Anson Road Stadium



Anson Road Stadium, which has been described as the “Wembley of Malaya”, was a key venue for football in Singapore during the 1920s and 1930s.1 It was initially designed as the centrepiece for the Malaya-Borneo Exhibition in 1922, but subsequently became the home of competitive association football in Singapore, hosting domestic league, tour and Malaya Cup matches from 1924 to 1941. After the end of the Japanese Occupation (1942–45), the stadium grounds were left in a decayed state. The Singapore Conference Hall was built next to the former stadium site in the 1960s following the development of Shenton Way, and the site has now been redeveloped as part of the Marina Bay project.

History and description
Known initially as “The Singapore Stadium”2 and later as simply “The Stadium”,3 Anson Road Stadium was the first purpose-built enclosed arena with grandstands in Singapore.4 Jalan Besar Stadium followed in 19295 and the National Stadium in Kallang in 1973.6


The Stadium was originally a football ground built in the centre of the Malaya-Borneo Exhibition.7 Located on the reclaimed site of Telok Ayer Basin, the exhibition was a regional trade show held from 31 March to 8 April 1922 to showcase the economic achievements of British Malaya and Borneo.8 The British had hoped to stimulate economic growth with this event.9 The original stadium ground was a grass ellipse 450 ft long, 350 ft wide, and surrounded by a 60-foot-wide circular road that provided a public enclosure that would serve as a temporary stadium. The grandstand was 140 ft long, facing northeast, so that spectators would not be bothered by the afternoon sun.10 During the course of the exhibition, football matches were held almost every day at the stadium.11

After the exhibition ended, it was decided to retain the football ground so as to relieve pressure on the Padang.12 Even though the Singapore Cricket Club and the Singapore Recreation Club were willing to permit their grounds on the Padang to be used by the Singapore Football Association (SFA) for special matches, the government did not allow the building of an enclosure and thus the SFA lost revenue. The retention of the enclosed stadium was therefore a significant boost to the funding problems encountered by the SFA.13

Opening
In September 1923, a loan of $25,000 was approved by the Legislative Council to convert the exhibition stadium into a sports venue.14 This enabled the Stadium Association to complete renovation works in 1924.15 The pitch was realigned closer to north-south so that players would not be troubled by the sun’s glare.16 The new stadium officially opened on 19 July 1924 with the opening fixture of the Singapore Cup competition, between the teams representing HMS Iroquois and HMS Pegasus.17 The Singapore Stadium had two grandstands, one seating 600 spectators and the other 400.18

Growth and development
Football became popular as a pastime and as a form of entertainment.19 Spectators paid an entrance fee, or “gate money”, which helped finance the football scene.20


Initially, the charges for admission ranged between five and 50 cents. The five-cent entry allowed a spectator to occupy a 12-foot-high grass bank that surrounded the playing field. Admission charges were quickly increased for the more attractive games, when it was realised how popular the spectator sport was becoming.21 The HMS Malaya Cup final, which was played in Singapore for the first time in 1925, saw entrance charges increase to 20 cents, 50 cents and $1.22 By 1941, the Stadium charged around 50 cents to $2 for a football match.23

A barefoot team from India attracted a full house at the Stadium for the first time in 1924.24 The other priority games featured touring teams such as Batavia (Jakarta), which attracted a crowd in excess of 10,000 in June 1926.25 Games involving the Straits Chinese Football Association (SCFA) and the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment were also popular features. A crowd of 6,303 attended a match between these rivals in 1927.26

The Stadium Association was created with the aim of promoting a variety of games and exercises among the different races and nationalities in Singapore.27 In addition to the league and cup football matches, the Stadium was used for hockey, rugby and as a venue for the sports days of schools such as Raffles Institution,28 Anglo-Chinese School,29 St Joseph’s Institution30 and Gan Eng Seng School.31

Stadium issues
Fences were eventually constructed around the Stadium to keep spectators back from the pitch. The pagar (Malay for “fence”) was 4 ft 6 in (about 1.4 m) high and provided advertising space. A mechanism for counting spectators at entry points was also introduced in 1927.32 Matches were played on Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings.33 The turnstiles worked overtime and the overuse of the ground eventually necessitated enforced off-season closure to allow the pitch to recover. The half-yearly report for the Stadium suggested that 142 games would be played before closure at the end of September.34


Malaya Cup
The first major test of the Stadium’s capacity was in 1925 when the HMS Malaya Cup final was hosted by Singapore for the first time.35 All of the Malaya Cup matches held in Singapore before World War II were played at the Stadium.36


In 18 seasons (1924–1941), Singapore played 49 home games in the Malaya Cup and was undefeated in the division stages.37 A loss suffered in the 1936 final was the first blemish on the home record. Two years later, Singapore lost again to Selangor. Four Malaya Cup finals were staged at the Stadium before the war:

29 Aug 1925:            Singapore 2–1 Selangor    (estimated crowd of 6,000)38
20 Sep 1930:            Singapore 3–0 Selangor    (estimated crowd of 9,000)39
5 Aug 1933:              Singapore 8–2 Selangor    (estimated crowd of 10,000)40
8 Aug 1936:              Singapore 0–1 Selangor    (estimated crowd of 14,000)41
6 Aug 1938:              Singapore 0–1 Selangor    (no crowd estimate)42

Tours
Tour matches were an essential feature of the Stadium’s programme. Inter-port games attracted the biggest crowds, particularly if the SCFA was involved. For example, when the touring Batavia side played the SCFA team in 1927, the Stadium attracted a record crowd of 8,535.43

