FEATURE
Football Frenzy
WORLD-CLASS FOOTBALL ACTION KICKS OFF AT THE SPORTS HUB THIS JULY, WHEN THE 2019 INTERNATIONAL CHAMPIONS CUP SINGAPORE PRESENTED BY AIA ROLLS INTO TOWN.
06-Jun-2019

For a football fan, the experience is completely different today," says Ms Farah Bagharib-Kaltz, comparing how soccer aficionados experience the beautiful game today versus some three decades ago, when she first got into it. Back then, she recalls that she would race to catch snippets of her favourite team - Italian Serie A side Juventus — during TV highlights on Saturday morning.

Fast forward to the present and, Ms Farah, 38, is in a position to get up close to her idols yet again, as she prepares to join thousands of other fans to watch the black-and-white striped stars show off their fancy footwork on our sunny shores. That's because Juventus is one of four teams that will be turning up the action at the 2019 International Champions Cup Singapore presented by AIA. Singapore hosts the competition for the third time this year, with a kick-off on 20 July between English giants Manchester United and Italian heavyweights Inter, while 'Juve' itself takes on London club - and last year's champions - Tottenham Hotspur the next day.

These two matches are poised to be the biggest football games to watch at the National Stadium this year. The weekend of football in Singapore is part of the global lineup of International Champions Cup matches taking place across North America, Europe and Asia. The annual tournament - which also includes teams such as Spain's Real Madrid and Barcelona as well as English Premier League heroes Arsenal - will conclude in August in Stockholm, Sweden.

While the final squad line-ups have not been firmed up, fans can look forward to seeing top players showing off their fancy footwork. As former Spurs/Man U starturned- football ambassador Teddy Sheringham — who was in town recently to promote the matches — put it, "There is nothing like seeing the teams in the flesh. And with no distraction of other big tournaments (in Europe), hopefully all the big players will be on show for our Asian fans." Dwight Yorke, a fellow Red Devils' legend (and Sheringham's one-time team-mate), added that the team is looking forward to returning to Singapore, calling the island "a fantastic host to Manchester United". "The food, the weather, the people...they're all great," he said.

A REMATCH TO WATCH

For Ms Farah and her husband Mr Ignatius Kaltz, 49, a diehard Spurs supporter, the match to look forward to is on the second night, when their favourite teams will faceoff. Fans of both teams will know this game is a must-watch, since it's basically a rematch of last season's Champions League showdown. Spurs will be undoubtedly looking to get back at the side that defeated them in the round-of-16. With no shortage of world-class players on each team, both the seasoned competitors from Turin and the current ICC incumbents are set to serve up a top quality battle.

CIAO SINGAPORE!

Unfamiliar with the Serie A and its uniquely Italian brand of football? Fret not. Mr Iskandar Shah, who fell in love with Juventus in the early 1990s, says that watching the Italians play football is a "rich" experience. "There's a lot of quality playing to applaud," he tells Here to Play. "Especially in the defence, which makes for a very exciting game."

The excitement of the game probably explains Ms Farah Bagharib-Kaltz's - a fellow Juventus super-fan - annual trips to Europe to watch Juventus live. On her most recent trip, she watched five Juventus matches, including one with arch-rivals AC Milan. She believes that the South Curve (as Juventus fans at stadiums are affectionately called) will bring with them their signature brand of loud - but respectful - cheering and boisterous renditions of Italian cheers. "So if you really want to soak in the atmosphere," she advises, "get tickets in the Juventus sector. And come prepared to chant and sing along!"

But Mr Kaltz insists that emotions won't be running as high this time. "It's a friendly, so what I'm looking forward to seeing are new faces and some novel gameplay," he says. The former is especially important for Spurs fans, who are eager to see how the team's success this decade can be carried on by future players.

FIVE YEARS ON, AN ENCOUNTER TO EXPERIENCE

For fans like radio presenter Joakim Gomez, it's the match between Manchester United and Inter that will be the ultimate nail-biter. This marks the first time that the two clubs are meeting since 2014, when they went all the way to penalties. Ultimately, it was the Red Devils that claimed victory, 5-3. Question is, five years on, will they be able to retain their edge? To Mr Gomez, the match is a chance for the Red Devils to relive their former glory after a rough patch. "It's painful lah," he said referring to the club's recent underperformance. "But I believe the good days will come back again. I still love the club." And to the 31-year-old, there's no better place to show off these good days than at the Sports Hub on 20 July. "I hope we'll see a rebuilt and united squad under Ole Gunnar Solksjaer, the club's new manager," he adds, his trademark optimism shining through.

It's an optimism that Mr Francesco Vespasiani shares for his own team. The 29-year-old has love for Inter running through his veins — as he quips, three generations of his family have been loyal Inter supporters. "There's something about their gameplay that is just magical and I think we'll be treated to that in Singapore," shares the restaurant manager.

RED DEVIL IN THE RED DOT? COUNT HIM IN

Frenzied Manchester United Fan Desmond Sim shares his journey with the club. The 45-year-old research analyst takes 'superfan' to a whole other level, since he has a tattoo of a literal Red Devil on his shoulder.

I fell in love with Manchester United when...I was a kid. My brother, who is three years older, influenced me and after I saw them win the FA Cup against Everton in 1985, I haven't looked back. In fact, I attended university in Manchester largely so I could attend matches regularly - but don't tell my mum!

The best Manchester United moment was...Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's last-minute winner against Bayern Munich to win the treble in 1999.

The one Manchester United song to know before a match...Should be 'Pride of all Europe' as a true Man U fan. But the easiest would be 'Glory Glory, Man United'.

INTER IN HIS BLOOD

"What Inter means to me? That's simple...it's a passion, family, respect, honour, loyalty. As one of the founding members of the Inter fan club in Singapore, I try to share these values with my fellow fans. Any Inter fan is a brother or sister. It's a tradition that I am proud of, since Inter was the first club to accept all players, regardless of race or religion in the early 1900s. Two years ago, we lifted the International Champions Cup in Singapore and I hope we do that again this year. Why will we do that? Because when you wear the Inter jersey, you respect everyone but fear no one."

MAKING THE SPORTS HUB "OLD TRAFFORD FOR A NIGHT"

When he's not entertaining listeners of 987FM's Shock Circuit, radio presenter Joakim Gomez is likely to be decked out in a Manchester United jersey. After all, he has been a fan for nearly 25 years, and counting. "I fell in love with Manchester United back in 1995 once I was old enough to understand what football is," he shares with a laugh. "I was in awe whenever I watched Eric Cantona play," he says referring to the iconic Frenchman, whose move to United in the 1990s set in motion a huge revival in the club's fortunes, and a stature they enjoy all the way to the present.

It should come as no surprise then, that he has watched the Red Devils play many times — and around the world, at that: first as a wide-eyed 16-year-old at the National Stadium and then several times in the UK in the past three years. With all these matches under his belt, you could just about call him a professional United fan.

So take it from the 'pro' that first-time watchers of Manchester United will almost immediately feel at home when in the sea of red ("Just don't wear light blue," he quips, referring to the team's away kit). "I'm sure our Singaporean Red Devils family will do our best to make fans feel welcome and with the noise we'll make at the Sports Hub, I hope we'll turn it into Old Trafford (the team's iconic homeground) for a night."