost our goal difference. We’ll never know what’s happening over at the Albirex game, so all we can do is to control things on our side and let fate settle the rest.” 

It has been a testing season for the Sailors who had to navigate choppy waters to get to this point. Four points from their opening three games left them playing catch-up, and just eight games into the season when form was beginning to pick up, Australian coach Aurelio Vidmar left to pursue other opportunities. 

But the Sailors soldiered on, winning the three matches under the interim charge of Under-21 Head Coach Robin Chitrakar, before proceeding to put up a run of five wins and four draws under Kim. 

Now on a club-record 17-match unbeaten record since losing 3-1 to Hougang United in mid-March, a title at the end of what has been a roller-coaster season would be particularly sweet for all the club.  

“We struggled as a team at the start and there were people doubting whether we could win the title, but we stuck together,” said Nur Adam. “Gradually we found chemistry and began to play really well together. Everyone put in a lot of hard work and it would just be amazing for us to win the title to cap off the year.” 

The Sailors have shown resilience all campaign, most notably bouncing back from a heartbreaking 1-1 draw against Albirex in which they conceded a last-minute goal to concede the title initiative. They won their next two matches (6-1 against Tampines Rovers and 3-0 against Geylang International), and were helped by the White Swans’ shock 0-0 draw against Tampines that turned things back in their favour. 

“It’s normal in a season that there are some games that we don’t do well in. The challenge is to pick ourselves up mentally, and we’ve shown over the course of the year we are strong enough to bounce back,” said Hariss. “By our own hard work and some luck, we have stayed in the mix and it’s key that we keep improving and take the next step.”

Nur Adam is an example of a player who has thrived at the Sailors and brought his game to the next level in 2021. His enterprising displays at left-back have not gone unnoticed – he has been nominated for the Young Player of the Year gong alongside teammate Saifullah Akbar and Albirex’s Ryoya Taniguchi. 

Noting the “understanding of the game” as his biggest improvement, Nur Adam believes this nomination would not have happened without the support system within the club. 

“I appreciate how the senior players here always encourage and give us advice, instead of being hard on us, whenever we make mistakes,” said the 2018 Dollah Kassim Award winner. “I’ve learnt a lot about game management. For example when we’re winning, they will tell me ‘why should you dribble? Just keep the ball’, and things like that. 

“Now I’m better at knowing when to release the ball, when to dribble – when to do the right things basically. I’ve also learnt a lot of new things under Coach Kim – he always teaches me how to position myself. It’s a really healthy environment at this club where I can truly grow as a player.”

With 90 minutes separating them and destiny, the Sailors are determined to complete the mission that they set out for themselves since their 2020 inception. 

For a number of the players including Nur Adam, it would be their first-ever title in their careers and they simply cannot wait to get out onto the field in front of an expectant sell-out crowd on Sunday. 

“To be SPL champion will be a great addition to my CV and something that I will remember for the rest of my life,” he said. “We’re looking forward to seeing a great crowd at Jalan Besar and my family members will be coming down as usual to give their support. Hopefully we can have a big celebration at the end of the game.”

For Hariss, it would be his first domestic title as well – which could come as a slight surprise to many given that he has seven Malaysia Super League (MSL) crowns to his name. 

“It’s not just me, it’ll also be Gabriel’s (Quak) first as well. It’s also long overdue for my teammates like Hassan Sunny (who last won with Warriors FC in 2014) and Shahdan Sulaiman (who won with Tampines back in 2013). It’s been a while since we had a local side winning the title so it would be something nice for the fans,” said the 30-year-old. 

“The first title is always the most difficult. I remember in my early years at JDT, we were facing strong competition from Pahang, Kedah and Selangor. The most important thing is to get across the finishing line and build on from there in the seasons to come.”


FAS Awards Night 2021: Sailors well in the hunt for individual accolades again

This Sunday, the Lion City Sailors will battle for the Singapore Premier League (SPL) title on the final matchday of the season (10 October). And while the players are firmly fixing their gaze on the Balestier Khalsa match at the Jalan Besar Stadium, the club will be well represented at the 2021 Football Association of Singapore (FAS) Awards Night that follows two days later. 

Stipe Plazibat, with 14 goals and seven assists to his name in 17 appearances this year, is one of three nominees for the AIA Player of the Year award, his second consecutive nomination for the award. 

He is joined on the nominees list by teammate Jorge Fellipe. The 32-year-old Brazilian has been a giant in defence and also equally important in the attacking third, scoring important goals – most notably against Albirex Niigata (S) and Young Lions – to keep the Sailors’ title hopes on track. 

Hougang United’s Tomoyuki Doi – the league’s current top scorer with 19 goals in 20 matches – rounds up the nominees list for the award that was won by Sailors’ attacker Gabriel Quak last year. 

