Siao Mates Nov 30

Unleash The Roar! It’s going to get testy – and that could be fantastic for local football


School pride is still alive and kicking in offices across the country, especially among boys. I say boys, because evidently some of us don’t really grow up, even long after we leave school. 


And this could work in favour of the nation’s Unleash the Roar! (UTR) initiative – perhaps wildly so.  


School pride is fuelled by success, and there are few things that evoke emotion like success in the sporting arena, just go to a school sports final – in any sport. Students wave flags with gusto, and scream from the core of their being, but pay close attention to the old timers in the vicinity. These former students often turn up in school colours and very quickly drop the grown-up mask and jump right into the thick of it. 


These old boys are everywhere, and rekindling this loyalty to their school could well spark new life into football here. 


At office watercoolers, new boys are often asked where their English Premier League loyalties lie, and soon after come questions on their alma mater. And like any good probing jab, jibes will follow right behind, often a few, in quick succession.


Rafflesians are known to have thrown snarky comments at Josephians and Patricians, and the boys in white and blue – ACSians and Saints – have an intense rivalry that goes beyond just the rugby pitch. And almost everyone has a couple of jokes in hand about the boys who had to squeeze hairy legs into shorts throughout their secondary school life – especially Victorians. 


I could be showing my age here, but even now when you meet someone from Jin Tai, you immediately assumed he was a good footballer, Yuhua boys could play hockey, and the chaps from Montfort could whip you silly at badminton. 


The team behind UTR announced last Friday that 10 schools – Montfort, Sengkang, Singapore Sports School, Anglo-Chinese School (Barker), Queensway, Serangoon Garden, Meridian, St Patrick's, Assumption English and Jurongville – are coming on board its School Football Academy (SFA) pilot programme that kicks off next year. 


Footballers in these SFAs will train four times a week and play significantly more games throughout the year compared to students-footballers in other secondary schools. And they are getting some serious support.


 A team of technical experts from Spain - coaches, analysts and sports scientists - will be engaged to set up the first group of SFAs, as part of a partnership with La Liga – that’s right, the home of the tiki-taka


Each SFA will have a team of full-time experts from La Liga and beefed up by local coaches, and they will report to a head coach with a Fifa 'A' licence and relevant youth development experience. It doesn’t stop there – SFAs will also have specialist coaches in the areas of goalkeeping, strength and conditioning, and performance analysts.


It’s almost a no-brainer, with the increased training and playing frequency, and the expertise boost, these SFA boys are going to get good, and quickly so. 


The Straits Times has already reported differing views from the football fraternity. Some are concerned about competitiveness and fair play, that the National School Games will witness one-sided encounters that are neither beneficial to the better footballers, or the battered. 


But the banter must continue, even after the UTR! team, in partnership with the Ministry of Education (MOE), moves to establish a youth league for the SFA schools in 2023. 


The ACS family claimed Joseph Schooling for its own, and the wide-eyed look on the faces of young boys when the Republic’s only Olympic gold medalist visited the school where we got his primary education was priceless – there were surely freshly inspired boys diving into pools attempting the butterfly. 


ACS hasn’t exactly been a factory line of elite football talent. There was Syed Faruk, perhaps the most notable national footballer from the early 90s; ACS (Barker Road) boy, Rhysh Roshan Rai, who played in the Asian Football Federation Champions League (ACL) with the now-defunct Singapore Armed Forces FC; and in the next-generation, Ilhan Fandi. 


But with these SFAs, there could well be more, at ACS (Barker Road), and at St. Patrick’s, at Monfort, Meridian and the rest.


And it will, at least at office watercoolers, and perhaps even at the sidelines of school sports – or youth league – finals, drive a banter fueled by school pride. A banter that will be carried into the greater Singapore community, by old boys who don’t really grow up – but will likely show up to support their school – and the national football cause.


And that can only help our UTR! dream.


Let me start the ball rolling: I can’t remember a single elite footballer from Victoria. 


It must have been a lousy footballing school? 




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