Wednesday, September 8, 2010

2011 - 2015: Critical Years for S.League

So much flak flared up again about the S.League following the mass brawl at Jalan Besar Stadium between players and officials from Young Lions and Beijing Guoan Talent that led to the abandonment of the match with less than a few minutes remaining at 1-1.  

That, together with dwindling attendances and decreasing sponsorship money pumped into Singaporean clubs, showed how despised the S.League has been to the general populace.

It is not entirely the Football Association of Singapore's (FAS) fault that the league has seen a decrease in interest.

No, it is not the introduction of foreign teams that has caused this too. Neither is the so-called decreasing standards. Yes, the standard of play is generally stale but there have been some nail-biters and quality matches as well.

Winning Singaporeans back and make them flock to the local neighbourhood stadiums, with all the distractions of Orchard Road, Mohammed Sultan Road and City Hall and the well-designed and built shopping complexes popping up all over Singapore, will remain a massive challenge for S.League, FAS President Zainuddin Nordin and Secretary-general Winston Lee.

The novelty of a Singapore league wore off after the first few years of its establishment in 1996.

The fateful announcement of Singapore's withdrawal from the Malaysia Cup in early 1995 ensured that a generation of football fans, including this writer, would grow up having foreign football as its staple of football diet. Any surprises that English football is so popular here, to the amusement from national coach Radjoko Avramovic to the league's foreign players?

Now with no Malaysia Cup stars from the class of 94 playing, there is nothing for these old-timers to look at and harp on their former heroes in action on the pitch. A generation of football supporters has also long been lost in this process.

The concept of grassroots rivalry, unfortunately, has never fully blossomed, save for Tampines Rovers, who have a core group of vocal and quiet fans supporting the team from their neighbourhood. Apart from uniformed groups Singapore Armed Forces and Home United and developmental team Young Lions, perhaps the other local football teams can do more in tapping on the constituency support?

The league itself have successful businessmen who are thriving elsewhere. But even they are finding the S.League the hardest nut to crack in their business decision making. Kwek Leng Joo, as the league's first chairman who laid its early foundations, and Teo Hock Seng, Tampines chairman, have been there. But even the latter's support is dwindling due to various disappointments.

This league is now at a crucial point, where it is nowhere close to being shut down, but not rising up any further. It lacks the colour and spark to carry it in a positive light. Singaporeans' perceived ignorance of Asian football is not helping matters as regional rivalry in Southeast Asia still comes first.

To kill the S.League right there and right now will effectively mean at least 80 per cent of the jobs in this industry will have to be scrapped. The better-educated ones can find other jobs elsewhere, but how about those who seek this path for honest living but now have nothing to look forward to? Perhaps the Singapore Police Force Commissioner can anticipate in a rise in statistics for criminal offences if this happens.

If there is no S.League, where will the likes of K. Vikraman and Jonathan Xu Weihua go? Will Richard Bok Kok Chuan, Mike Wong Mun Heng, Nasarudin Jalil and A Shasi Kumar have new head coaching jobs elsewhere in Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam or Thailand, if they are not offered them by FAS? Or do they have to switch to other lines, as former players, coaches, referees and officials have been doing in recent years?

Without the S.League, will these people mentioned be even familiar to a few faces if at all? There will be no talk of a steady stream of footballers becoming coaches, whether developmental or competitive, and administrators when they hang up their boots and give back to football.

To scrap the only (perhaps so-called, in our eyes) fully professional sports league is also sending a signal that sports is not a viable career option in this tiny island. Singaporean Chinese parents may feel vindicated by this. But how about their Malay and Indian counterparts, especially the former? Other national sports associations will be discouraged by the S.League's closure and may not think of doing something similar, or remain content to keep their elite leagues semi-professional at best.

Thus the next five seasons will be very critical for the S.League authorities. It is not only about mere dollars and cents. They need to be fully cooperative with the clubs, who have generally been trying despite their limited resources.