Saifullah Akbar stood alongside Gabriel on stage in 2020, winning the AIA Young Player of the Year, and the 22-year-old midfielder is once again among the nominees for players aged 23 or under. 

He will have to beat off competition from Albirex’s Ryoya Taniguchi – the White Swans’ leading goalscorer (nine) and assist-provider (eight) this year – as well as teammate Nur Adam Abdullah. 

Nur Adam has been a picture of consistency in his debut season with the Sailors, making the left-back spot his own, with an eye-catching swashbuckling style. 

There will be 10 award categories at the awards ceremony to be held at the Aux Media Studio. This is one more than last year, with the new Golden Glove Award – presented to the goalkeeper with the most clean sheets in the SPL – for the first time. 

Albirex custodian Takahiro Koga will become the SPL’s first Golden Glove winner. He has racked up eight clean sheets, three more than the next closest goalkeeper and cannot be overtaken with one game left to play.

The Sailors were big winners last year with Gabriel and Saifullah taking the biggest individual awards and Stipe named as league’s top-scorer. 


Sailors’ Kim-pact: The club’s firm commitment to change is driving results

The appointment of Kim Do-hoon as Lion City Sailors’ new head coach in May made waves in the local football fraternity. It was a move signalling the Sailors’ lofty ambitions to not just dominate the Singapore Premier League (SPL), but also a step towards growing into one of the best clubs in the region. 

After all, the 51-year-old has won the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Champions League (ACL) with K League 1 side Ulsan Hyundai as recently as last December. He also has a proven track record of improving the playing style and results of teams that he managed in his native Korea. 

Just over three months since Kim officially came on board in late June, it already appears things are working out well. The Sailors are unbeaten in nine matches under him, with the report card showing five wins and four draws. 

Kim is pleased with what his side has dished out on the pitch so far – both in terms of results and performance – and a key reason behind that is the Sailors’ firm commitment to adapt to his demands. 

“A club like ours is expected to win every game and we know the expectations that are put on us. We’ve not been able to do so, but in every match there have certainly been positives that we can take away,” reflected the South Korean. 

“The fact that we’ve been maintaining an unbeaten run shows that this team has a lot of grit and character.”

Coming into a team that already has the tools to succeed, Kim knew he had to manage things delicately and not throw the baby out with the bathwater. In short, change needed to come via evolution, not revolution – no matter how successful his methods were at Ulsan. 

The first order of business, team cohesion

From Day One, he moved to establish a club rule: players and officials form a circle before training sessions giving high-fives to one another. After the sessions, they will gather and clap three times before they leave. It is something centre-back Tajeli Salamat noted has improved the morale and vibe within the team.

“Building a positive club culture is very important to me,” said Kim. “At Ulsan, I established something similar. I want the players to not only feel a sense of belonging to the club, but feel like they’re part of a family together.”

And this has had an impact on the pitch. The Sailors are becoming a hardworking team that fights for the ball and are compact at the back, an improvement that complements their slick attacking qualities that were already in place. 

But it was not all plain smooth-sailing. 

The Sailors drew his first two matches in 1-1 draws against Albirex Niigata (S) and Balestier Khalsa. In the latter game, they struggled to break down a gritty Tigers outfit and had to rely on a 95th-minute Stipe Plazibat penalty to rescue a point. 

That copped quite a bit of criticism on social media, but the Sailors committed to the change, and were confident of the work in progress, and duly delivered Kim’s first win in style, with a 4-1 thrashing of Tampines Rovers. 

“Of course winning is always important, but time is needed for players to adapt to new tactics,” explained Kim. “Even during the first two games, the players and staff were committed to the philosophies that I’ve introduced, and I had confidence in them. 

“The win over Tampines only served to enhance the confidence in what we’re doing.”

Under Kim, training has also been more physical and intense. The impact is undeniable. The Sailors have shown an improved ability to last throughout matches, coming from behind four times under his charge to rescue points. 

One of those was a 3-1 win over Young Lions, a match in which they scored late goals to turn things around after trailing at half-time. 

“Lasting the 90 minutes both physically and mentally has to be a basic for football players,” asserted Kim. “I’m happy to see how the players are able to do that and have always responded well to my training regime.”

Kim has also displayed a shrewd ability to get the best out of a quality squad. Under his charge, the likes of Tajeli Salamat, Song Ui-young and Hafiz Nor have been revitalised, including Faris Ramli who has racked up two goals and five assists in nine outings, this after just one goal and one assist in his first 10 appearances this season. 

“I truly believe in squad rotation – giving everyone a chance to show what they got and also keep them match fit,” he said. “Keeping morale high is important for team cohesion.  Furthermore, injuries can happen anytime and we need all players to be ready. Rotation of players therefore keeps the squad fresh and ready.” 

