He started as a helper in 2012 coaching an amateur football team that comprised mainly of teens aged 12 to 17.
Two years later, he took over as coach and began recruiting much younger boys. Within months, he sexually assaulted them.
For sexually abusing seven boys between the ages of eight and 11, Bernard Tan Meng Soon was sentenced by the High Court yesterday to 26 years in jail and 24 strokes of the cane after pleading guilty to five charges of sexual assault by penetration, with 20 other charges taken into consideration.
He has been in custody since his arrest on Oct 1, 2015.
To recruit young boys for the team, Tan created and distributed pamphlets outside primary schools and in neighbourhoods in the north-west of Singapore.
By 2015, most of the team members were primary school boys aged 12 or below. Tan, 28, who was diagnosed a paedophile in 2016, had committed the offences from 2014 through September 2015.
In seeking a sentence of at least 27 years in jail and 24 cane strokes, the prosecution noted that Tan's "risk of reoffending has been assessed as at least moderate to high". He deliberately sought to isolate the boys in public places like toilet cubicles, where he would perform oral sex on them and "gratify his own perverse desires".
Tan, who was diagnosed as having low IQ as a child, told the court yesterday: "I know I have done wrong." His lawyer Wee Hong Shern said Tan himself was sodomised by a bus driver when he was 15. He argued that Tan's offences were "not as egregious" as none had involved penetration.
But Justice Valerie Thean said "the aggravating factors are the abuse of his position of trust as a football coach, his premeditation in using the guise of the football club, advertising through fliers and engaging with parents, and the extreme youth of the victims, as young as eight years old. Key here is the vulnerability of the victims and the degree of exploitation involved".
Justice Thean added that Tan has no mental disability and understood what he did, and the nature and consequences of his acts.
But she also noted that his guilty plea saved "the extremely young victims the trauma of a trial".
Tan's modus operandi was to pick up some of the boys from their homes and send them back after training, to get their parents' permission to join the team. Investigators found 13 videos of Tan performing oral sex on a boy in his Facebook Messenger account.
One of his victims, a 10-year-old boy at the time, was lured to a nursing room at Bukit Panjang Plaza where Tan first performed an oral sex act on him on Aug 17, 2015. Not understanding why Tan was doing it, the boy decided to count silently until 250 before Tan finally stopped, the prosecutors said.
After the boy had been sexually assaulted on eight more occasions in two months, he told his parents on Sept 24, 2015, that he did not want to go for further football training. On further questioning, he revealed what Tan had been doing. The next day, the parents lodged a police report, and Tan was arrested at his home.