Football: Mixed reactions to S-League funding cut

John Yap (left), chairman of Gombak United, says he is still keen on returning but his Tanjong Pagar United counterpart, Edward Liu, said his team will not be able to return next year.
John Yap (left), chairman of Gombak United, says he is still keen on returning but his Tanjong Pagar United counterpart, Edward Liu, said his team will not be able to return next year.PHOTO: BERITA HARIAN / THE BUSINESS TIMES

Gombak keen to return to S-League, Tg Pagar can't afford to; players uncertain about future

Two clubs who were eyeing a return to the S-League have had mixed reactions to news that funding for the ailing competition looks set to be halved.

John Yap, chairman of Gombak United, says he is still keen on returning but his Tanjong Pagar United counterpart, Edward Liu, said his team will not be able to return next year. Gombak have sat out of the league since 2013 and Tanjong Pagar since 2015.

On Friday, The Straits Times reported that the S-League - Singapore's only professional sports league - will see its annual funding from the Tote Board drop from $16 million to $8.5 million.

While the news was greeted with shock and horror, Yap sees the move as a chance for the league to make a fresh start.

He said: "Singapore football has not been doing well, but this can be Ground Zero for the league to build up again. Good still can be done and I want to view this positively.

"This may even be better for the league as it'll show the more committed players coming forward. I'm still for the idea of coming back."

But Liu, 68, voiced his concerns over the funding issue. Like others, he cited a "double whammy" in terms of "both the jackpot machines and the funding from the Football Association of Singapore (FAS)" being cut.

 

"The plan was to come back but we will need to see what the FAS plans to do. We need $1 million to $1.5 million (yearly) to run a team and we don't have money from sponsors, so it's a challenge," he said.

"It'll be difficult to get back, we can't simply raise a million dollars. We can't get back next year, unless we get X number of sponsors to help fill the void. Since we're short of that I don't see how we can get back, unless FAS finds a solution."

The news also put players and coaches in a spot over their careers.

The S-League is facing tough choices like potentially shutting the 21-year-old league down for a year while it undergoes a makeover or turning it into a semi-professional competition.

Veteran national goalkeeper Hassan Sunny, 33, admitted: "It would jeopardise our careers. We'd have to see if it's sufficient for us. We might need to look at other opportunities like playing overseas or getting another job."

He also believes that "it's not good" for those contemplating turning pro in Singapore.

But some, like Gerald Ting, 18, are still keen to pursue football as a career. The Hougang United player said: "Football is something I am passionate about."

However, he is not ignoring his studies at the Institute of Technical Education (College Central) and is intent on doing well in his fitness training course, so he has a back-up in case football does not pan out as a career choice.

Hougang coach Philippe Aw, 40, is remaining calm for now. He said:"If funding is cut, then of course (there's the fear of being cut)... If it happens, you've got to accept it and find ways to survive, it's the same as any other trade."

However, like Yap, he also feels there could be a silver lining. He said: "We should export our best players. It'll expose them to tougher leagues and help our national cause. Here, it's too comfortable and they can't match other internationals.

"It'll also give more opportunities for young players to add more numbers to the pool to choose from."

Clubs also agreed that they need to do things differently if they are to survive.

Aw said: "We have to do things properly, need to put in the effort... then sponsors would look and go, 'I want to put my money in'."

Albirex Niigata general manager Koh Mui Tee, 47, added: "Clubs have to work harder to find more money. We have to look at costs and look for a more creative source. Money doesn't drop from the sky."

Although the news is hard to stomach, all parties agreed that they need to stay positive.

Koh added: "I think it's a message from Sport Singapore and Tote Board telling us to work hard for the money, not just sit there and wait for subsidies. We have to show results and take it positively."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 10, 2017, with the headline 'Mixed reactions to funding cut'. Print Edition | Subscribe