The hard work and persistence could be rewarded handsomely. The Sailors are now on the verge of a first-ever SPL title. Having remained hot on the heels of Albirex all season, they took over at the summit at the end of Matchweek 20 and will now go into the final day of fixtures with destiny in their own hands. 

Level on points with the White Swans albeit with a better goal difference, all the Sailors have to do is to equal or better Albirex’s result on 10 October to get their hands on the big prize. 

Kim is proud of how far the team has come. 

“The boys have been very cooperative and have shown a strong willingness to learn. It’s never easy to learn things under time constraints, but they’ve done really well to commit to what I’ve implemented for them,” said Kim.

“The team now looks more in sync, like a well-oiled machine. There’s definitely a better understanding in terms of attack and communication in defence. We’ve not just improved physically, but also mentally with increased durations of focus.

“We kept our heads high and carried on as professionals to win the next two games after dropping two points against Albirex (in September’s 1-1 draw). That is a huge credit to the team’s fighting spirit and winning mentality.”

While the focus is on winning the SPL, Kim has already set his sights on a bigger goal – excelling in the ACL next season. 

“The players will deserve to celebrate and have a good rest after this season, but once we return, they know there’s more work to be done ahead of the ACL,” he said. “We have to continue to work hard together to forge higher standards for other Singaporean players and clubs to aspire to.”


A tasty season finale awaits

After a roller-coaster year of twists, turns and even corkscrews, the 2021 Singapore Premier League (SPL) season will come to a close this Sunday (10 October). 

The Lion City Sailors now sit atop the eight-team SPL standings, ahead of Albirex Niigata (S) on goal difference, and will host Balestier Khalsa at the Jalan Besar Stadium at 5.30pm. 

Victory could seal the Sailors’ first SPL title, but that will of course depend on the result of the Tanjong Pagar United-Albirex match happening at the same time. 

The Sailors are heartened to have seen sensational support in stadiums across the island since restrictions were loosened to allow for 1,000 Singapore football fans into SPL matches.  

We look forward to your continued support as we bring one of the most thrilling SPL seasons to a close.

Ticketing Information

Season Pass 2020 & 2021 – Complimentary

Adult – $15

Concession – $5

Each Season Pass is entitled to redeem 2 tickets.

Non-season pass holders may purchase up to 5 tickets 

*Concession tickets are applicable to the following, with Concession Cards and a recent Photo ID requested upon entry for verification purposes:

– Students aged 16 and below with a valid Student Concession Card, 

– Senior Citizens aged 60 and above with a valid Senior Citizen Concession Card. 

Ticket Sales

North Entrance of Jalan Besar Stadium

1500hrs-1530hrs: Season Pass Redemption 

1530hrs-1730hrs: Season Pass Redemption and General Sale

Conditions of Entry

The following conditions must be met for entry to SPL matches:

  1. Individuals must have completed the full vaccination regimen including the two-week (14 days) period after the second dose for the vaccination to take effect. Eligible vaccines include the Pfizer-BioNTech/Comirnaty or Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, or any other vaccine in the World Health Organisation’s Emergency Use Listing (WHO EUL), including Sinovac-CoronaVac, Sinopharm, and AstraZeneca.
  2. Fans who produce proof of a negative Antigen Rapid Test (ART) result, will also be allowed entry. The ART must be valid until the end of the event and must be taken at a Ministry of Health-certified ART practitioner; self-test kit results will not be valid for use of entry.
  3. Individuals who have recovered from COVID-19 will be exempted from having to produce a negative ART result, but will need to present a Pre-Event Test Exemption Notice from any clinic offering ART or PCR testing services.
  4. Fans are required to produce proof of their completed vaccination status via the TraceTogether or the HealthHub app on their mobile phone, proof of negative ART test or Pre-Event Test Exemption Notice along with a valid form of identification such as NRIC or driver’s licence for verification purposes.
  5. Individuals aged 12 years and below are allowed entry for SPL capped at 20% of the actual event size.

Igniting a Sailors’ fire – The 12th man

Football is nothing without fans. 

The adage has long been relegated to the sporting cliché dump, alongside the likes of “we’re taking it a game at a time”, and “we gave 110 percent.” But the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has seen a bright spotlight turn to stands in stadiums across the globe, and pulled the stark reality of the adage back to the forefront of the sporting psyche – it is true.  

In the Singapore Premier League (SPL), it has become clear that passionate fandom is alive and kicking. 

The SPL was played behind closed doors in various pockets of the 2021 season, and the silent scream from empty stands was conspicuous, and wildly so. Once fans were allowed back in, the electricity in the air at stadiums across the island was palpable – and on the pitch, it sparked higher tempo, higher intensity football matches. 

