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Official Review by Sean MacDonald, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
The Singapore Cricket Club was established in 1852 and is now one of the premier social clubs in this small island nation. For the average person, there is little chance of getting into the Club without a member’s invite, but every year they host an international sporting event that is open to the public, namely the SCC International Rugby Sevens.
First contested in 1948, the tournament has grown in popularity since and is now one of the top international club competitions in Asia, with teams coming from around the world. This year saw 20 clubs from countries including England, Sweden, Kenya, and Fiji, playing over three days on the first weekend in November.
As a bonus, the Asia Rugby Sevens held their World Cup Qualifying tournament at the same time, with 12 national squads doing battle on Friday and Saturday afternoon, looking to get one of three Asian spots in the summer 2013 event in Moscow. Add on a college tournament and even one for the kids, and there is rugby galore at the SCC.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
There is one fairly large eating area with five local restaurants providing decent fare. Fish & chips, Mexican food such as tacos and quesadillas, pies, kebabs, and burgers were available and a meal would generally cost S$10, about the same as you would pay outside. There were a few tables where you could sit and a television was nearby if you wanted to follow the action. I sampled three of the five eateries over the weekend and was suitably impressed by the chicken pot pie, which was also the cheapest option at S$6.
There was an extensive drinks menu, although it was slightly overpriced with cans of beer going for S$9. Refillable jugs were a more popular option but at S$40, not a huge savings over the option of going one at a time. Wine and spirits were also available. There were three bars around the ground, making it easy to grab a drink wherever you were sitting.
This event is not like a typical sports match, which takes place over a few hours. There were at least 10 hours of rugby every day for 3 days and naturally the atmosphere would change depending on the weather, the teams on the field, and the amount of beer imbibed. In particular, when the Asian qualifying was being held, few fans seemed to be particularly involved in the action on the field, mainly because most of them had traveled there to support one of the clubs participating in the other tournament. So when the club competition got going, there was far more cheering and fan participation. One nice touch is that when a team was eliminated from the knockout stages, they performed a lap of honor and were cheered by fans.
Rugby 7s is a fast paced game, with two halves of seven minutes each and a halftime of about 2 minutes. With just 20 minutes scheduled for each match, there was no rest for fans, with the next game's teams racing onto the field before the players from the previous match had even left. There was something going on at all times, even during a long delay caused by a massive thunderstorm, when a DJ played music to keep fans entertained, with many singing along to old hits like Sweet Caroline and Dancing Queen.
The Singapore afternoon can be very hot and although the seating area is covered by a plastic roof with a few fans attached to circulate the air, it still very steamy. Wear shorts and a t-shirt if you can.
The SCC is located right downtown, next to the central business district. A few minutes away is Boat Quay Singapore's major nightlife spot. Here you will find countless bars next to the river, most with plenty of TV screens with sport showing at all times.
Further along you will reach Clarke Quay, with Asia's first Hooters branch being the prime attraction for sports fans. If you walk the other way towards Marina Bay (where the Formula 1 race is held every September), you will find shopping malls such as Suntec City and Marina Square, as well the main arts facility at the Esplanade. In other words, there is no shortage of things to see and do around the Singapore Cricket Club. With re-entry allowed at any time, you would have no problem taking a break from the rugby to grab some lunch and air conditioning at a nearby mall or restaurant.
There were fans from all over the world and they made lots of noise when a team from their country was on the field. Even when the game featured two teams from other nations, they watched politely, cheering the great plays and laughing at the more embarrassing errors. When it was announced that the president of one club was celebrating his 60th birthday, the crowd broke out in an impromptu rendition of Happy Birthday. It was good fun for all in attendance.
The highlight might have been the hour-long rain delay during which the field was simply inundated with water. Many fans took advantage of a rare opportunity to strip down to their skivvies and run onto the field, sliding face first. The grounds crew did not seem to mind, so those of us who prefer to stay dry were entertained for a while by the sight of several lads body boarding on grass. When Gangnam Style was played, a few fans tried to impress with the dance steps now famous worldwide. It is certainly not something that would happen in a regular venue, where field access is restricted, and really added to the overall experience.
The SCC is close to City Hall MRT station and the main entrance is along St. Andrew's Road. You cannot enter the club itself as it is still members-only. After entering and having your wrist stamped for re-entry purposes, you will first reach the Food & Beverage area mentioned above. Next to here are the sponsors stands; the public stands are around the other side and take a couple of minutes to get to. There are about 7,000 temporary seats installed for this event (the same seats used in the F1 race, interestingly) and they are not very comfortable and provide little legroom. The first row might be the best spot to sit for this reason.
I spent some time standing right behind one of the goals and found that to be a great spot to watch, particularly when the action is right in front of you. Most of the photographers had set up here but there was still plenty of room for fans to stand there as well. Seeing players fight for a try just a few feet away is an experience that you cannot get elsewhere so it is well worth spending some time here if it isn't too hot and sunny.
There is a large TV screen at one end of the field that shows replays, so you might want to sit close to that if you are interested in following the games closely.
Toilets are of the porta-potty variety, with a few next to the public stands and many more next to the Food and Beverage area.
The main problem with this setup is that there is little escape from a rainstorm. The wind blows the rain into the top and bottom rows of the stands, and the ground becomes drenched. Walking from one end to the other becomes a thoroughly unpleasant experience, as muddy water pops up between the cracks in the plastic path that you are forced to use, soaking your shoes.
Despite the F&B area being covered, the grassy area therein becomes a mud pit and there is no way around it if you want to use a toilet. It rains quite regularly in Singapore during this time of year, and both Saturday and Sunday saw precipitation, with Sunday's thunderstorm causing an hour delay and forcing two matches to be cancelled. Bring an umbrella if you plan to stay a while and want to stay dry.
A three-day general admission ticket costs S$70 (US $57), which is a bit much given the lack of infrastructure. There were discounts of 20% available if you had certain promotion codes provided by a sponsor or local rugby club, but even S$56 is slightly overpriced in my mind. With the price of beer also a bit on the high side and the limited food selection, the ROI is not as high as I had anticipated.
Still, you do get three full days of quality rugby. What I found most interesting was that the club sides from Australia, Fiji (the eventual winner, defending their title), New Zealand and other rugby playing nations were better than the national sides from most of Asia. This makes sense when you think about it though, as the sport is relatively new here and most of these players did not grow up playing the game. In fact, many of the players from Hong Kong and Japan, the top two Asian participants, are from elsewhere.
At one end of the field is the Guinness Bar, a large covered bar with waitress service. Many fans spent their afternoon here, chatting with friends as the weekend is as much a social gathering as a sporting event.
The view of the skyline from the public stands is fantastic and merits a point.
Rugby 7s is becoming very popular worldwide and will be part of the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. It is a markedly different game than rugby union, faster and with more scoring despite a regulation match lasting just 14 minutes. There may not be many opportunities to see some of the best clubs in the world playing at one event, but if you happen to be in Singapore in early November, make your way to the SCC and enjoy one of the more entertaining sporting events that you can witness.
**Follow all of Sean's journeys at Sports Road Trips.
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