Simple Simon’s ‘Arena’ dream comes true

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THEY say “Who Dares Win”, a famous line made popular by the iconic British Special Air Service (SAS).

Simon Tan ranks as a role-model example of the Singapore version, who dared to chase his dream of having a multi-sport complex that would be just nice for dad, mum, son, daughter and the family entity.

He cracked his head for over two years to find the right place in land-scarced Singapore of a dream-come-true place, out of the congested urban landscape, And finally, he found in a little corner of central Singapore, along the quiet and serene greenery of Woodleigh Park, off Braddell Road, what he called the “most perfect place”.

It started his passionate vision of having Singapore’s first football thematic lifestyle destination, which even impressed Manchester United legends Gary Neville and Ryan Giggs, to come aboard in an exclusive partnership.

Welcome to ‘The Arena’, a stylish new spanking sports park which also incorporates Singapore’s first Cafe Football, which formally opened on Saturday, April 8.

Refurbished at over $1million, it’s an overhaul of the old Public Utilities Board (PUB) Recreation Club and in the midst of the black and while Colonial-styled bungalows, emerges a wonderful sporting hub, which has been the talk of Singaporeans since it had a soft-opening, beginning of the year.

“It’s something Singaporeans will relish, in family-style, as we offer a wide variety of sports and fitness options,” says Managing Director Simon Tan, a pilot-turned-businessman, with a genuine heart of football.  “The inclusion of a full-fledged restaurant completes the experience as it allows our customers, their family and friends, to come together in one venue to engage in sports, food, events and activities.”

QUALITY FOOTBALL PITCHES

Aside from top-quality football pitches, ‘The Arena’ caters to fitness enthusiasts with fitness studios where programmes such as Muay Thai, Aerial Yoga, Rock Climbing, Dance and Functional Fitness are eye-catching alternatives to football.

In a wonderful nutshell, the Simon Tan-formula reads: Football + Fitness + Food = The Arena.

“You could call ‘The Arena’ a football partnership, built by footballers for the family of footballers,” says the bubbly Simon, who played professional football for Balestier United, when the S-League started in 1996.

But his journey towards achieving his dream has not been a bed of proverbial roses. He confidentially revealed that he and his team faced countless rejections and setbacks along the way, and battled constantly with self-doubt and uncertainty.

Bigger headaches and heartaches were to come. During that period, Tan, who is married with no children, was unemployed. He had to cut back on his expenses while relying on his savings to tide him through.

Inevitably, tears welled in his eyes at the official opening of The Arena by the sports-loving Dr Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim, Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Education & Ministry of Social and Family Development

“Yes, you can say ‘who dares wins’ and it gives me tremendous pleasure to bring to Singaporeans ‘The Arena’,”  Simon says. “We now want Singaporeans to experience a real sense of community within the fans-fraternity and we want that fun atmosphere to spread to Café Football, where it will be a place that reflects the spirit of fans coming together after a match or a fitness-workout”.

Describing itself as a ‘football-thematic lifestyle destination’, The Arena not only boasts one 11-a-side, two seven-a-side and three five-a-side pitches on its 1.86-hectare premises, but also various fitness studios, a rock-climbing wall and a boxing gym.

It also features the first-ever Cafe Football in Asia.

MANCHESTER UNITED STARS

The distinct feather-in-the-cap is the football-themed restaurant franchise is a business venture between real-estate firm Rowsley Limited and former Manchester United stars Ryan Giggs and Gary Neville, who were both present at the opening of The Arena.

Former Manchester United captain Neville, who recently opened a similar café in London, adds: “Opening a restaurant is a huge step away from our lives on the pitch, but we are going to apply the same levels of enthusiasm and passion to try and make Café Football a success in London and Singapore.”

Yes, food and football are a delicious combination as former England team mate David Beckham is already in the London restaurant business, having opened his Union Street Café in Southwark, in collaboration with famous chef Gordon Ramsay.

Simon also salutes his closest friends Derrick Goh and Russell Goh for their “absolute teamwork and partnership”. He says: “My friends – Derrick and Russell  – who are now my partners, were also there for me throughout. Their continuous support was another key factor in helping make my dream of The Arena come true.”

According to Simon, Singaporeans are appreciating the “big gamble” he took to bring to the door-steps a refreshingly special “bola” sensation – the first football thematic lifestyle destination in Singapore.

Yes, food and football are a delicious combination as Neville’s former England team mate David Beckham is already in the London restaurant business, having opened his Union Street Café in Southwark, in collaboration with famous chef Gordon Ramsay.

Simon gave the thumbs-up and said business has steadily increased over the past four months, since the soft-launch in January. Their bottom line has also been helped by securing two football schools – the JSSL Singapore academy and the Real Madrid Foundation – as their long-term clients.

He has more pragmatic dreams to boost Singapore football. One of Simon’s pragmatic aims for The Arena is to also to use the facility to give back to local football and in particular, to Singapore’s ex-internationals.

SALUTE TO LIONS

Former Lions enjoy discounts when they dine at Cafe Football, and also get free use of the football pitches at selected timings. He adds: “There is a lack of recognition for these players who fought for the country on the pitch and gave us fans so many good times in the past.

“So one of my goals for these players is to use and enjoy the facililty. Eventually, I want this place to be the home of the ex-Singapore internationals, as they’re seldom recognised for their past contributions to football. We must treat them like respectable football heroes.

“For example, one of the first people I asked to join me was (former national captain) Razali Saad, who is now our general manager. I’ve also given business to Malek Awab (who works for a sports goods company) by buying Molten footballs (from his company) for The Arena. You can be rest assured that I will try to help them out using The Arena as a medium.”

Drop by The Arena to experience the special “bola” sensation – the first football thematic lifestyle destination in Singapore.

Situated just alongside the Braddell/Bartley Road Viaduct, and accessible by various forms of public transport: Woodleigh MRT Station (seven minutes by foot), Serangoon MRT Station (three minutes bus ride), Bishan MRT Station (10 minutes bus ride) and Toa Payoh MRT Station (15 minutes bus ride).

More information available by calling 6717 8228 or to check The Arena, at 48 Woodleigh Park, Singapore 357844 by clicking  thearenasg.com

Congratulations, Simon Tan, you dare to be different and I trust you will succeed, just by going on the inspiring  SAS principle: Who Dares Wins.

Suresh Nair is a Singapore-based journalist who was at Saturday’s official opening of ‘The Arena’. He ranks it as an absolute money-for-value spanking sports park, which also incorporates Singapore’s first Cafe Football