A number of the Lion City Sailors’ best performances this season have come when there are fans in the stadiums, with attacker Gabriel Quak adamant that the vociferous support has “brought life” to football matches. 

“Fans in the stadium definitely make a huge difference – while in Singapore we can only have 1000 fans now, compared to the 30,000 or 50,000 in Europe, but the impact is still significant,” said the 30-year-old. 

“You can feel the euphoria from the stands whenever we score, and with every tackle we make. Whether you’re chasing the game or trying to hold on to a lead, the fans give us an extra push and extra energy. 

“That’s really important –  it brings out that extra 10 or 20 percent from us.”

As the Sailors surge towards their first-ever league title, the interest for the game here has grown and recent sell-out crowds at their matches at the Jalan Besar Stadium underscores the point. 

For the top-of-the-table clash with defending champions Albirex Niigata (S) some weeks ago, fans were spotted queuing up for the tickets even three hours before the game with the allocated quantity of 1,000 quickly snapped up. It is a welcome sight that Gabriel hopes can be built on into the seasons to come. 

“It’s such a great feeling to see so many people queuing up when we arrive at the stadium on match day. Be it having 10 or 1000 fans, every one of them count because they make the effort to turn up,” he acknowledged. 

“I hope it’s not a COVID-19 thing, with watching football one of the few things that people can do despite the restrictions we have in Singapore. Hopefully we can progress from here to having 2,000 or even 4,000 fans in the stadium. 

“I guess fans feel good about watching the game in a full-house stadium where you look to your left, right, up and down, there are people watching with you. Likewise, we feel great about having their support up close.” 

September’s Young Lions fixture was one that stuck out in Gabriel’s mind. The 2020 SPL Player of  the Year believes the fans truly made a difference in the 3-1 win that saw the Sailors come from a goal down to win courtesy of a rare double from Jorge Fellipe.

“It wasn’t an easy game, but when Jorge scored the equaliser we could feel the force coming from the stands and that pushed us to go for the winner,” he recalled. 

“And when he scored again, he took off his top and the whole team went to celebrate in front of the fans. It was just such a great moment to savour and honestly that could not have happened in an empty stadium.”

For Sailors fans, it has been such a stop-start season in terms of changing regulations. With the first five matches of the season being played behind closed doors, conditional entry was finally granted to 250 fans in early April as long as they produced proof of a negative COVID-19 test result. 

That only lasted for three rounds, before reverting to the status quo for the whole of May (three matches) due to a rising number of cases. When the league resumed in late July, 100 fans were allowed in (for two matches) before the number was raised to 500 in August (one match) and subsequently 1,000 (six matches since) from mid-August onwards. 

During the period when fans were not allowed in, the Sailors organised online watch-alongs via Zoom for a number of matches and it was an initiative Sailors fan Eddy Hirono was very appreciative of. 

“We’ve very thankful of what the club has done for us – these watch-alongs were crucial to helping us fans get to know each other and feel more connected to the club,” said the 33-year-old in-house lawyer. 

“It’s nice that they got youth players from the club to join in these sessions, so we were just having fun asking Adib (Nur Hakim) and Justin Hui questions from hairstyle and their personal lives to who’s the joker in the dressing room.”

Eddy, who is part of a 30-strong official Sailors fan club, The Crew, is one who has attended every Sailors game possible this season. He believes the most important aspect of being physically present at the stadium is the fellowship with like-minded individuals from all walks of life. 

“It’s so heartening to see people from anywhere and everywhere – there are some makciks sitting with us and even a six-year-old boy, whose dad trusts him to sit with us,” he revealed. “Nur Adam’s (Abdullah) family usually sits very near us and they always thank us for supporting him, which is very nice. 

“At the moment, we cannot bring in things like drums. But the supporters have been great in improvising – be it by whacking the chairs, stamping their feet or just clapping very loudly. There’s also a bit of healthy banter with opposition fans – which is all fun and games really. 

“This is just the start and hopefully we can get more people together as time goes along – we want to be the consistent voice for this football club. 

For Eddy, being at a match means he can live through the whole range of emotions as a football fan, and he is definitely going to be there in the stands as the Sailors look to cross the finish line against Balestier on 10th October.  

“I recall that Albirex game where there was everything – the euphoria and the party atmosphere after going 1-0 up, then that layer of tension knowing one goal will change the whole title equation,” said the long-time supporter, who started supporting the club in 2012 in its previous iteration as Home United. 

“While we did not hold out for the win, that’s what we fans live for – to experience all these emotions of a football match, it’s not just about the victories. I hope to see the club win the title this Sunday, but if we don’t, I wouldn’t be too disappointed. Because it’s a matter of time before we pick up trophies,” said Eddy.

