Football: Call to broaden football's base

FAS presidential candidate Lim Kia Tong addressing officials from NFL clubs last month. Affiliates want an end to the "top-down" approach so that talent can be spotted and developed.
FAS presidential candidate Lim Kia Tong addressing officials from NFL clubs last month. Affiliates want an end to the "top-down" approach so that talent can be spotted and developed.TNP FILE PHOTO

Don't just focus on elite but engage schools, community, say FAS affiliates

Although the sport itself has taken a few steps backwards, the upcoming Football Association of Singapore (FAS) election has given the fraternity a chance to give voice to what is wrong with the game and hope that this will translate into change.

With 44 affiliates set to cast their votes on April 29, the polls will usher in a new team of leaders, led either by lawyer Lim Kia Tong or Hougang United chairman Bill Ng, who will be tasked with nursing the game back to health.

The Sunday Times approached all the affiliates for their thoughts on the problems facing Singapore football and their suggested solutions, with 24 of them providing responses.

THE ISSUES

All were unanimous in pointing out that the current way development is handled, with an inverted pyramid showering most of the resources on a handful of elite players, should be rebuilt into a proper broad-based structure with a heavy emphasis on the grassroots scene like the amateur National Football League (NFL).

Rizal Rasudin, chairman of NFL Division 2 club Admiralty CSC, laid bare the level of neglect in the lower echelons of the local game, which sometimes results in referees turning up late for games and floodlights not being turned on.

Often, even the basics - pitches to train and play on - are missing.

Balestier United club manager S. Mogan lamented: "Most of the fields are controlled by social leagues, who block-book the available slots."

Yong Sheau Shyan, who coaches at the Arion Football Academy, one of the 12 community interest groups and women's league teams entitled to vote in the election, noted that the problem is even worse for the women's teams.

She added: "Right now, we are not semi-pro and also not seen as NFL. We have major issues with fields, we can't book public fields.

"We train now at the United World College, which charges $100 per use. Turf City charges $280, which is too expensive. We have zero subsidy from the FAS.

"We can do without luxury but we are asking for the bare essentials, which is a place to train."

The FAS' lack of engagement was another peeve.

Albert Ng, chairman of NFL Division 2 club Kembangan United, said: "(Previously) the FAS never engaged much with the schools and grassroots level, it was not the priority as it focused on the elite. The NFL turned into a social league."

Added Rizal: "The (FAS) people who were in charge were not reaching out to those on the ground."

And this could prove costly especially since talent is limited. Rizal, 36, explained: "If the focus is only on the elite players, you could miss out on the late bloomers."

THE SOLUTIONS

John Yap, chairman of S-League sit-out club Gombak United, said it was time that "elitism is out", referring to the ill-fated decisions to corral the best youngsters and let them play in the LionsXII or the National Football Academy, which led to a lack of competition for them and a subsequent fall in standards.

He touted the benefits of a broad-based approach to talent development, saying: "We need more mass participation across all age groups. Let's look into the schools for talent. Or why not give the NFL top scorer a chance in the S-League? If he is young, he deserves a shot."

Ng, on the other hand, feels FAS needs to take the NFL more seriously as it, too, is a vital part of the pipeline. "We need to make it more competitive," he said. "We need sponsors to help cover costs as we have come up with a lot of our own money and we need good coaches to be here to groom footballers for the eco-system."

With little funding dripping down to the grassroots at present, Lian Kim Fatt, the honorary secretary of the Singapore Government Services Football League, believes reviving the Singapore Business Houses Football League (SBHFL) could be the first step in getting the big companies to flash the cash.

He suggested: "When the Business Houses League closed down, nothing was done to revive it. It was a good league where you could get the companies to support football.

"If you don't give the companies mileage, how can you expect them to come on board as sponsors? That's the best way to get companies interested in football."

From the 1970s to the 1990s, the SBHFL saw the participation of corporate heavyweights like Singapore Aerospace, Maybank, SIA Group and DBS. National players such as Quah Kim Song, Lim Teng Sai and Terry Pathmanathan played for Singapore Press Holdings, while Abdullah Noor, D. Devaraj and Lee Bee Seng represented the now-defunct Imperial Hotel.

WALKING THE TALK

But with Lim's Team LKT having presented their manifesto two weeks ago and Ng's Game Changers set to unveil their mission statement on Thursday evening, a major concern of the fraternity is that the winning party must walk the talk.

"I hope that the FAS will set a clear and realistic direction for Singapore football," said Katong FC chairman Andy Tan. "There should be more communication between the (FAS) top management and the grassroots and (they should) listen to the problems on the ground."

Singtel Recreation Club football convenor Edmund Siow added: "In 1998, there was Goal 2010, where Singapore aspired to reach the World Cup by 2010. We never came close to qualifying and there wasn't sufficient effort to drive this goal.

"I hope to see the right team in place at FAS to drive the change needed and develop a holistic long-term plan and stick to seeing it through successfully."


  • Additional reporting by Alvin Chia, Nicole Chia and John Pravin

Voices from the grassroots

A STRONG MINDSET NEEDED

"You build an expensive facility (Home United Football Academy at Mattar Road) and just because a few residents complain (about the noise), you displace hundreds of kids." ''

R.V. SATHISH NAIDU, manager of NTUC Club

FAS SEEMS UNCONCERNED

"Every year, we pay $200 (to be affiliated to the FAS). But they don't contact us, they don't find out whether we are surviving, they might not even know whether we are still alive."

LIAN KIM FATT, honorary secretary of the Singapore Government Services Football League

NEED MORE HELP

"It's exasperating (receiving little help from the FAS). It's not easy to get training facilities, we had to train in open fields. We hope that more people will care about what we do because we are active in football. We organised the Evergreen Cup (in 2015) which attracted teams from 14 countries. Perhaps to the FAS, it is not so important but they could at least show up at our event to show their support."

GAN CHENG SONG, president of Xin Hua Sports Club (formerly known as the Singapore Chinese Football Club) 

SCHOOLS NOT TAPPED

"Schools are reluctant to start a girls' CCA team, they will not recognise a niche CCA. A lot of people who play women's football feel neglected. If a kid has potential in a certain sport, the kid shouldn't be held back."

YONG SHEAU SHYAN, coach at Arion Football Academy

MAKE S-LEAGUE GREAT AGAIN

"I want to see more local teams playing in the S-League as that will create a bigger pool of players for the national team to choose from."

KOH MUI TEE, general manager of Albirex Niigata

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 09, 2017, with the headline 'Broaden football's base'. Print Edition | Subscribe