Hmm... how should I start this?
I actually had a different story in my mind, and right up to the last five minutes, I was already thinking of a lovely story of some masters of the game of football, pitting their skills on Singapore turf. There was certainly talent on show, but the end was a little sore and had a bit of a bitter after taste.
It was my first time, in the new stadium, watching an exhibition match, and more importantly, my first time seeing my childhood hero Robbie and his team mates in action live.
So when I scored some tickets, I was over the moon. I packed my telephoto lens, teleconverter, and my DSLR, looked around for my old Liverpool tee shirt from the 90s, and merrily drove down to watch the game.
The stadium was immerse, and with the indoor roof in place, we would not have to worry about rain or other elements. It's actually quite cool inside, even with the roof up. Air conditioning perhaps?
The pitch was great and I also saw some football greats from Arsenal, as well as the local team. Fans streamed in, wearing jerseys from varies vintages, and some had their kids in tow, perhaps hoping that they will also come to love the teams that their fathers followed. There was certainly a festive atmosphere in the air.
Now some tips:
- try and eat before you come, there is a limited choice of burgers, pizzas and hotdogs, at rather expensive prices
- you can't bring water in, but you can bring your empty water bottle
- the ushers are not too sure where the Kallang
Mall is, so use your Google maps instead
- there is plenty of parking, but the Circle Line stops right at the stadium, so it's quite convenient
- it's not too stuffy, but it's best to leave the jacket or thick tee shirt at home and wear a dry fit one
- for those with kids, there are plenty of toilets and a few water coolers, but if your kids is not old enough to sit through two hours of football, think twice about bringing them, or you may spend more time baby-sitting them than watching your football heroes
Onto the game then..
There were three games, play in two halves of 20 minutes, first between Singapore and Arsenal, then Singapore against Liverpool and finally the grand game was Arsenal versus Liverpool. You are allowed as many substitutes as you like and that was fine, given that some of the players were in their forties or even fifties.
It started out well enough, with the foreign players really going for it, and not holding back. Arsenal for example, hit the bar thrice, and they certainly kept the local goalie busy.
In the end, they only managed one goal, despite dominating most of the proceedings. Rezal Hassan was in fine form, and he threw himself at the ball, did many acrobatic saves to deny the Gunners.
The single goal lead was tenuous, and allowed Aleksandar Duric to take on the Arsenal defence and he showed that he still had the moves, putting one away for Singapore, to allow the game to end as a draw.
With that, I think the local fans had some hope that the second game will also be competitive, especially when Rezal saved a penalty early on. However Liverpool came out with all cylinders firing, and the game became increasingly one sided as Liverpool dominated the proceedings. Fandi Ahmad did come on in the last ten minutes to loud cheers all round, but he could not make an impressive as the game squarely in favor of the Reds. Even David James got in on the score sheet as he stepped up to take the last penalty with a might kick into the top corner of the net.
I think the foreign players were quite professional, and sought to entertain, giving the fans their money's worth, and despite their age, they played gamely, pressing on to keep scoring and apply pressure on the locals.
In between, you saw players from opposing sides catch up, and even hug one another, as they caught up. There were plenty of smiles, and it seemed that everyone had put the days of intense rivalry behind them.
The third game was the highlight of the evening and fans sat on the edge of their chairs as the two giants played a more cautious game, appreciative of the abilities of their foes. There was more defence as players did not throw caution to the wind and sought to control the mid-field.
As the evening wore on, fatigue set in, and some of them were barely walking whereas some of them were also indefatigable, running circles around the others, even the local players.
The game was quite evenly matched, and it stayed at one one until the middle of the second half, when David Thompson drove in a fierce pile driver, and it looked like it was going to end as a Liverpool victory.
Then sadly in the last five minutes, things began to unwind..
There was a particularly fierce tackle from Lauren on Robbie Fowler, and he reacted, leading to a shoving session that threatened to turn into a melee..
Thankfully saner minds prevailed but strangely at this point, the referee allowed play to go on, and then on the final minute of the game, Arsenal took advantage of the confusion and sent in a deep punt forward and Robert Pires put in his third goal of the night.
It was all a little shocking, to see how the ambassadors of the great game rather spoilt the evening with the melee, and how the game ended with such a goal.
I think Fowler could have reacted better, and be the gentleman, since he has been the subject of fierce tackles all his life. The way he stuck out was not how someone as famous as he should be remembered.
A great pity indeed and not the best way to end a game.
As for the Man of the Match, it was a hard fight between the great offensive skills and industry of Robert Pires, who scored thrice, ran his heart out during the game, and the local custodian of the goal Rezal Hassan. Without him, the scoreline would have been worse, and he made the score far more respectable than what you see on the scoreboard at the final whistle.
All in all, a nice way to spend an evening, but it's a real pity about the scuffle at the end.
Given the advancing age of the players, I think this could be the last time we see some of the greats who came here to play, perform on the pitch and I wish all of them well as I got to relive some of my childhood memories of watching them play once more.
Liverpool emerged as winners of the night, but I wished it could have been less acrimonious.