Thank you, Alam Shah, for telling the truth about the S-League and Singapore football

The reports:

The print media had a field day today,  giving full page, cover story status to Noh Alam Shah’s hammering of the S-League ( you can read the reports at the end of this commentary)

And truth be told, Alam Shah’s remarks – his reasons for leaving the S-League – were a breath of fresh air.

Truly, they have hit the nail on the head.

The last time a national captain came out publicly to criticise an aspect of local football was Fandi Ahmad, and I believe it was during the Malaysia Cup days in either 1993 or 1994. Fandi blasted the fans for booing the Singapore team for not playing well or for not beating their opponents by bigger margins.

Fifteen years later, we have Alam Shah. But in this case, I feel that Alam Shah’s remarks are an even more valuable contribution to Singapore football than Fandi’s. Why? Because in one press conference, he has exposed the big marketing bluff that the S-League has been trying to con all of us into believing  all these years: that it is a quality football tournament. 

To be fair, it was a pretty good competition for a time – from 1996 to 2001.

But alas, since then, the standards have been plummeting. Seriously, whenever one tries to watch one of its live matches on television, one just comes to the sinking realisation that all the talk about the S-League being one of Asia’s top-10 leagues is just glib marketing hard-sell, all glittery dust and nothing more.

Because at the end of the day, the product on the field just does not live up to the hype.   

Small wonder then that the media has shied away from covering the competition extensively, forcing the league in turn to buy its coverage in the newspapers through sponsored pages.

And forget all that talk about how the S-League has raised the standards of the national team. Let’s call a spade a spade – the only reason why we have done well in the Asean Championships (aka the Tiger Cup) all these years, and why we have climbed to the middle tier of Asian football is because we have strengthened the team with naturalised ciizens.

The locals can’t do the job on their own, and this has resulted in almost half the national team being filled with foreign players who have been ‘talent-spotted’ while playing in the S-League.  

So thank you, Alam Shah, for speaking your mind, and the truth. I don’ think that you have jeopardised your place in the national team or your national captaincy with your remarks, not in this current climate of increasing openness. If you are, then it s a bloody shame, and the national team does not deserve you.

I hope your remarks will go a long way in waking up the powers-that-be in the Football Association of Singapore, and the S-League.

It’s time to wake up, and to stop this embarrassing bluff.

Yours in sport

Singapore Sports Fan    

Here are the reports on Alam Shah’s press conference:

“Wake Up, S-League’

(The Straits Times, Online Edition, 11 Sept 2009)

By Wang Meng Meng

NOH Alam Shah, who will leave Singapore on Monday to join Indonesia Super League (ISL) side Arema Malang, has a parting shot for the S-League – wake up.

In his most candid interview yet, the 29-year-old Tampines Rovers striker poured his heart out on his reasons for leaving the country:

•The sterile crowds in the S-League

•The poor treatment of players

•The perceived poor refereeing standards

•The logic of having the mandatory fitness evaluation called the Beep Test.

Alam Shah began by moaning about the S-League’s poor average attendance of 2,500 last year compared to Arema’s average gates of 30,000.

‘It’s terrible to see empty stadiums. The standard of football has dropped. The quality of the foreign players has dropped. No disrespect to some of the younger players, they are really not there yet. I have lost all motivation.

Despite being capped 72 times and scoring 32 international goals, Alam Shah feels he is not getting enough recognition at home. ‘When I arrived in Indonesia, the customs officer recognised me even before he looked at my passport. In Malang, I’m mobbed by fans everywhere I go. I feel like a millionaire, a proper footballer.

‘Here, nobody seems to be doing anything. Singapore is still a footballing nation and the fans love football. … ‘It’s time for the S-League to wake up and win the fans back.’

One of Alam Shah’s gripes is the Beep Test, the multi-stage shuttle run which all S-League players must pass annually before they can be registered. ‘It’s unfair to determine a player’s rice bowl with a fitness test. Some players have the skill but cannot run like machines,’ Alam Shah argued.



