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Our Very Own Swannies: Albirex Niigata (S) writes its next chapter

Back in March 2022, the FAS announced our Singapore Women’s National Team squad for the Tri-Nations friendlies and in that list, there was a surprise inclusion. Unsurprisingly, Nadhra Aqilah was called up but the FAS reflected her current club as Albirex Niigata Singapore. As soon as that post was published, ripples of conversation were sparked. It was not yet announced that the Swans will have a Women Team which will also compete in the Women Premier League in the 2022 season. Yet, my excitement only grew.

Fans were excited to hear that the Swans finally have a women team which further stapled their involvement in development of Singapore Football. It was also announced that the squad will abide with the regulation set by the WPL which mean only a maximum of 4 foreigner could be registered. This mean the bulk of the squad will be made up of our Singaporean girls. However, the excitement was dashed quite a bit with the announcement that all games will be place in Yishun Stadium no matter will it be a home or away game. Furthermore, some of the game’s clashes with the men team fixture which makes it difficult to come down and support our girls.

Expectation was not high as it is the Swannies maiden season. We were given a reality check early on the 2022 season. The Swannies fell to two defeats in their opening two games as we faced two of the strongest team in the WPL in the form of Tanjong Pagar United and Lion City Sailors. Despite the defeats there was a beckon of hope as Nadhra scored in both matches to give the Swan Army something to cheer about. Nadhra very soon became the poster girl of Albirex Women Football with her being a regular selection in the national setup, while also displays passion and skills whenever she puts on the Swannie jersey. It was her yet again as Swannies won their first ever point with Nadhra scoring in the final minutes of the game.  

The team were officially announced on the morning of May 3rd and it officially marked a new era of Albirex Women Football. Newly appointed club captain Tina Afrinda, winger Nadhra Aqilah, defender Nur Emilia Natasha, and both goalkeepers Maisarah Ramat and Nurul Radiatul Ain, were unveiled at the Jurong East Stadium. Wearing their new Albirex kits for the 2022 WPL season, they were soon dubbed the Swannies by their fellow players. Not long after, the fans hopped onto the bandwagon and also began to label them by their new nickname.

Despite the thrill generated from the formation of the Swannies (because it represented the evolution of Albirex Niigata Singapore), it did not yet like a traditional Albirex side. Why? At the time there wasn’t any Japanese player turning out for the Swannies and this was something that bugged me abit. So, I decided to do something about it.

During one of YAFA training session, I took the opportunity to speak with club president Mr Daisuke Korenaga. I thanked him for helping our football ecosystem by establishing a Women’s Team and expressed how the Swan Army will continue to support the Swannies in as many games as we could. I did bring up the lack of Japanese players in the Women’s team which made it feel different. In response, he thanked me for my support and revealed that that he was in the process of bringing a Japanese International and former World Cup player to the team soon. The news came as a complete surprise and I stood in awe as I began to contemplate who that player was. It wasn’t long before we found out.

On the 6th of July the Swannies announced the signing of an absolute Japanese Star. Former World Cup and Japanese National player, Kana Kitahara, was acquired by Albirex Niigata Singapore and it was news that not only sent shockwaves through the Swan Army but the entire Singapore football fraternity. While the announcement mentioned that Kana will only make her debut from the end of July, we were eagerly awaiting for her to make her bow. Kana’s signing and subsequent training sessions clearly lifted the spirits of our Swannies. They ran riot in the following two games as they beat Hougang and Still Aerion, 5-1, in back-to-back succession. It seemed like Albirex were delivering a statement of intent to the rest of the league as the Swannies began their ascendency up the table. Mind you, this was all before Kana even made her debut.

Unfortunately, during the Still Aerion match Nadhra suffered a serious knee injury in the 5th minute and had to be stretchered off the pitch. The severity of the injury was not known till further scans where done. Our worst fears were confirmed when it was revealed that she suffered an ACL injury. The Swan Army was dejected by the news but we came down in numbers for subsequent games to stand in solidarity with Nadhra. We came down in subsequent matches and sang a chant we prepared for her. From the concrete stands, we sang her name loudly to remind her teammates there was another reason they had to claim three points.

Then, after a long wait, it finally happened. Kana made her debut in style for the Swannies game against Tiong Bahru. As if on cue, Kana began her WPL life with a bang and the Japanese talisman scored a brace as the Swannies came from behind to win a difficult fixture. With the win we called on our Swannies to do the Loco Loco for the first time as we celebrated together.

For the start of round two of the WPL. We took on established side and local rival Tanjong Pagar, the result of which may have shaped the prospect of our season. The Swannies were hit with a combination of suspensions, injuries and covid-19 infections. It meant a depleted squad for the evening. However, our Swannies hit first with a point-blank shot by striker Izah from close range, following a freekick from winger Sarah. The Jaguars hit back before the break to bring the score line 1-1. During the second half the Swannies absorbed multiple Tanjong Pagar attacks with our custodian Sara pulling off save after save to keep us in the game. The fixture seemed like it was headed for a draw when Kana won a freekick 30 yards from the box. Debutant Lauren Reese from Wales stepped up and launched a powerful freekick towards the far post, which was met by our very own Kana Kitahara. It seemed like the Footballing Gods planned for it to be her as we claimed three points in the dying minutes yet again.

Racking up the wins meant that our Swannies were beaming with confidence and we surely needed it as we faced off off against Lion City Sailors in what was a blockbuster fixture. The clash in fixture schedules meant that the Swan Army regrettably could not come down and support our ladies. Our Swannies would ultimately lose 4-0 but despite the defeat, there were a lot of positives from the match that could be built from moving forward.

Of course, the Swannies are not a finished article and much more efforts are required to raise the standards so that we can help materialize our title aspirations in the WPL. Nevertheless, we are moving in the right direction. As more fans join us each game to support our Swannies, we can only hope that the WPL will have a better schedule and format for the league come 2023.

Where will we see our Swannies finish their maiden flight? I don’t want to speculate but we certainly hope to aim high as possible. What is sure to be us that no matter where we are we will be shouting for our ladies…

…Swannies Lai Lai Lai

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