SINGAPORE – It was perhaps fitting that the opening game of the new-look Deloitte Women’s Premier League (WPL) was won by someone who heralds what is to come for women’s football in Singapore.
Farah Nurzahirah, an 18-year-old ITE College Central student, was so nervous before her game on Saturday (May 28) that her hands were trembling as she prepared to take to the pitch. But the Tanjong Pagar United striker kept her nerve as she netted what proved to be the winning goal in her side’s 2-1 win over Albirex Niigata at the Yishun Stadium.
The game kicked off the new season of the Deloitte WPL, which was returning after a two-year absence due to the pandemic. But more than just a return, it also marked a reset of the women’s game in Singapore.
There was a buzz around Saturday’s kick-off, with gloss added to this season’s competition. Audit firm Deloitte’s three-year support 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. Prize money for champions has also been increased five-fold to $25,000.
Deloitte is also streaming games on its YouTube page. This new attention on the women’s game was conspicuous by the set-up of video recording devices in the stands, and a handful of photographers on pitchside.
But there has also been change at the ground level too, with three Singapore Premier League men’s clubs – Hougang United, Balestier Khalsa and Albirex – all incorporating a senior women’s team within their set-up.
And in a move towards raising standards, the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) also announced that the clubs would receive grants towards the hiring of coaches and payment of allowance and travel expenses for players and staff.
The stadium saw the full-throated support of over 250 spectators and Farah said: “That was quite a big motivation for me.
“It’s been two years since I played football, so I’m very proud of myself and the team.”
James Walton, sports business group leader for Deloitte South-east Asia, said: “We’re really proud to be the first sponsor of the WPL and today has shown exactly why we are so excited to support our women footballers.
“Thank you to all the fans at the stadium and watching the livestream at home for giving their support… The opening match was a fitting start to what promises to be an exciting season ahead.”
After an even opening to the game, Tanjong Pagar opened the scoring in the 33rd minute through Japanese striker Manami Fukuzawa. The Jaguars added a second in the 54th after Farah pounced on a defensive error to coolly finish from inside the box.
Nadhra Aqilah then pulled a goal back for Albirex in the 67th minute and while the White Swans pushed hard for an equaliser, it remained elusive.