FAS saga: 'How did Tiong Bahru get so much money?'

Its figures have surprised observers, with expenditure more than double that of S-League club

Computers and documents from the TBFC clubhouse were taken away by investigators last Thursday.
Computers and documents from the TBFC clubhouse were taken away by investigators last Thursday. ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG
FAS general secretary Winston Lee at his first public appearance since CAD probe.

Tiong Bahru Football Club (TBFC) is a modest side playing in the National Football League (NFL), the second tier of Singapore football.

But the amateur club has been in the spotlight for the past week, with the focus on its finances rather than its football.

In documents obtained by The Sunday Times, the club's annual revenue for the year ending March 31 last year was $36.8 million, more than the Football Association of Singapore's (FAS) budget of $35.8 million in the same period. Around $31 million was paid back in jackpot winnings and taxes.

Its income was around $5 million. With a surplus of $698,804, this means the club, which does not pay its players salaries, spent more than $4.3 million. In comparison, a typical S-League club, a professional outfit with salaried players and a clubhouse, operates on a budget of around $2 million a year.







    Spent on staff



TBFC's chairman is Mr Bill Ng. The owner of a private equity firm is leading a team to contest the FAS election this Saturday.

TBFC's figures have surprised observers. A former NFL club official said: "An NFL team requires at most $50,000 to run - if you count equipment, allowances, coaching and match bonuses. How did they get so much money?"

Much of TBFC's income comes from its 29 jackpot machines, housed at its basement clubhouse in People's Park Centre.

Retiree Ng Hong Fatt said of the jackpot machine players: "This place is most crowded during weekends and public holidays. You have to come early or else you'll have no chance of getting a seat. Many people don't want to give up their seats because the staff will serve you food and drinks."

Permits to run jackpot machines are granted by the police and the number of machines is tied to the number of members. TBFC's latest annual returns filed with the Registry of Societies showed it has more than 18,000 members.

A large chunk of its income is spent on employee compensation. Last year, it spent $2.07 million on its staff, including $527,877 on "staff training, uniforms and welfare". About $1.37 million went into salaries and bonuses. Another $108,229 went to "gifts and sponsorships", while "entertainment and refreshment" took up $105,166.

Its clubhouse takes up two adjacent units with an area of 3,735.08 sq ft. It pays $958,955 in rental a year, which means monthly rent comes up to about $21.40 per sq ft (psf).

Real estate agent Goh Kok Leong, who is looking to rent out a unit in the same building, said prices in the People's Park Complex basement range from $12 to $24 psf for a 500 sq ft unit. The rental would go down for larger spaces.

Checks by The Sunday Times showed the landlord is Polygon Ventures, a general wholesale trade company, according to the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority. Polygon's majority shareholder is listed as Ms Bonnie Wong, who is Mr Ng's wife.

Lawyers that The Sunday Times spoke to say there is nothing illegal about renting from one's spouse but that it would be advisable to declare this fact to members of the club.

The club said it spent $169,250 on "football accessories expenses".

That is more than three times the average of an NFL's club spending. TBFC, coached by Hougang United Prime League coach Robert Eziakor, finished fifth in the 10-team NFL last season.

The spotlight first fell on TBFC on April 13 when, at the unveiling of his team's manifesto, Mr Ng said that TBFC had donated $500,000 to the FAS with the intention of helping Singapore football, but that the money had gone to the Asean Football Federation (AFF) instead. He said FAS general secretary Winston Lee had asked for the donation. Mr Lee denied this and produced a letter and cheques to show Mr Ng had knowingly made the donation to the AFF and that it was former FAS president Zainudin Nordin who had asked for the donation.

Mr Ng denied these two claims but has not produced documents to back up his claim.

The donation saga took another twist when local sport governing body Sport Singapore filed a police report last Wednesday about alleged misuse of club funds at TBFC and attempts to delay the audit of some clubs. On Thursday, the Commercial Affairs Department (CAD) raided TBFC, Hougang United, Woodlands Wellington and the FAS office.

Mr Ng is also chairman of Hougang. In 2014, he was tasked to lead a merger between Hougang and Woodlands, but the move was called off after it was deemed unconstitutional.

Mr Ng and Ms Wong, along with Mr Zainudin and Mr Lee, were questioned by the CAD on Friday.

The 2017 NFL was launched yesterday and TBFC are set to kick off their season with a match against Bishan Barx FC on May 7.

At the clubhouse yesterday, staff were seen entering the premises, which had been closed following last Thursday's raid. Shortly after, a sign was put up to indicate that operations would resume today.

The show goes on, even as questions remain.


FAS general secretary Winston Lee at his first public appearance since CAD probe. http://str.sg/4B7z

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 23, 2017, with the headline FAS saga: 'How did Tiong Bahru get so much money?'. Subscribe