Smart decisions have to be made if this league and the local clubs are to survive beyond just two decades. Certain present sponsorships may need to be reconsidered. Not all are that helpful, in fact, one has ensured FAS are under its mercy.

Singaporeans are an increasingly sophisticated and harder-to-please, but as the Youth Olympic Games football tournament suggests, there is a way one can tap on that support, only if they think out of the box.

Tap on the present young generation of fans who can form the new supporters of tomorrow. They are too young and may not know anything about the Malaysia Cup. They only know the likes of Shahril Ishaks and Aleksandar Durics as their present Singapore football heroes, not the Fandi Ahmads and V Sundramoorthys. They have given their best support and convinced the older Singaporeans to rally the Cubs in the recent YOG.

By the end of 2015, if there is some improvement, statistically and asthestically, there is still hope for the S.League, for its imperfections that will remain for some time.

Otherwise, FAS may need to consider rejoining the Malaysia Cup for short-term gains once more and appease the unhappy 5 million coaches.

Jalan Besar "Fightmania"

Maybe the organisers of Unlimited Martial Combat can consider Jalan Besar Stadium as an alternative venue after Beijing Guoan Talent and Young Lions dished out a fight at different parts of the pitch perhaps even martial arts exponents and kungfu enthusiasts can only dream of.

Perhaps the feeder team from the defending Chinese Super League side could have been going on some gamesmanship. Perhaps they had been unkindly provoked on and off the pitch by the Singaporeans.

It was 1-1 on Tuesday evening at that ground, when referee Zaid Hussein, who is now fast developing a notorious reputation of losing control of games he is in charge of when the heats rises just a little, decided to abandon the game after the fights spiralled into a mass-scale brawl involving both benches and even a few Young Lions fans who were also eager to lay their hands on the young Chinese.

With Zaid around as the man in the centre, it was only a matter of time before a game in his care went totally out of hand. Albirex players could have fought with him. Tampines Rovers fans gave him quite a earful as he scampered and cowered under pressure. Any other team would have been privately baying for his blood.

While Beijing and Young Lions did not keep their tempers in check (more on the Chinese's inability to keep their emotions in control), a stronger referee would have dished out the reds to the players involved in the earlier bouts as a signal that rough play would not be tolerated and toughly dealt with.

It was not the first time Beijing had been involved in such scuffles, but the referees knew how to keep them and the other team in check. Some netizens were speculating about the Chinese team walking out like the previous predecessors, when the anti-Beijing Guoan sentiment among local football fans finally spilled over.

All these nastiness could have been prevented if the man in the middle knew how to control things. Even if it meant more red cards and eventual abandonment still because the teams did not want to comply. But a strong signal would have been sent.

Feted FIFA World Cup referee Shamsul Maidin was too happy rising up the ranks in the AFC/ FIFA calendar to groom strong future referees. Another FIFA World Cup linesman K. Viswanathan found the hot seat too hot to bear after succeeding Shamsul as Football Association of Singapore head of referees department.

Now the newly-minted man at the helm, Abdul Razak, has plenty of work to do. Clubs, players and officials were unimpressed by the recent declining refereeing standards in Singapore, especially in the S.League. And they were not optimistic things were going to improve overnight.

Tuesday's end-of-game fightfest only showed the incompetence of the elite referees Singapore football has at this moment. Zaid is fast entering into this author's referee blacklist -  only K. Kalimuthu has been on my black book so far.

Perhaps it is time for Winston Lee and Razak to have a look at the education of referees and wonder why more and more promising referees are leaving the scene.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Sengkang (United4United) Fans - That's The Way to Go! :)

These Sengkang fans are showing just how support ought to be done. It might still be a novelty at Singapore football grounds, but their localised Manchester United cheers are a breath of fresh air.

They almost sound as though you are watching a game at Old Trafford in Manchester or Turf Moor in Burnley. But hey, it beats the other wacko stuff the other local S.League fan clubs are chruning up match day after match day and as they were singing last night at Choa Chu Kang Stadium "just like a library". (Parents, if you are reading this, no harm trying a night's revision with the kids at the stadium.)

