By Edwin Yeo
Editor’s note: The Football Siao team has been helping Unleash The Roar! with their communications and engagement plan. This article, however, is Edwin’s own opinion and does not necessarily represent the views of Unleash The Roar! or even that of Football Siao .
Let’s call a spade a spade. When the idea of Singapore qualifying for the World Cup in 2034 was mooted in 2019, most of us just went, oh boy, here we go again.
Reactions ranged from outright derision to uncontrollable laughter. And then there were the conspiracy theorists that this announcement was made because of the reported ASEAN bid to host the 2034 World Cup, which would then see Singapore automatically qualify for the Finals.
When I was asked by the powers that be what my thoughts were on this goal, the first thing I said was, no matter what we do, we are unlikely to qualify for the World Cup in 2034. To me, the math is simple. The qualifying campaign for the 2034 World Cup starts in 2031. Which means the squad then would primarily consist of players who are currently 14 and above, with perhaps a handful of current eight- to 13-year-olds talented enough to make the National Team in 2031.
At 14, they would already have gone through the formative years of technical development for the game, and while they can develop further as players in terms of physique, match experience and tactical nous, 2031 might come too early.
One less-reported aspect of Unleash The Roar! was also the Women’s team, whose World Cup Finals will be held in 2035. Similarly, that might also come too soon, in my opinion.
Hence, I felt that should we embark on such an ambitious project, we shouldn’t make it about qualifying for the World Cup Finals.
So what then did I think would qualify as a success for Singapore football?
That’s easy. Just give me a Son Heung-min, or a Saki Kumagai, the Japanese female footballer playing for Lyon at club level.
Yes, I would spontaneously combust if our Lions or Lioness do make it to the World Cup Finals, but seeing a Singaporean play week in week out for a top European club would make me cry like a baby, even if that Singaporean is playing for that red North London club who shall not be named.
And if that Singaporean turns out for Spurs, I would sacrifice my next born in his or her name. Well, yes, I’m 53, so the chances of having a next born is as high as Spurs winning the league this season, but you get the gist.
Many of you reading this would not have yet been a sperm in your father’s loins when Fandi Ahmad scored a goal for FC Groningen against Inter Milan (then known as Internazionale) back in 1983, but my whole neighborhood roared in unison when he struck that second goal in the 2-0 win, much to the chagrin of non-football fans since it was a UEFA Cup match (now known as the Europa League) and played in the ungodly hours of the morning.
We talk a lot about the Kallang Roar, but in those pre-Pornhub days, every neighborhood roared in unison whenever Singapore scored on TV, because many couldn’t make it into the National Stadium.
Such passion hasn’t been seen in our football fraternity as a generation of football fans have grown up not seeing a Lions team, or even one Singaporean footballer, that captured our imagination. These days, not only does Singapore football have to contend with the English Premier League courting our affections, our youths are also chased by the likes of Netflix, e-sports, TikTok and the latest entrant, Disney+.
But here’s my ultimate stand on Unleash The Roar!, and that’s to dare is to do.
Oh, don’t get me wrong, I’m as skeptical as they come. I mean, why else would I support a club whose last trophy was in 2008? I go into every new season hoping that my beloved Spurs would bring home a trophy - any trophy - and I end up being more disappointed than being rejected by Emma Stone for her hand in marriage. Well, okay, I was standing in a crowd of hundreds when she came here with Andrew Garfield to promote some movie when I shouted out that proposal, so it probably wasn’t the most romantic marriage proposal in the history of marriage proposals.
Will Unleash The Roar! let me down? Hell, I’m kind of expecting it to. But just like I want Spurs to win the league title every season, I like to dream big even if it’s going to hit me as hard as one of Mike Tyson’s punches. And Unleash The Roar! is about dreaming big.
And let’s be honest, Singapore football needs that.
The biggest challenge to us ever being a footballing nation is that we don’t see football as a viable career for our children. That’s not only my speculation - it’s almost an unifying theme among the engagement sessions that I’ve sat in with the Football Association of Singapore. Almost every session, be it parents, kids, amateur football clubs and even professional ones, all talk about creating a future for our best young footballers, should they have the talent or hunger to make it at the very top.
The current belief is that even if we have a kid with the potential of Cristiano Ronaldo or Megan Rapinoe, being Singaporean would limit their ability to ever turn their talent into a livelihood. This doesn’t just apply for football, but also in other sports and even the arts - all seen as industries that are not desired careers for our children.
After two years of discussions, I’m happy to see that Unleash The Roar! has made changing that mindset a key pillar in the project. I think if the project can convince parents of talented footballers to let their child take a shot at a viable footballing career, whatever their definition of viable means to them, then qualifying for the World Cup Finals, winning that elusive SEA Games gold, winning the Asian Cup and an attractive Singapore Premier League would all be by-products of that mindset shift.
And if by 2034, I get to see a Singaporean scoring the winning goal for Spurs to win the League title, I can finally get over the disappointment of Emma Stone’s rejection.
This article, "Unleash The Roar!, just give me a Singaporean Son", originally appeared on Football Siao – Singapore’s craziest EPL website.