Football: New leaders have plenty of issues to fix, say stakeholders

Attendances at S-League matches have fallen over the years. To win back the fans, increase the local talent pool and add more clubs to the league, said former players, coaches and officials.
Attendances at S-League matches have fallen over the years. To win back the fans, increase the local talent pool and add more clubs to the league, said former players, coaches and officials.THE NEW PAPER FILE PHOTO

Armed with a strong mandate, the new Football Association of Singapore (FAS) council will now be judged on putting their pre-election pledges into practice as the community waits expectantly for the reforms it was promised.

There are a multitude of issues to fix, said players, coaches, officials and fans The Sunday Times spoke to yesterday. Grassroots football might form the base of the football pyramid but its role, often neglected in the past, must be recognised and improved, they said.

Mr Mohd Rafique, chairman of National Football League (NFL) Division One side Siglap CSC and one of 30 affiliates who voted for Mr Lim Kia Tong's Team LKT, said help must go beyond the NFL.

From 2015 to last year, the FAS spent about $8 million on the various national teams' training costs. During the same period, it spent about $250,000 on grassroots football. Mr Rafique said: "It has to go from the bottom up. We cannot identify only one department as the missing component; we have to take it as a group. That means the grassroots, the mid-tiers of secondary schools and then the NFL and then the professional clubs. We have to take it as a package to improve every component."

Professional players sit on the opposite end but they, too, have felt unfairly treated. The practice of low wages and 11-month contracts must be outlawed, said former Lions striker Noh Alam Shah.

FOCUS ON LOCAL TALENT

The focus should be on the S-League. Our talent should be in the S-League. Because it's a local league, and if you don't take care of your players or want to keep the talent in your local league, then who's going to watch the games? ''

HOUGANG UNITED MIDFIELDER FABIAN KWOK

"My wish is that players' welfare will really be taken care of and they can feel like a star so they can operate like a star."

With former national captain Razali Saad now one of four FAS vice-presidents, there is hope of better communication.

Former national goalkeeper Shahril Jantan wanted a monthly dialogue between council members and players. He said: "Not all the proposals brought up during these sessions may materialise, but it's important for the players to realise someone is listening. He (Razali) represents the players. He shares their worries and sentiments, and can understand the current players."

The previous administration was distracted by external projects such as the Malaysian Super League and Asean Super League to the detriment of the S-League, said Hougang United midfielder Fabian Kwok.

"The focus should be on the S-League," he said. "Our talent should be in it. Because it's a local league, and if you don't take care of your players or want to keep the talent in your local league, then who's going to watch the games?"

Revitalising the S-League is a major project, said Balestier Khalsa team manager Cheng Tim Nee. He said the new council should look at adding more local clubs.

"There needs to be a wider base of local players. The current pool of players is too small and there is not enough talent coming through. The council needs to meet and plan ahead for the new season."

Crowd attendances have fallen over the years and some fans wondered if Mr Lim's victory would change things, given that he, his new deputy president Bernard Tan and vice-president Edwin Tong were former FAS vice-presidents.

Sales manager Calvin Tham said: "There are some new faces on the council but a majority of them are the same old people who have been involved. I'm unhappy about the outcome because all these old-timers are still there. Looking at the past records, I don't think much change can happen."

But many of the affiliates who voted yesterday disagreed and felt Mr Lim and his team should be given the benefit of the doubt.

Warriors FC general manager Paul Poh said: "It's easy to renovate a building, but to reconstruct it is more difficult. If you look at the FAS at an operations level, they have been doing a good job. Now that there's a new leadership under Kia Tong, I think it will be a good start for the elected team."

Singapore Recreation Club games control board chairman Ronnie Chua said that while many of them were incumbents, "they have proven themselves and we hope that with this election, they can be kept on their toes".

Getting elected is just the first step and there is a lot more work to be done, said former national coach Jita Singh. "Previously they were appointed. Now they fought hard to get in. They came up with a manifesto and were elected. If they were not interested, they would not have put themselves in the fight. Now they would have to take their positions more seriously."

•Additional reporting by Alvin Chia and Ian Kiew

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 30, 2017, with the headline 'New leaders have plenty of issues to fix, say stakeholders'. Print Edition | Subscribe