News analysis

Football: Team LKT's blueprint for success

Team LKT swept the FAS election as a result of four decisive swing factors

Before Saturday, many in the fraternity had felt that the landmark Football Association of Singapore (FAS) election was too close to call.

An angry and alienated membership, a team who were viewed as incumbents but who sought to distance themselves from the previous unpopular administration, another team who positioned themselves as game changers by promising to shake up the status quo, a controversial $500,000 donation to a foreign organisation and police raids on clubhouses and the FAS. There was enough drama to rival a Hollywood epic, and in the midst of it all, one would have been excused for being unable to distinguish the messages from the sound and fury.

This left many observers anticipating a long-drawn battle lasting several rounds of voting to choose between Team LKT and the Game Changers as the nine-man slates had to win the right to govern Singapore football by a two-thirds majority. That meant securing 30 of the 44 votes at stake.

But Team LKT, led by lawyer and former FAS vice-president Lim Kia Tong, claimed a surprisingly swift victory, capturing the 30 votes required in the first round of voting. It was over in 28 minutes. Team LKT also went on to sweep the individual positions on offer later.

Several factors proved key to the decisive result over Hougang United chairman Bill Ng's slate.

Newly-elected FAS vice-president Teo Hock Seng was a crucial asset for Team LKT. The former Tampines Rovers chairman's standing in the game and renowned passion towards Singapore football gave more clout to the winning team.
Newly-elected FAS vice-president Teo Hock Seng was a crucial asset for Team LKT. The former Tampines Rovers chairman's standing in the game and renowned passion towards Singapore football gave more clout to the winning team. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

These were:

1. A CONSULTATIVE APPROACH DURING THE CAMPAIGN

One of the accusations against the previous FAS administration was that it had ignored the ground. But Team LKT made it a point to engage the affiliates during the campaign, sounding them out over their concerns.

Former Woodlands Wellington general manager R. Vengadasalam, who helped Team LKT rally the grassroots, said that after the FAS called for the election on March 18, Team LKT started walking the ground to hear first-hand the issues that were ailing Singapore football.

The work was split into three groups: Balestier Khalsa chairman S. Thavaneson reached out to the S-League clubs, Venga handled the National Football League (NFL) clubs and former FAS vice-presidents Bernard Tan and Edwin Tong met the community and interest groups. They watched games and meetings with affiliates were often held at night, at coffeeshops across the island, as football was discussed over kopi and roti prata.

"This took place almost every night," recalled Venga. "We had to earn the affiliates' trust and going down to meet them to share our plans was the right approach."

The hard work paid off.

Said Mohd Rafique, Siglap CSC chairman, who gave his vote to Team LKT: "The key point of Team LKT is Lim Kia Tong was willing to listen to everyone and their complaints and adopt a positive attitude towards that.

"Things have become better since the interim council took over. They've given seed money and insurance coverage, and they are trying their best to get facilities for us."

Lim was the head of the interim FAS council which oversaw the FAS from the time the term of the previous council expired last November till March 31.

2. DID THEIR HOMEWORK AND NEVER GAVE UP

Initial projections made by Team LKT indicated that they could secure about 26 votes, leaving them four short of victory.

They thought the Game Changers had about 11 affiliates firmly in their corner, with the rest sitting on the fence. They knew they could not let up and kept hammering their message home.

Thavaneson, now one of four FAS vice-presidents, said: "We were sincere and we kept engaging the unhappy affiliates.

"We have their (the unhappy NFL officials') interests at heart and our sincerity showed. There was no temptation to give up these votes and we kept going to make the last-minute swing (of votes) happen."

3. A LATE APPEAL THAT HIT HOME

One NFL Division 2 official, who declined to be named, was fiercely anti-Team LKT as he felt the previous FAS council - which included several Team LKT members - had neglected the amateur and grassroots scene.

But at 10pm on Friday, the night before the polls, he received a letter from Thavaneson. It was written by Lim and was addressed to all voters. The NFL official said he had a change of heart after reading it.

The salient point of the two-page letter read: "Football needs to send a clear message to Singaporeans. Elect a team that can inspire total trust so that all our important stakeholders can feel confident in partnering with us.

"This trust is very important if the FAS is to have any influence in our community.

"Without this trust, it will be a challenge to get the support and the money that the game needs to operate our leagues, to develop our young players, to raise the standard of our national teams.

"If we lose this trust, we may take years to rebuild it."

4. THE ACE IN THE PACK

Team LKT also had a trump card up their sleeves in Teo Hock Seng, who has been involved in local football for more than four decades and is widely respected within the fraternity. The 71-year-old, now one of Lim's four vice-presidents, was Tampines Rovers' chairman from 2000 to 2015.

During his tenure at the club, in which Tampines won five S-League titles, his magnanimity was legendary. He reportedly dipped into his own pocket to fund the Stags to the tune of $2 million.

The regional managing director of Komoco Motors was equally famous for putting players' welfare at the forefront. Many of them, like former national striker Noh Alam Shah and midfielder Fabian Kwok, found either full-time or part-time employment at Komoco.

Having "The Godfather of Singapore football" on Lim's side was pivotal, said former national goalkeeper Shahril Jantan. "I think that ever since Teo Hock Seng joined them (Team LKT), it makes the team stronger because of the passion he has towards Singapore football. He was their ace card," he said.

And then there was the man himself - Lim.

Noted his running mate Edwin Tong, a fellow lawyer who is also a vice-president: "What, to me, struck home, was Kia Tong came across as sincere and he has determination to implement the points in the manifesto."

It was a simple formula but one that Team LKT calculated and put into action perfectly.

 

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 01, 2017, with the headline 'The blueprint for success'. Print Edition | Subscribe