Buoyed by the unwavering support from the fans, Sailors attacker Song Ui-young wants to make sure they do not go home disappointed this Sunday. 

“I know how much our fans love us and how they would love to see a local team win the title after so long,” said the newly-minted Singaporean. “The fans are part of our football family and we cannot exist without them. 

“I know many of them are excited for this last match against Balestier. We’re going to be very well prepared for this match because we want to lift the trophy in front of all our fans. We want to give them something to cheer about because they deserve it for all their support.”



Five milestones on the road to 10 October

In 10 days, the Lion City Sailors will line up in what will be the most important match in the club’s 20th month of existence. 

Kim Do-hoon’s charges host Balestier Khalsa at the Jalan Besar Stadium on 10 October, the final matchday of the Singapore Premier League (SPL) season, still in control of their destiny and the destination of the SPL trophy. 

A win will put the Sailors in prime position to become Singapore’s champions for the first time in the club’s history, with Albirex Niigata (S) needing to beat Tanjong Pagar United, and win by five more goals than whatever margin Hassan Sunny and his team manage victory. 

In what has been a bit of a rollercoaster 2021, we look back at five key milestones on the Sailors’ journey into uncharted waters. 

1. Jorge Fellipe’s first goal in Singapore football, 7 April 

After a topsy-turvy start to the 2021 season that witnessed two wins, a draw and a loss, the Sailors lined up against defending SPL champions Albirex – and the match was not going particularly well. 

Two goals down in the first half, the Sailors pulled one back just before half-time. The second period saw the boys in blue throw everything at Albirex to no avail – even missing a penalty. 

Up stepped big Jorge, with a towering header off a Naqiuddin Eunos right-wing cross to level things up with just three minutes left to play – his first goal in Singapore football.  

The Sailors rescued a point – and prevented their main title rivals from gaining two – in a result that sparked reaction from the side that went on a six-match winning streak immediately after to get the season back on track. 

2. That Diego Lopes wondergoal, 24 April

The Sailors lost 3-1 to Hougang United in March – the Cheetahs are the only team to have beaten the club in 2021 – and were struggling to break down a Hougang side that were again set up to frustrate. 

Receiving the ball at the edge of the box from a Faris Ramli throw-in, Diego swiveled and unleashed a right-foot volley that seemingly defied the laws of physics as it curled outwards and dipped into the top corner of the Hougang net.

That goal silenced the Hougang Stadium, and ensured the Sailors exorcised ghosts of the club’s solitary defeat. 


3. Kim Do-hoon’s first training session, 29 June  

This may have been an introductory session held behind closed doors at the Jalan Besar Stadium, but it was a game-changer. Kim would be the third man taking charge of the Sailors in 2021, but the Asian Football Confederation Champions League (ACL) winner brought more than just stability. 

On that day, he set in place demands on fitness, and an attitude of excellence that has held true since the Korean took charge. The Sailors are still on a 16-match unbeaten run – with Kim in charge for nine of those matches – including four matches in which they had to come from behind to secure points. 

As a bonus for football fans in Singapore, Kim’s Sailors play an entertaining brand of attacking football. 


4. A momentary lapse that changed threatened to derail the title charge, 17 September 

A win over Albirex would have put the Sailors firmly in the driver’s seat for the SPL title, with just three games to play – and things were looking good at the Jalan Besar Stadium. 

Haiqal Pashia put the Sailors in front in the 23rd minute, and the Sailors held the fort for the 70 minutes that followed, even creating chances to kill off the match. 

But a lapse in concentration saw the Sailors fail to pick up the run of Ryoya Taniguchi, whose header trickled over the line, with just seconds left to play. 

The result gave Albirex the advantage in the title race, with the Sailors now needing to win their remaining games, and hope for a favour from Albirex’s two remaining opponents – Tampines Rovers and Tanjong Pagar United. 


5. A resounding thumping of the Stags, 21 September 29

The Sailors dismantled the Stags at Our Tampines Hub, with a display of clinical finishing to take advantage of an error-strewn Tampines performance and triumph 6-1. 

The thumping proved to be a wake-up call for Tampines that put in an inspired display of disciplined defence in their next fixture – a 0-0 draw with Albirex Niigata. 

Those two results saw the Sailors regain the advantage, and wrestled control of their SPL destiny back from the White Swans, taking us to the present day, where a win over Balestier Khalsa on 10 Oct, could see the Sailors take the final step across the line, and be crowned SPL champions for the first time. 


