S-League – the sinking league or the successful league?

The Today newspaper, on 13 September, carried an article by Mr PN Balji, director of the Asia Journalism Fellowship, a joint initiative of Temasek Foundation and NTU, on the state of the S League.

It comes on the back of revelation by the Football Association of Singapore that the average ticket sales for S-League games was a mere 214.

Also published below is a blog entry by the President of the FAS who had praises for the S League – “[It] is a league that all Singaporeans can be proud of,” he says.

What do you think? Is the S League a ‘Sinking League” as Mr Balji says, or a “Successful League”, as the FAS president insists?

One final effort to save the Sinking league

by PN Balji

Sep 13, 2010

Finally, a never-before-released statistic that beggars the Singapore imagination: The average ticket sales for nine S-League soccer matches from Aug 30 to Sept 5 is a miserable 214. And this is 14 years after the League was born prematurely, forced upon Singapore by Malaysian officials who wanted to squeeze more money out of gate collections at Malaysia Cup matches played here.

There was some apprehension when the decision was taken at the very highest levels that we should cut the Malaysia Cup umbilical cord whether the S-League would do well, even survive. Such naysayers were rubbished as unpatriotic doom devils.

There was a lot of jingoism that tried to appeal to the national pride that we should not allow Malaysian soccer officials to push us around.

Between then and now, a lot of things have happened.

First, the wish of the League’s first chairman of its board of directors, Mr Kwek Leng Joo, that there would be a kind of constituency spirit to support the teams in the League did not materialise. Somebody should have told the housing developer that with Singaporeans treating their property as lottery, moving in and out of a constituency was becoming a national hobby. Sinking roots into a constituency, and thus supporting the soccer team bearing that constituency’s name, was not going to happen. Singapore’s small size made the shift even easier; constituency loyalty was a non-starter.

Second, the power of the English Premier League and the pervasive influence it began to have on the Singapore soccer fan was underestimated. Millions of pounds chasing the top stars and the power of the live telecast made the S-League look like a slumdog cousin. The S-League was thrown into the lion’s den for Geylang and Woodlands to fight with Manchester United and Arsenal for spectator support and interest. Well, we all know what the result of that fight was.

Third, the kind of money that you need to run a successful League could not be squeezed out of the big companies.

The big Temasek-linked companies like SIA, Keppel Corp, SingTel and home-grown private companies like CDL and FairPrice were not convinced to dig into their pockets. Asia Pacific Breweries, the brewer of Tiger Beer, was an exception in the inception stages. But that revenue stream dried up after it began to become a global company and switched its loyalty to the EPL.

With fans deserting and big-time companies not convinced of the League, is it time to bury the S-League? Pulling the plug will have consequences on those who earn their keep playing soccer and on providing a regular flow of players to the national team.

Is going back to play in the Malaysia Cup worth a shot? That has been discussed and debated to death and found to be a retrogressive move because it does not really help the development of a truly Singapore league.

With the patient all ready to be wheeled into the intensive care unit, what he needs is urgent surgery. All the patch-up jobs of the past 14 years have made this patient a propped-up zombie all set up to blow up in our faces and embarrass us to no end.

The way to breathe new life into this dying patient is to get a retired chief executive who has run a successful company and has an interest in and some knowledge of this beautiful game, give him a tidy sum of money, preferably from Singapore Pools, and tell him: We are giving you three years, just fix it.

Let him start with a blank sheet of paper and no interference please; not even from civil servants and politicians.

Is that too much to ask of a system that prides itself in creating a country, and a successful one at that, out of nothing?


The following is a blog entry by the president of the Football Association of Singapore who is also Mayor for Central Singapore District and MP for Bishan-Toa Payoh, Mr Zainudin Nordin.

His entry was posted on 13 May 2010.

The Straits Times Interview Q & A (Qn 1 & 2)

Zainudin Nordin @ 09:37am

I recently had an interview with The Straits Times with regards to Singapore’s football scene. I thoroughly enjoyed the interview so I decided to post it here for those who missed it.

ST Interview Q&A (FAS)

What is your assessment of Singapore football at this current stage?

Singapore football is generally heading in the right direction.

Our National Team has been doing well; we won two ASEAN titles in the past five years; reached the third round of the 2008 World Cup Qualifiers for the first time; and are currently on course to qualify for the AFC Asian Cup Finals for the first time. Our U-23s won two bronze medals at the SEA Games in the last two editions including our youngest-ever team at the recent Games in Laos.

The success of the National Teams is directly linked to the S.League as it provides the platform for our National players to hone their skills. The S.League, which critics said would not survive, is now well recognized by AFC and other FAs because it is well-managed and the teams are more stable and professional. The standards of local players have improved greatly too.

Today, the S.League is an industry which is worth more than $200 million per annum, with more than 1,000 jobs across various fields. The league is also ranked highly by AFC alongside the other top leagues in Asia.

Our budget for the National Teams and S.League, though considerably smaller than the budgets of our ASEAN and Asian comrades, has reaped good Returns of Investments.

However, there remains a lot of hard work to take Singapore football forward.

With all the constraints that we are facing, is the S.League viable?

Critics said that the S.League will never survive when we first started. They said that our population was too small and that we have a limited player base. They said that we had poor facilities, limited commercial opportunities and that we had no geographical rivalry between our clubs. Even some experts from leading football leagues in Europe said that we would not make it.

Despite all these and with the concerted effort of all stakeholders, we have not only survived, but today, after 14 years, it is a league that all Singaporeans can be proud of.

We have been commended for our innovative and professional approaches, such as Friday Night Football, foreign teams, salary caps, fitness tests and polygraph tests. That has stood us out compared to other leagues and in fact, some ASEAN, Asian and European leagues are beginning to learn our best practices.

Sponsorships have gone up in recent years for the league and clubs. Despite the economic crunch last year, the S.League remained relatively stable.

Indeed, the S.League has been the platform for our recent successes on the international stage and was even listed in the local media as one of the 50 success stories in 50 years of nation building in 2009 National Day.

We hope the S.League spirit of perseverance and determination can be an inspiration to our younger generation that they can reach their goals and dreams.

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