The Hougang Hools will not want to miss their foray into the AFC Cup with Matchday 1, against Lao Toyota, happening on the 11th of February 2020. But what does this achievement say about the progress of the club?
Hougang United’s fans are making arrangements for the awaydays trip to Laos, Vietnam, Myanmar/Brunei. The Hools will be applying for leave from their working schedules and are saving up for these three trips so as not to miss this AFC Cup experience. There might not be giant screens up in bars or public squares or flags draping from the buildings, but for the Hools, especially the senior ones, this AFC Cup is a decade long in wait. They will be ready in their distinct colors of black and orange.
Local football is lived casually in the present in Singapore, mainly because the lure of foreign football seems to be all hyped-up. As Cyan Tongue, the newly formed local-football media, has said, local football really can be considered a reflection for the “Singapore way of life”. Singaporeans play football like the looks of one of the local beauty pageant candidates, and it is this non-exuberance that makes them so painful to watch. In its rigidity, non-creativity, and sometimes, cowardice, Singaporean football also mirrors Singapore society.
The Hougang Hools, though, is not unique in wanting their team to win, but few other local football clubs can match the passion and intensity of Hougang United’s supporters. The Hougang Hools will regard the qualification to the AFC Cup as one of the best achievements in their club’s history, with one serious fan even calling it “our destiny”.
There are many permutations and possibilities about how Hougang will fare in the AFC Cup. The simplest, and least romantic, is that it will falter in all their games in the tournament. The “black and orange” merely have to prove this possibility wrong.
But anyone who has spent any time watching the Hougang Hools in the terraces knows that there is much more than the match result. There is a native word “semangat” which translates as “grit” and it describes the consistent fervor in the Hools. The Hougang Hools often use the word “semangat” to describe the characteristics of their club. Why yield even before the ball is kicked?
Of course, this character this attitude brings its weaknesses, and there are few sterner critics of Hougang United Football Club than the Hougang Hools themselves. A couple of moments ago, the club waded into the debacle that is Ramazotti.
Entering the AFC Cup as “the team with no experience” brings its pressures but Hougang will be no pushover. Nevertheless, with a proper approach to each game, Hougang can hope for an encouraging run in the tournament. This is Hougang’s first AFC Cup and it won’t be the last and I will be following it as closely as I can.