Below the Deck: The physiologist who spent five years working with EPL teams now wants to help Sailors achieve excellence

It is perhaps that photo of him with Liverpool’s Egyptian star Mohamed Salah that he is most recognised for, but for the three-and-a-half years Firdaus Maasar was tasked to provide sports science support to English Premier League titans Liverpool, he kept a cheeky little secret close to his heart. 

Instead of Jurgen Klopp’s and Sadio Mane’s Reds, it is the Red Devils of Manchester United that are the protagonists in Firdaus’ theatre of dreams.  

But fandom did not stand in the way of grabbing the chance to work with some of the best teams in the world.

The unique opportunity came as part of a collaboration between the Reds and Liverpool John Moores University, where Firdaus was studying for his PhD.

Having provided sports science support to Liverpool for as long as he did, Firdaus admits he has grown attached to the club, and continues to root for them even though he is no longer involved with the Anfield outfit.

“But of course, when we work for a club, we have to be professional, and we will always want the club to win, even though they may be my favourite team’s arch-rival,” said Firdaus.

“Now, whenever United play Liverpool, I just take a neutral stance and watch the match without supporting anyone!”

During Firdaus’ six-odd years of study in England, which saw him also provide sports science support to Huddersfield Town and Wolverhampton Wanderers, he was able to see first-hand how some of the best players in the world came to be – through their professionalism, their discipline, and their humility.

It was an eye-opening experience for the 35-year-old, who had then only been involved with football in Southeast Asia, having previously played for Malaysia’s Negeri Sembilan Under-19 side.

“The professionalism of the players is amazing. They take really good care of their bodies, they train at an extremely high-level, and many of them are very open to learning new things to improve themselves,” Firdaus observed.

“During the off-season, for example, they may go off on holiday, but they still pay close attention to their nutrition, and continue training on their own to keep fit.

“But that also stems from the competitiveness within the team. It’s so hard to break into the starting-11, and they know they cannot afford to fall behind. Now, when the players come back for pre-season, a lot of them are already at a certain level of fitness, so it’s easier for them to catch up to where they need to be.”

It is exactly this sort of standard of excellence that Firdaus hopes to inculcate within the Lion City Sailors.

Having officially joined the Sailors as their senior physiologist barely a month ago, Firdaus’ main goal is to improve the performance and overall fitness levels of the players at the club.

He elaborates: “One of my roles at the moment is to monitor the training and match load for the players. At the same time, I monitor how they react and adapt to the different types of training, both in the short-term as well as in the long-term.”

Firdaus, who will work closely with Sailors’ Head of Sports Science, Mario Jovanovic, added: “We will analyse the data that we get from the players during training, which will then give us a better idea of what sort of physical targets we should set for each individual player.

“Mario and I will then communicate that target to the coach (Kim Do-Hoon), so that he can tailor his session such that the player doesn’t under-train, or over-train.

“All of this is done so as to maximise the efficiency of each training session, and to get the optimal training output and responses from the players.”

Firdaus, however, concedes that it will take some time to bring the sports science capabilities of the Sailors up to the same level as that of those in Europe and England.

Nonetheless, the father of three is determined to do what he can to improve not only the Sailors, but Singapore football in general.

“I know exactly how far behind we are in this part of the world as compared to European football in terms of sports science,” said Firdaus.

“So that’s one of my targets here with the Sailors – to help Singapore football…by sharing my expertise and experience with the sports science community in the country.”

Firdaus, however, was primarily attracted to the Sailors project as he felt it was “interesting and challenging”, while also recognising the club’s ambition and immense potential.

In particular, the Johor-born Malaysian believes the Sailors’ focus on youth development – with their Lion City Sailors Football Academy – shows that they are serious about becoming a powerhouse in Southeast Asia, if not Asia itself.

Firdaus, who joined the Sailors from the renowned Aspire Academy in Qatar, explained: “In my initial discussion with the club management, I could see that the goal was to have the first-team excel, but at the same time, also have a robust youth programme.

“That, to me, is one of the most important things for a football club. In order to progress, you need to be able to develop young talents.

“The Sailors are currently working to put in place a well-structured sports science department, and have improved their backend and technical capabilities immensely, which is a clear sign that they are serious about becoming one of the best teams in the region.”

He added that it was encouraging to see the Sailors’ coaching team and management being so “open…and supportive” in the area of sports science.

With the current season coming to a close, Firdaus is already looking towards next year, where the Sailors will compete in the Asian Football Confederation Champions League for the first time.

While Firdaus is confident that the Sailors will eventually achieve their goal of being a “regional powerhouse”, he cautioned fans against expecting too much, too quickly from the team.

“We are in a good place to reach a high level of football, especially when we move to the integrated training facility next season,” Firdaus mused.

“I strongly believe this project can be amazing in the near future, but it won’t happen overnight. We have short, medium, and long-term plans for the project…first, though, we need to be domestic champions on a consistent basis.