And more. Drumming without a proper tune (Makes you wonder whether the drums instructor who teaches these drummers is not that good or the drummers are simply incompetent in this area.), cheering without a common purpose, no charisma... The list goes on and on. They are also part of the reason why people are not enjoying the match-day experience.

Hussain Razzak, as passionate as he was in supporting Woodlands Wellington through thick and thin, could never get others to cheer beyond his own fan group which at its peak numbered at around 200. He could not move the entire Woodlands stadium to follow in their over-the-top fan culture.

Thus having him to spearhead the so-called tussle in "SOS Woodlands" seems slightly dubious. The writer personally hopes this devout Wolverhampton Wanderers and Woodlands supporter can rise up higher and rally at least 5,000 Singaporeans to support this cause, but he has his doubts whether even 50 will be there for him and R. Vengadasalam this time.

Young Lions ardent fan and newly-appointed Home United fan club chairman Daniel Lau, 17, is renowned for his zealous support for all things Singapore football. Such passion has made him noticed by the local football fraternity and media alike.

During the recent Youth Olympic Games, such is the Nanyang Polytechnic student's strong faith in the national Under-15 side that he bought all the tickets from the first group game to the final day. He would sacrifice hours making posters and banners, such as one of "The Spirit of Sivalingam (the late coach who would have remained in charge were he still alive)".

Such passion should be lauded. But he could not inspire. Other Singaporeans from all walks of life flocked to the stadiums because of the Cubs' feats during the Games.

They knew how to sing, cheer and jeer when they needed to. Ask the Singaporean Liverpool fans who were willing to dish out the dough to sing their hearts out for the Reds in 2009 at Kallang. Even if Lau was not present, they would still have turned up in force to support Lightfoot, Koh, Hanafi, Dukhilan and company.

"We Want Goal!" has a lot more meaning than "Defence! Defence!" (The Young Lions fan club think they are capable of succeeding V. Sundramoorthy as co-coaches of the team and are cheering in the wrong sport.)

In fact, when things did not go their way, these fans could turn so abusive, they even cheesed off other fans present at the stands who just merely wanted to enjoy the game.

Thus, kudos to these United4United fans for managing what many other local fan clubs have utterly failed to do - keep the SAFFC fans silent for 75% of the game. Even SAFFC coach Richard Bok praised them for their attitude and passion in their cheers.

If these guys could do it, then perhaps the other fan clubs of Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspurs and Newcastle United could adopt a local Singapore club for a short-term basis and show the original fan club members how supporting a football side, local or foreign, ought to be done. Provided if they are keen to do so.

Meanwhile, keep up the positive work, United4United fans! Thumbs up!

Woodlands Wellington Boardroom Showdown Coming?

The first slavo is fired!

Things could not get any spicier at Woodlands Stadium at this moment. As Woodlands Wellington slumped to their fifth consecutive loss in the 2-1 home loss to title challengers Home United on Tuesday, one man decided enough was enough.

Hussain Razzak (above), former head of the Woodlands fan club, ex-Sembawang Rangers fan, brother of respected former Balestier Khalsa coach Abdul Karim, in-law of Vengadasalam Rayyan a.k.a Vengaman, went on a one-man march around the stadium at half-time, voicing his displeasure at the running of the club under present chairman Jayadev Unnithan.

He slammed the Rams for being reduced to cronyism, for lacking ambition and passion to bring the club back to its former glory and colourful days, for the virtual non-existant support of the home team and for eventually digging its own demise as a professional football club.

He claimed to have made sacrifices for the club as the head of the die-hards, by creating posters, by purchasing Woodlands jerseys to be "exported" to places as far as England, New Zealand and Australia, sweating blood and tears for the club he loved following the demise of former S.League club Sembawang Rangers after 2003 at Venga's request.

He also boasted media commentators for praising him for making the efforts to raise the atmosphere without asking for a single cent for his efforts and accused the other fan clubs for cheering for the sake of cash and free food.

