Football: NFL organisation scrutinised as police probe under way

ST VIDEO: LIM SAY HENG

Sunday's brawl between Singapore Armed Forces Sports Association (Safsa) and Yishun Sentek Mariners, which the police confirmed yesterday that they are investigating, has cast the spotlight on the lesser lights of Singapore football again.

In April, the National Football League clubs took centre stage as the fraternity went to the polls for the first time in the Football Association of Singapore's (FAS) history.

Then, promises were made to improve the organising of the league, provide more funding and support, with Lim Kia Tong, then a candidate but now the president, promising to take personal charge of the amateur clubs, which comprised 23 of the FAS' 44 voting members.

The NFL is now a two-tier competition with 12 teams in each division and the $3,000 registration fee has been waived for clubs, but it appears that the league is still plagued by many of the same old issues.

While sources in the NFL reveal that pitch-booking issues of the past resulting in the cancellation of games have been resolved in 2017, other problems have persisted.

It is understood that some clubs were late in registering their squads before the start of the season and at least one team did not turn up for a scheduled match. One team had to resort to borrowing goalkeeping gloves from their opponents after both their custodians failed to turn up at a match, a situation that was met with a shrug of the shoulders.

The FAS promised an ambulance on standby at NFL games but two players who suffered head injuries in an NFL 2 match between South Avenue and Gymkhana last Tuesday had to wait at least 25 minutes before getting medical attention.

An FAS spokesman called it an "unfortunate and isolated incident" and said that there would be "stricter enforcement of rules especially for those involving safety".

It is understood that a plan is being mooted to professionalise the NFL and install it as the second tier to the S-League. The FAS spokesman said Lim has met the clubs to speak about plans for the league. He also pointed to stricter rules governing the administration of clubs, saying: "This (conversation) includes introducing licensing requirements for clubs participating in the NFL."

But given the recent incidents, some are questioning if the clubs are ready to make the big leap.

"I'm disgusted by the lack of professionalism in the NFL first division," said an NFL official on condition of anonymity. "There are some teams within the league that do deserve support, but the rest can't even get their administration right.

"They don't handle registration properly, can't show up to games on time, and others still face issues paying fines that were due last season."

However, some cautioned against premature judgments.

"I don't think one should look only at the free-for-all to make a judgment call on whether NFL clubs are ready to make the step up towards professionalism," said former Singapore international R. Sasikumar, founder of sports marketing agency Red Card Global.

"It has to be an educated decision based on data and key performance indicators. For example, do NFL clubs have at least a proper skeletal structure of management, technical and backroom staff?"

Joe Keiser, general manager of NFL 2 side Academy Junior Football, believes it is not all bad news.

"The insurance coverage is good and supports better player welfare. Registration has been streamlined and seems to be working properly, and match scheduling has been smooth; credit to the FAS competitions department," he said.

"The focus on the NFL has made it a vibrant league which can serve as a platform to develop new talent for the national team. But this will be an evolutionary process."

As for the brawl, it is understood that no arrests have been made. Yishun's Zulfadhli Suzliman and Safsa's Al Nazirul Islam were involved with sparking the incident, with the latter sent to hospital to treat stud marks on his abdomen.

Zulfadhli received his marching orders, along with Nazirul after the match resumed following a stoppage of some 15 minutes.

Videos revealed players from Yishun's bench also got involved in the fracas that saw Safsa coach Kevin Wee kicked, with a Yishun official getting involved near the tunnel leading to the dressing rooms.

Sources said the FAS is poised to expedite the disciplinary hearings.

Safsa lead the league on 53 points after 20 games. Yishun, who lost Sunday's game 2-3, are on 51 points but have one game in hand.

Shamir Osman

•Additional reporting by David Lee

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 14, 2017, with the headline 'NFL organisation scrutinised as police probe under way'. Print Edition | Subscribe