“We have to do things right, and at the right pace. Personally, I will be looking at helping the players improve incrementally. But in the coming years, I have no doubt the Sailors can improve the quality of football by regularly competing at the Asian level.” 


One step closer, but one more important step to go

As the final whistle sounded at Our Tampines Hub on Sunday night (26 September), Lion City Sailors fans jumped off seats and threw their hands into the Tampines sky. 

But their wild jubilation was not matched out on the pitch – there were no big celebrations by the Sailors players, even after turning in an accomplished performance to beat Geylang International 3-0 in the Singapore Premier League (SPL). 

It was such a significant result in the SPL title race, but amongst the Sailors there were only simple congratulatory handshakes and hugs between each other.

The result meant the Sailors leapfrogged Albirex Niigata (S) to go on top of their eight-team standings, based on a superior goal difference (+35 as compared to the White Swans’ +31), with both sides level on 45 points. 

Having played catch-up all year, Kim Do-hoon’s men will now go into the final round of fixtures on 10 October on the top of the table and hold destiny in their own hands.

“There’s one more game to go in two weeks’ time, and we have to stay focused,” explained forward Stipe Plazibat, who was watching from the stands for the third straight game due to an ankle injury. 

“We must make sure we prepare very well for this last match of the season and hopefully we can celebrate after that – no problem.”

The Geylang result was a huge step towards winning a first-ever league trophy, but the Sailors have one final obstacle that stands between them and a proper celebration – Balestier Khalsa, their opponents in their final league match. 

“We’re now top of the table because of all the hard work that we put in throughout the season, but nothing’s done yet,” emphasised Stipe. 

The Sailors have beaten Geylang in every encounter since their 2020 inception, but this latest victory was not as straightforward as the scoreline suggests. 

The Eagles put up a battling display in front of a boisterous home crowd in the first half-hour of the match, and gave the Sailors some food for thought. This despite having to self-isolate for 10 days due to a positive COVID-19 case in the squad and losing four out of their last five fixtures. 

That sturdy battling display only started to come apart at the seams when Faris Ramli capitalised on an Afiq Yunos error to sweep the Sailors ahead in the 32nd minute. 

Watching from the stands, Stipe felt the occasion got to the team a little. 

“After Albirex dropped points on Friday (in a 0-0 draw with Tampines Rovers), there was certainly that extra pressure of getting a result, and that maybe resulted in our slow start,” said the Croatian. 

“After the first goal, you can see the boys were much more relaxed and confident. We began to play our usual brand of attacking football and everything was quite smooth after that.”

Seven minutes after the deadlock was broken, the Sailors made it 2-0, with Song stabbing home from six yards out after great work by Tajeli Salamat down the right. 

That was the Singaporean’s third goal in two games – following a brace in last Tuesday’s 6-1 win over Tampines – as he continued to impress in Stipe’s absence. 

“It’s sad for me not to be fit to play, but I’m happy to see Song filling in very well as a striker,” said Stipe, who has scored 14 goals and chalked up seven assists in 17 appearances this season, before picking up the ankle injury against Young Lions earlier this month. 

“He had to make the jump up from midfield to play as a striker which is not his natural position. But he’s such a dedicated player who is willing to do everything for the team – he’s a fantastic guy who can adapt very well. We talk a lot and I try to help him as much as I can.”

Barring a couple of nervy moments, the Sailors were generally in control throughout the game with the all-Singaporean centre-back pairing of Hariss Harun and Amirul Adli barely giving a yard to the Geylang strike duo of Matheus Moresche and Amy Recha. 

Four minutes from time, the victory was sealed with substitute Hafiz Nor capitalising on yet another Geylang defensive error to fire past Zaiful Nizam. 

The 3-0 win also meant the Sailors picked up their first clean sheet after nine matches under Kim – another satisfying takeaway for the team. 

“Defensively we were very solid as a team – not just Hariss and Adli, but also Nur Adam (Abdullah) and Taj (Tajeli). So we definitely deserved this clean sheet,” said Stipe. 

“And three mistakes from Geylang, three goals. It’s nice to see us being so clinical in front of goal.”

It will all come down to the final matchday on 10 October as the Sailors entertain Balestier at home while Albirex face Tanjong Pagar United. And simple mathematics will come into play: Albirex will have to better the Sailors’ result on the day to nick the SPL title, and if the Sailors beat Balestier, Albirex must also win – but by a margin of five more goals.   

For example, if the Sailors win 1-0, Albirex must beat the Jaguars at least 6-0. 

Stipe is looking forward to a strong crowd turning up at the Jalan Besar Stadium on that day to help push the Sailors over the line. 

