SINGAPORE – It was perhaps fitting that the opening game of the revamped Deloitte Women’s Premier League (WPL) was won by someone heralding the future of women’s football in Singapore.
Farah Nurzahirah, an 18-year-old student at ITE College Central, was so nervous before her game on Saturday (May 28) that her hands shook as she prepared to step onto the field. But the Tanjong Pagar United striker kept her nerve as she scored the decisive goal in her side’s 2-1 win against Albirex Niigata at Yishun Stadium.
The game kicked off the new season of the Deloitte WPL, which returned after a two-year absence due to the pandemic. But it was more than just a return, it also marked a fresh start for women’s football in Singapore.
There was a lot of buzz around Saturday’s opener and this season’s competition just got brighter. Accounting firm Deloitte’s three-year endorsement of the WPL, worth over $300,000, means the seven-team league has a title sponsor for the first time since it began in 2000. The prize money for champions has also increased fivefold to $25,000.
Deloitte also streams games on its YouTube page. This renewed attention to women’s football was illustrated by the placement of video recorders in the stands and a handful of pitchside photographers.
But there were also changes on the ground as three Singapore Premier League men’s clubs – Hougang United, Balestier Khalsa and Albirex – joined Lion City Sailors and Tanjong Pagar to add a women’s senior team to their line-up. The other two clubs are Tiong Bahru and Still Aerion.
In a bid to raise standards, the Singapore Football Association (FAS) also announced that clubs would receive grants for hiring coaches, as well as payment of allowances and travel expenses for players and staff.
The stadium saw the full support of over 250 spectators and Farah said: “That was quite a big motivation for me.
“It’s been two years since I’ve played football so I’m very proud of myself and the team.”
James Walton, Sports Business Group Leader at Deloitte South-East Asia said: “We are really proud to be the inaugural sponsor of the WPL and today showed exactly why we are so excited to support our women footballers.
“Thank you to all the fans at the stadium and those watching the live stream at home for your support… The opening game was a fitting start to an exciting season that lies ahead.”
After a balanced opening of the game, Tanjong Pagar opened the scoring in the 33rd minute through Japanese striker Manami Fukuzawa. The Jaguars added a second in the 54th minute after Farah pounced on a defensive error to finish coolly from inside the box.
Nadhra Aqilah then scored a goal for Albirex in the 67th minute and while the White Swans pushed hard for the equaliser, it remained elusive.
FAS Secretary General Yazeen Buhari was among those in the stands and said: “It is gratifying to see that the WPL is finally getting back on track after the tough two years we’ve had with the pandemic. With the support of Deloitte as our inaugural title sponsor, we see this much-anticipated kick-off as a timely boost to continue improving women’s football here on and off the pitch.
“The atmosphere in the stands today and the competitiveness of the opening game on the pitch are exactly what we expected and I’m sure we’ll see more exciting games like this in the coming weeks.”