Football: Jaguars confident of S-League return by 2019

Tanjong Pagar United celebrating a goal in the S-League in 2013. The Jaguars may return to the competition as early as next year.
Tanjong Pagar United celebrating a goal in the S-League in 2013. The Jaguars may return to the competition as early as next year. TNP FILE PHOTO

Tanjong Pagar United is targeting a return to the S-League within the next two years.

In response to news that the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) will require football clubs with existing jackpot operations to field a team in the S-League, Jaguars chairman Edward Liu told The Straits Times (ST) yesterday: "We're committed. We always knew that it would be a matter of time before we returned to the S-League.

"Our management team have been talking and planning for it. The earliest we will return is next year. But given a choice, we're more comfortable to go back in 2019."

But the 68-year-old noted the hurdles the club has to overcome in order to ensure that its return this time would not be a short-lived one.

The club sat out the 2005 season due to financial problems. It rejoined the S-League in 2011 but withdrew after the 2014 season.

According to Liu, a former FAS council member, Tanjong Pagar still needs $350,000 to $500,000 to form a professional outfit.

S-League clubs typically operate on annual budgets of at least $1.2 million.

  • 2014

  • The last year Tanjong Pagar featured in the S-League.

He said that the club receives a profit of $300,000 to $400,000 each year through its 18 jackpot machines at its clubhouse in Taman Jurong Shopping Centre.

The surplus would go towards funding its various involvements in football. It fields a team in the Women's Premier League, and also organises community outreach programmes in Queenstown.

Liu, who is also the patron of Queenstown Citizens' Consultative Committee, will not just be waiting to receive funding from the FAS.

He said: "I have been appealing to corporations to chip in any amount. No doubt that we manage clubhouse and jackpot operations, but they are not sufficient for us to maintain and support a team of professional players and coaches.

"We don't want to be back for just one year and then pull out again."

The news about the latest FAS move, however, drew a frustrated response from Sinchi FC's vice-president Wang Jinhui.

He claimed that the only reason the dormant club is still running jackpot operations is because it wants to repay the debt owed to its chairman Lee Tee Eng.

Sinchi, who played in the S-League from 2003 to 2005, were made up mostly of Chinese nationals.

To date, Wang said the club still owes Lee, a 65-year-old Singaporean businesswoman, $170,000. The debt amounted to about $500,000 when Sinchi ceased playing in 2005.

The club earns about $10,000 in profit each year from operating six jackpot machines at Sultan Plaza, Wang said. But in some months, the amount earned is significantly less, he claimed. For instance, last month, it made just $900 in revenue and incurred a loss of more than $10,000, according to Wang.

Wang, a 56-year-old Tianjin native who became a Singapore citizen in 2006, told ST: "We have contributed a lot to Singapore football in the past through our connections in China. Our players Qiu Li and Shi Jiayi eventually went on to play for the (Singapore) national team.

"We're not in this to earn profit for ourselves and it's not for any personal gain at all. We just want to keep our promise to her (Lee). We want to be accountable to her because even though she did not know much about football, she had poured in so much support for us in the past."

Wang hopes to talk to the new FAS council so that it understands the background of the club and intent of Sinchi's jackpot operations.

While he did not rule out the possibility of a return to the S-League, Wang believes it is not feasible because it simply cannot afford to draft players from China now.

He said: "There's a possibility we would return. But the landscape of Chinese football has changed a lot in the last 10 years, with the value of Chinese players increasing by so much. So how possible is it now?"

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 26, 2017, with the headline Football: Jaguars confident of S-League return by 2019. Subscribe