“We saw the reception and noise the fans gave us at our home matches recently – football’s nothing without fans really,” he said. 

“I really hope all of them turn up in full force again on 10 October. That will give the team all the energy from the stands and hopefully we can have a big celebration to repay their support at the end of everything.”


With destiny back in Sailors’ hands, there is no room for complacency

The hotly-contested Singapore Premier League (SPL) title race has been blown wide open with just two games left to play, and the ball is back in the court of the Lion City Sailors. 

With leaders Albirex Niigata (S) being held to a shock 0-0 draw by Tampines Rovers on Friday (24 September), Kim Do-hoon’s men could take full advantage come Sunday night (26 September) when they visit Geylang International at Our Tampines Hub. 

Trailing Albirex by three points, a victory against the Eagles will see the Sailors leapfrog the defending champions –  on goal difference – and take the initiative going into the final round of matches on 10 October. 

Tampines’ sturdy defensive showing on Friday provided yet another twist in the title race, this time presenting the Sailors with a golden opportunity – their destiny is now back in their own hands. 

A week ago, the Sailors had a similar chance, holding a 1-0 lead over the White Swans for some 70 minutes, but that was scuppered when they conceded a 94th-minute equaliser. 

“We were so disappointed after that game against Albirex, but we never gave up the fight for the title,” said centre-back Amirul Adli. “We went out there and did our job to beat Tampines (6-1) on Tuesday and now this (Albirex’s draw with Tampines) is an opportunity that is calling out for us.

“And we must grab it with both hands.” 

Geylang has not enjoyed the best of seasons, languishing second-from-bottom in the eight-team table after losing four of their last five matches.  

Noor Ali’s side have not had the most ideal of preparations for this game, only resuming training earlier in the week after having to self-isolate for 10 days due to a positive COVID-19 case that was detected amongst the squad. 

History also favours the Sailors who have won both encounters this season – including a handsome 8-0 win in their last visit to OTH back in April. 

But the Sailors are not taking anything for granted. 

“We may be the favourites to win this game, but no one is writing off Geylang – they’re definitely not an easy team to play against and they’ll be doing their best out there against us,” said Sailors’ versatile defender, Tajeli Salamat. 

“Geylang will want to put up a strong performance for their fans, and we have to be ready to fight, give our 100 percent and make sure we leave everything we have on the pitch.” 

The Sailors have had to adjust to a demanding style and philosophy under Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Champions League-winning coach Kim who came on board in June, and have excelled and remained hot on the heels of Albirex – who have been top since Matchweek 1. 

Now on a club-record 16-game unbeaten run, the Sailors are reaping the rewards of their hard work as they are poised to claim pole position at this crucial juncture of the season. 

Tajeli believes the arrival of Kim has played a huge role in the Sailors’ sustained title challenge – not least transforming the culture of the team in little details. 

“There have been some changes under him – the most distinct is everyone having to form a circle before morning training where each player and official give high-fives to one another. Then after the session ends, he will gather us together and get us to clap three times before we go off,” revealed the 27-year-old.  

“These are little things that may not seem significant, but it has done a lot to improve the morale and vibe within the team. From day one, he instilled a hunger and winning mentality in us. I must say everything has been going according to plan under him.”

Kim has also demonstrated an uncanny ability to get the best out of players who were not playing regularly before his arrival. 

Along with the likes of Faris Ramli, Hafiz Nor and Adam Swandi, Tajeli has been one of the biggest beneficiaries. He has started five of the last six matches at right-back, this after an eight-game spell midway through the season where he did not get a single minute of game time. 

“Of course it was really frustrating not to be playing. It’s never easy being at a big club, but I guess patience is a virtue,” said the defender, who was part of the 2020 SPL Team of the Year. “I fought really hard every single day in training to be back in the team and I’m happy that Coach Kim can see that. 

“It’s great having a coach like him who’s willing to take risks and rotate players. He gives us freedom to show our abilities in every single training and game, and that has kept me going. Now that I’ve been given this opportunity to play, I don’t ever want to lose it.” 

Now Tajeli and Adli are both looking forward to the prospect of getting their hands on the coveted SPL trophy, in what will be a first-ever league title in their respective careers. 

“It will be the first trophy for the club and I really want to be part of that history,” said Adli. “I’ve won the (2019) Singapore Cup and (2020) Charity Shield (with Tampines), so a league title would complete the whole set for me nicely.” 

“It’s not done yet, so we have to take our final two matches seriously and cross the finish line strongly,” he added. 

“It would mean the world to me because I’ve been dreaming to win the local league since the day I started my football career,” added Tajeli, who is into his second season with the Sailors. 

“It would be an unbelievable feeling to see all the hard work and sweat paying off at the end of the season.”