A year later, the Stadium hosted a series of matches involving a visiting Australia football team and local sides including the all-Malayan eleven, the Chinese-Malay team and an all-European side.44 The events were well-attended. The game in which the Chinese-Malay team defeated the Australians 4–2 saw a crowd well in excess of 7,000.45

During the 1930s and early 1940s, the most popular tour games featured teams from Hong Kong, notably the South China Athletic Association46 and Eastern Athletic Association.47 In 1936, the Stadium hosted matches involving the China Olympic team on its way to Berlin, with crowds exceeding 20,000.48 Touring teams from Europe were also a great attraction for football fans. The Islington Corinthians, who were on a 95-game world tour, played five matches at the Stadium in 1938.49

Closure and redevelopment
In early 1942, the Stadium was the location for army “ack-ack” batteries and Bofors guns, and thus became the target of bombing and shelling carried out by the Japanese invading force.50 After the war, the site was used as an army transport park and dumping ground. Futile efforts were made to rehabilitate what was referred to as the “mother stadium” of the country.51 It was left in a decayed state and between 1946 and the early 1950s, plans to renovate the ground for football or as a national stadium were mooted but nothing was done.52


For many years the stadium site remained a neglected open area. The stadium and the open space by Telok Ayer Basin (now reclaimed53), which had been built on valuable land,54 eventually saw Shenton Way developments sprouting up around it, particularly the Singapore Conference Hall, which was officially opened in 1965.55

Timeline
1922:
Stadium is built as part of the Malaya Borneo Exhibition

1923–1924: Renovation to convert it into a permanent site for competitive football.
18 July 1924: First official match – HMS Iroquois versus HMS Pegasus – played at the Stadium.
1936: Singapore entertains the China Olympic Football team.
1938: Islington Corinthians visit Singapore and Malaya, playing five games at the stadium.
1942: Stadium is used as site of gun emplacements before the Japanese Occupation.
1945: Stadium becomes dumping area for postwar waste.
1947–1949: Plans made to enlarge scale of development of the stadium, but subsequently rejected.
1951: Shenton Way is opened.
1965: Singapore Conference Hall is built adjacent to the former stadium site.
2015: Redevelopment of site as part of the ongoing Marina Bay New Growth project.56

Appendix

Malaya Cup games played at the Anson Road Stadium (1924–1941)
2 Aug 1924:             Singapore     5–0     Negri Sembilan57

22 Aug 1925:           Singapore     7–1     Malacca58
29 Aug 1925:           Singapore     2–1     Selangor (final)59
21 Aug 1926:           Singapore     9–1     Negri Sembilan60
16 Jul 1927:             Singapore     5–0     Malacca61
18 Aug 1928:           Singapore     8–2     Negri Sembilan62
17 Aug 1929:           Singapore     5–0     Malacca63
23 Aug 1929:           Singapore     4–2     Johor64
31 Aug 1929:           Singapore     2–2     Selangor (final)65
18 Jul 1930:             Singapore     6–0     Johor66
26 Jul 1930:             Singapore     2–0     Negri Sembilan67
20 Sep 1930:            Singapore     3–0     Selangor (final)68
10 Jul 1931:             Singapore     7–0     Johor69
18 Jul 1931:             Singapore     3–3     Malacca70
17 Jun 1932:            Singapore     7–1     Johor71
16 Jul 1932:             Singapore     4–1     Negri Sembilan72
29 Jul 1932:             Singapore     2–1     Malaya Command73
23 Jun 1933:            Singapore     7–1     Johor74
8 Jul 1933:               Singapore     7–0     Malacca75
22 Jul 1933:             Singapore     2–0     Malaya Command76
5 Aug 1933:             Singapore     8–2     Selangor (final)77
29 Jun 1934:            Singapore     9–0     Johor78
7 Jul 1934:               Singapore     4–0     Negri Sembilan79
21 Jul 1934:             Singapore     2–2     Malaya Command80
21 Jun 1935:            Singapore     8–0     Johor81
6 Jul 1935:               Singapore     7–1     Malacca82
20 Jul 1935:             Singapore     2–2     Combined Services83
29 May 1936:            Singapore     6–0     Johor84
4 Jul 1936:               Singapore     4–0     Negri Sembilan85
25 Jul 1936:             Singapore     4–1     Combined Services86
8 Aug 1936:             Singapore     0–1     Selangor (final)87
19 Jun 1937:            Singapore     4–0     Malacca88
9 Jul 1937:               Singapore     5–1     Johor89
24 Jul 1937:             Singapore     2–1     Combined Services90
18 Jun 1938:            Singapore     3–2     Negri Sembilan91
8 Jul 1938:               Singapore     5–0     Johor92
16 Jul 1938:             Singapore     2–2     Combined Services93
23 Jul 1938:             Singapore     1–0     Combined Services94
6 Aug 1938:             Singapore     0–1     Selangor (final)95
23 Jun 1939:            Singapore     3–2     Johor96
8 Jul 1939:               Singapore     5–1     Malacca97
22 Jul 1939:             Singapore     1–0     Combined Services98
6 Jul 1940:               Singapore     4–1     Negri Sembilan99
19 Jul 1940:             Singapore     3–0     RAF (Royal Air Force)100
27 Jul 1940:             Singapore     3–3     Army101
13 Jun 1941:            Singapore     5–0     Johor102
5 Jul 1941:               Singapore     6–0     Malacca103
18 Jul 1941:             Singapore      1–0     RAF104
26 Jul 1941:             Singapore      1–1     Army105



Author
Nick Aplin



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The information in this article is valid as at 29 September 2016 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

 

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