Football: Tampines Rovers get a new chairman

With over 20 years of legal experience, Desmond Ong has been consistently named as a leading individual in the Asia Pacific Legal 500, in both the dispute resolution and corporate categories.
With over 20 years of legal experience, Desmond Ong has been consistently named as a leading individual in the Asia Pacific Legal 500, in both the dispute resolution and corporate categories.PHOTO: THE BUSINESS TIMES

Desmond Ong takes over from fellow lawyer Ramachandra following year of upheaval

One of the hottest seats in S-League football has finally been filled.

The Football Association of Singapore (FAS) announced yesterday that lawyer Desmond Ong has been appointed the Stags' new chairman.

The appointment took effect on Aug 30 and sees Ong, the managing partner of legal firm JLC Advisors, replace fellow lawyer Krishna Ramachandra at the helm of the five-time S-League champions.

Ong has more than 20 years of legal experience and has made his name in both dispute resolution and corporate law.

He has been involved in high-profile cases including acting as adviser to Nick Leeson in the Barings Bank case, Chen Jiulin in relation to the trading losses of China Aviation Oil, the corruption charges against Airocean's former chief executive Thomas Tay and the City Harvest Church scandal.

In the FAS' statement, Ong, 48, said: "I am humbled to be appointed the new chairman of TRFC by adviser Desmond Choo. Tampines is one of Singapore football's giants, and it is a heavy responsibility."

Desmond Choo, a Member of Parliament for Tampines GRC and the club's adviser, praised Ong as "a highly qualified professional" who is passionate about football, and "will be able to lead Tampines Rovers very well".

The Stags, second in the league, will require astute leadership following a tumultuous 12 months.

Under Ramachandra, who stepped down more than two months ago after a 22-month tenure, the club made waves for both the right and wrong reasons.

He kicked off his stint with a series of eye-catching moves, starting with a partnership to run a youth academy with Brazilian superstar Ronaldinho, appointing former Liverpool manager Gerard Houllier as the club's international ambassador and capturing the signature of former Arsenal and Liverpool winger Jermaine Pennant, arguably the biggest name to ever play in the league.

But it all went south with the club running into cash-flow issues which saw them struggling to pay the players on time. A proposed joint venture with Ronaldinho did not take off because he was not able to commit to regular appearances and both sides mutually agreed not to proceed.

The club also loaned $750,000 from Taiwanese firm Nogle. This was paid off at the end of July after Ramachandra loaned the club about $1.4 million over the course of this year. His debt to the club, which was also to cover operational expenses, is interest-free. The club only need to pay it down when they have funds.

When Ramachandra announced his decision to step down, he had insisted that he would exit "no earlier than after Tampines' 2016 accounts have been audited and finalised". The FAS announced his departure on Aug 25.

FAS vice-president Edwin Tong added: "The FAS is happy that the new chairman of TRFC has been appointed.

"It is a demanding but rewarding responsibility, and an exciting time for Desmond to be involved as well, with the club's recent return to Our Tampines Hub. We look forward to a fruitful relationship with him and the club."

Supporting Ong will be vice-chairman Lee Lung Nien, honorary secretary Nicholas Hunter, honorary treasurer Ian Lau, and two committee members, Nicholas Narayan and Leong Wing Kong.

Ong added: "I will work hand in hand with Mr Choo, the other members of the TRFC committee and the FAS to ensure that the club strives for football excellence as well as increased community participation."

Correction Note: A previous version of this story said that Tampines Rovers has not paid off the loan. This is incorrect. Tampines Rovers no longer owe Nogle $750,000 as Krishna Ramachandra has loaned the club $1.4 million (interest-free) to cover the debt as well as other operating expenses. We are sorry for the error.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 08, 2017, with the headline 'Stags get a new chairman'. Print Edition | Subscribe