He derided the present management for their stinginess and driving fans away from supporting their beloved neighbourhood club. He lambasted the first team and coaching staff for lacking the passion, commitment and desire to produce results as they slid to yet another defeat in his presence.

He also accused the staff for lacking commitment, leaving him to do so much as though he was a full-time employee at the club. (He has a full time job at SMRT.)

Beyond the tirading facade of this passionate football fan, Venga seemed to be working very hard behind-the-scenes to grab control of the northern-based club which, formerly known as Wellington FC before the S.League, he steered it to be among the founding eight clubs when Singapore's professional football league kicked off in 1996. 

According to Thursday's report on the Straits Times, Venga departed from the Rams after a dispute with former chairman Francis Gomez and became a peripheral figure at Tampines Rovers under Teo Hock Seng.

Colourful in personality and quotes, he ought to be the ideal man to mount a challenge for control in Woodlands Wellington. He has claimed to have sponsors to provide the club with some financial muscle, although this has yet to be verified.

As Hussain also mentioned, Venga was the man who first unleashed the likes of Itimi Dickson, John Wilkinson and Mazreswan Masturi before they were known to the nation as Singapore internationals.

Unfortunately, Venga is yesterday's man as far as modern football in Singapore is concerned. Now it takes more than just colour and charisma to be respected and obeyed at any professional football set-up in Singapore.

From the chairman to the officials, whatever the financial and physical constraints, Singapore clubs have taken every step possible to be as professional in their work approach off-the-pitch as they could be.

As for the coaches, there is an increasing number of local coaches awaiting employment somewhere with their coaching qualifications, thanks to the S.League for producing them as players first.

They are more aware of modern tactical trends and more methodical and thorough in their training and match preparations, closing the gap in coaching standards between Singapore and the best of Asia (Japan, South Korea and Australia).

Discredited, lamblasted from within and without, Venga is a man without a voice. Even if he makes a dramatic S.League return as new chairman of Woodlands Wellington, can he tolerate delegating stuff to other more competent administrators?

Can he also respect the opinion of present head coach A. Shasi Kumar in terms of team selection and player purchases? Can he persuade the increasingly more pragmatic Singaporean football fans to come down to Woodlands Stadium on his charisma alone?

Will the players and other coaches even bother respecting him, for he has no qualified successes to really speak of?

Most importantly, can the financial backing he claims to have last? With all the local clubs always looking out for financial resources and managing their balance books, even successful businessmen-cum-club chairmen John Yap and Teo are prudent in their financial backing to Gombak United and Tampines respectively. Even Gomez, Tang Weng Fei and Patrick Ang can attest to this.

Unlike the above-mentioned gentlemen, Venga does not have any clout or influence in the highly competitive and successful financial world in Singapore. In any sense, is his bid for control even platable.

Little wonder Jayadev has laughed this off as "such a trivial matter". However, wounded prides can make men like Hussain and Venga earn sympathy points and swing support, however temporary, in their favour.

If the grassroots leader chooses not to open up and state his vision and dreams for the club, if any, he is going to be as easily discredited as Hussain and Venga - for allowing a sinking ship to sink without any explanation or accountability.

Since he is the one who knows what exactly has been going on, he needs to come clean and explain why Hussain was asked to leave Woodlands Wellington as the fan club chairman, why he and the present management refused the offer Venga allegedly made in June and other prickly situations in the wooden spoonists off the pitch.

What about this one-man show? When former Ram and present general manager Jeykanth Jeyapal asked Hussain why the latter did not response to his three separate phone calls following the alleged dismissal, Hussain ducked the question and went on about his past sacrifices to the club.


Ladies and gentlemen, let's sit back and enjoy the WWF (Woodlands Wellington Festival) boardroom smackdown between...

Jayadev Unnithan PBM/ Jeykanth Jeyapal  v Vengadasalam Rayyan/ Hussain Razzak...

Enjoy! :P