‘It’s terrible to see empty stadiums. Nobody seems to be doing anything. It’s time for the S-League to win the fans back. In Malang, I’m mobbed by fans everywhere and feel like a millionaire.’


‘Fandi Ahmad is Singapore’s favourite footballing son, so why did he have to leave the country to make a living? More should be done to recognise former greats’ contributions…it’s not just about giving them free match tickets or hanging their pictures on a wall.’


‘A referee once gave me a yellow card for no reason except to say that it was a precaution. When the FAS banned my club chairman Teo Hock Seng, that was the last straw.’


‘It’s unfair to determine a player’s rice bowl with a fitness test. Some players have the skill but cannot run like machines. Good players had been lost and the S-League suffered.’


National captain slams S-League

(TODAY, 11 Sept 2009)


 By Shamir Osman

TONIGHT, Lions skipper Noh Alam Shah will don the yellow of Tampines Rovers for the last time in their S-League match against Sengkang Punggol before flying off to join his new team, the “Crazy Lions” of Arema Malang, on Monday.

The hard-tackling striker will ply his trade in the Indonesian Super League, scheduled to kick-off on Oct 11, but not before delivering a typical Alam Shah volley yesterday on why he’s quitting the S-League.

“I’ve played here since 1997, and I think the league is stagnant, in fact it was better in the past,” he said at a hastily-arranged press conference at Turf City.

“We had better foreign players, better crowd turnout, even the refereeing was much better,” added the 29-year-old, who started his career with Sembawang Rangers.

“My boss (Tampines chairman Teo Hock Seng) has supported me all this while, like no one else will, just like my coach for 11 years, Vorawan (Chitavanich) , but sadly I have lost all motivation to play in this league. The touchline ban my boss received was the last straw for me, a passionate person like him does not deserve this.”

Stags boss Teo was banned from the touchline for the rest of the league season last month for allegedly approaching assistant referee Jeffrey Goh in an aggressive manner in the match against SAFFC.

Alam Shah alleged that local referees were biased against him because of his reputation for tough play, and charged that they were responsible for derailing the team’s title chances.

“I get red cards, my boss gets banned, and we go on to lose three games in a row. All (the referees) can say is sorry, the goal should stand, you shouldn’t have been sent off, but what’s the point, we’ve already lost,” he lamented.

An ex-Fifa assistant referee, who declined to be named, believes Alam Shah has a point.

“In terms of quality, I have to say that the refereeing standard has really gone down,” he said.

“I question how referees are being selected for promotion and to the Fifa ranks, and there doesn’t seem to be succession planning either.There were so many good referees before, why are they not being engaged to help raise the standard?”

For Alam Shah, the lack of appreciation and poor crowd turnout was another sore point.

“It feels horrible playing in front of a poor crowd, and at some stadium, there is almost no crowd at all. I believe we are still a footballing nation, but even when we are in centralised training with the national team, the players often wonder if the fans will turn up to watch us,” said Alam Shah, revealing that the fanatical support at Malang was a pull factor.

Philip Tay, 62, who has been following the S-League since its inception, believes the lack of quality foreigners is one of the reasons for the low excitement levels in the league.

“The crowd is boosted by those with complimentary tickets, if they had to pay, they won’t turn up,” he said. “And the support for the national team boils down to the league as well. If the league is good, people will definitely back the national team.”

Alam Shah felt that the beep test, a fitness test all players must pass before they can play in the S-League, was a reason why the league was losing quality players.

“It is a good test of fitness, but what it has done is make us lose players who bring quality to the field, like Mirko Grabovac, Sead Muratovic and Razif Mahmood,” he said.

“There is a lot that can be done to improve the league, in terms of salaries, even marketing. I just hope the people at the top do something about it.”


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2 thoughts on “Thank you, Alam Shah, for telling the truth about the S-League and Singapore football

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