The Unofficial Hougang United FC Supporters Blog

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Hougang woo fans with image change

Elwyn Lee

Since their debut in the S.League in 1998, the club that had established itself as representatives of the northeast had always carried an aquatic link.

Come the start of the 2011 season, however, Sengkang Punggol will be moving up to dry land, following a renaming exercise that will see the club bear the new identity of Hougang United.

Hougang, as they are now known, hosted members of the media at their familiar home on Friday afternoon as they formally unveiled their new logo, mascot and squad for the upcoming campaign.

Gone is the familiar dolphin that has graced the club jersey for most of the past 13 years. In its place comes the speedy cheetah, the fastest animal on land and a common sight in Africa and the Middle East.

Welcoming the media at the Hougang Stadium grandstand, club assistant general manager Edwin Tan began his address by thanking the club’s new kit sponsor Mitre.

The British sportswear company replaces Italian competitors Diadora.

Tan then explained the decision to overhaul the club’s image, the third time this had been done in the club’s history but the first involving a mascot replacement.

“The change came about due to the feedback of the (Hougang) community,” he said.

“The cheetah symbolises the qualities of speed, agility and an adaptability to change, which is what the club hopes to bring to the new team structure. More importantly, the changes represent a determination to strive to provide a better quality of football to the fans.”

Those words may be music to the ears of Hougang residents, who have tended to make up a greater share of the fan base than have those who live in nearby Sengkang.

Certainly much will rest on two key foreign signings for the club, Argentine midfielder Carlos Alberto Delgado and Brazilian forward Diego Gama de Oliveira.

The duo were among five players representing the Cheetahs at the press conference, alongside new captain Fadhil Salim, wiry winger Mohd Noor Ali and Azhar Sairudin, who made the move northeast from Home United.

Presenting the new squad list for Hougang, Tan noted that roughly half the 2010 squad had been successfully retained for this new year, including defenders Duncan David Elias, Ratna Suffian and Lau Meng Meng, midfielder Sobrie Mazelan and foreigners Mamadou Diallo and Jordan Webb.

New faces at Hougang meanwhile include utility man Fathi Yunus, former Gombak United winger Fazli Jaffar and 2007 Young Player of the Year winner Shariff Abdul Samat.

With Diallo still eligible to register as a Prime League player, Hougang will have one final foreigner slot available in the senior team, with a strong defensive player the likely choice.

Tan made it clear, though, that all eyes should be on Delgado and Gama, on whose shoulders the club’s season could probably rest.

“Through them we hope to see (far) better performances in the games we play,” he emphasised.

Also speaking well of the South American duo was assistant coach Hasrin Jailani, who had left a similar position at Woodlands Wellington to work with Aide Iskandar.

“They have given us a good assessment of themselves, the S.League needs more of players like these,” said the 35-year-old.

“Having them here will give us a good boost and an extra cutting edge this season.”

Will that cutting edge be enough, though, to lift the Cheetahs out of the bottom two, a position they have never pulled away from since 2006?

Hasrin, who represented the coaching panel in Aide’s absence, was optimistic on the matter.

“The club’s target this season is to finish anything better than the previous two seasons,” said the former Tiger Cup winner.

“From there onwards, Hougang will be looking to do even better.

“This season, we have good quality local players, something that maybe we were lacking previously. We have now got players like Mat Noor, players who are experienced and can guide the younger players.

“I am confident also because of the team spirit, commitment and fighting spirit this group has shown in pre-season.”

Indeed their pre-season results have been impressive, as they reported only one defeat in the eight friendly matches they had played in prior to the press conference.

Among the teams they had beaten are former champions SAFFC, Hasrin’s previous employers Woodlands and Geylang United, who lifted the RHB Singapore Cup two years ago.

Will Aide’s charges keep up that good form when the real thing comes, starting with their Valentine’s Day encounter with Woodlands?

That is one question neither Tan nor Hasrin had a certain answer to, but they and the fans of the newly-rechristened Hougang United will know soon enough.

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