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Football-crazed fans bracing for a long, feverish summer


SINGAPORE is feeling the heat - not just from the sweltering outdoor temperatures of late, but from the football fever that is sweeping the nation.

This year's English Premier League (EPL) title race is one of the most gripping in recent memory, with three teams - Liverpool, Manchester City and Chelsea - still in the hunt and the destiny of the trophy likely to be decided only on the final day of the season next weekend.

The Champions League final on the morning of May 25 will also likely see many fans set their alarm clocks to catch what promises to be a gripping match. The clash in Lisbon is the first time two teams from the same city - bitter Spanish rivals Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid - will vie for European club football's biggest prize.

But many people are gearing up for the summer fiesta that is the Fifa World Cup, a 32-day extravaganza in Brazil with 64 matches. Even the double whammy of forking out a princely sum of $112 to subscribe to the broadcast and having to wake up in the middle of the night to catch the games won't deter some ardent fans from following the quadrennial tournament.

Following the sport these days means much more than just spending 90 minutes watching one's favourite team in action. As The Business Times found out, football fans here are quite a passionate bunch when it comes to showing their love for The Beautiful Game.

Kristian Olsen is among at least 10 Singaporeans who will be flying up to Merseyside in England to watch Liverpool's final home game of the season against Newcastle United on May 11.

That game could well be the one where the Reds clinch their first EPL title in 24 long years, and Mr Olsen would not have wanted to miss this rare opportunity for anything.

The 35-year-old client services director is spending a week in England, first to catch Liverpool's penultimate match against Crystal Palace on Monday in London, and then making the trip to Anfield stadium for the season-ender.

He isn't even sure he can get into the stadium for the sold-out game. He paid £300 (S$635) for a ticket on a third-party website, and he is a little worried about whether the ticket - which will be delivered only next week - is the real deal.

"Well, if it's a scam, then so be it. We Liverpool fans are used to things not going our way, anyway. Still, it's going to be an amazing atmosphere just being near the stadium with thousands of other supporters," he says.

Fellow fan Daniel Teo says that whether the team wins the EPL or not, he plans to tattoo his right ankle with an image of the liverbird that is the centrepiece of the club's famous crest.

"This would be the craziest thing I've ever done for Liverpool. The team has made a great improvement from last season (when it finished seventh) to possibly winning the title," says the 28-year-old social media editor who is still on the lookout for a tattoo artist here who is a Liverpool fan himself to do the artwork.

While cost was a factor that prevented him from making a pilgrimage to Anfield this season, he hopes to be able to meet his hero, Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard, in the flesh one day.

For Manchester United fan Edmund Yeo, a 41-year-old who works in the sales industry, a budget is an alien concept when it comes to shopping for team memorabilia. A fan since 1990, he picks up anything from scarves and licence plates to miniature figurines to badges - anything with the famous Red Devils logo on it.

He also helps manage the Manchester United (Singapore) Supporters Club's Facebook page, which has more than 3,800 followers, by posting all sorts of news and updates involving the 20-time EPL champions.

He says that he has watched all but two of Manchester United's 50-plus matches this season, including those mid-week games that kick off at 3.45am.

"I can't afford to miss any game. I'll even remind my wife to wake me up. She's been influenced by me over the years and we follow the club's fortunes together," says Mr Yeo, adding that he buys matching men's and women's Manchester United jerseys each time a new design is released.

Chelsea fan Jasper Lim, meanwhile, looks forward to big events such as the World Cup or the European Championships for a different reason.

The 35-year-old, who is self-employed, admits sheepishly to collecting the sticker albums featuring all the players; these are usually released by Italian publisher Panini just before a major tournament.

"It's a hobby I've had since I was in primary school. These days, I meet up with fellow collectors on the weekends and we trade our spare stickers.

"I imagine that others must find it quite a sight to see a group of grown adults sitting at a void deck exchanging stickers," he laughs.

One man who has seen more than his fair share of football supporters in Singapore is Steve Dadlani, the 70-year-old owner of the popular La Vanita football apparel store in Peninsula Shopping Centre.

Having been in the business for the last 43 years, he knows just how crazy some fans can be when it comes to supporting their team, be it the usual suspects such as Liverpool, Chelsea or Manchester United, or even the likes of Aston Villa, Leeds United and Blackburn Rovers.

"I have customers who studied overseas in England and supported the local club there. I've had requests to bring in Swansea City jerseys, for instance, which is quite uncommon," he says.

With the World Cup just around the corner, Mr Dadlani has been stocking up on all kinds of knick-knacks such as caps, collar pins and even kids-size jerseys of certain countries in order to meet demand.

"Football is the most popular sport in Singapore. It's in our blood, and it won't change. There's nothing like cheering on your team and watching them lift a trophy," he says.