I’ve found two very well-argued opinion pieces about the Football Association of Singapore’s inclusion of the two new foreign clubs – Etoile FC and Beijing Guo’an – into this season’s S-League.
One, from The Online Citizen, protested vehemently against the exclusion of the Yishun Super Reds while the other, a letter in TODAY, lambasted the FAS for constantly changing the foreign teams in the league:
“While bringing in foreign talent may work for table tennis, having foreign-based teams play here for one or two seasons before they wave goodbye is not the way to go. How are we to breed local talent if half the league consists of itinerant foreigners?”
Reading the write-up from the TOC also got me thinking: Yes, it seems that in rejecting the Yishun Spuer Reds, the FAS may well have missed the opportunity to create a new version of Sembawang Rangers.
I have fond memories of Sembawang – although they were always in the bottom half of the league, they were memorable because they were unconventional.
They were the first club to go almost all Thai in their selection of four or five foreign players. And we all knew the Thai players from their exploits for Thailand in the Tiger Cup in the late 90s and early Noughties (now known as the Asean Football Championships).
Coached by Voran Chintavanich (now with Tampines Rovers), that Sembawang side featured the likes of defender Niweat Siriwong, midfielder Thawatchai Ongtrakul and the biggest catch of all, midfielder Tawan Sripan, who back then was arugably the second most popular player in Thailand after Kiatisuk Senamuang.
Their brand of attacking football drew the crowds – not just Thai nationals working in Singapore but also local football fans. And my most enduring memory of the crowds was how a group of fans would always gather around the team after a match, listening to Vorawan debriefinig his men before breaking out in cheers and giving all of them a standing ovation.
This is the sort of fanship money can never buy. And from the looks of it, there was a chance that the Yishun All Reds could have become a Korean version of Sembawang Rangers, becoming a magnet for Korean nationals working in Singapore, and once again, a club for the neighbourhood to identify with.
Sadly, they will not be getting their chance to build on that platform this year. Instead, it looks like the FAS has been blinded by promises of European flair (yucks, so snooty, as though Asian players are not capable of flair) and the potential to recruit young China players for future national teams (double yucks)
Here are the two write-ups. Like I said, very good. I devoured every word and re-read them a couple of times. I hope you will enjoy them too.
Yours in sport
Singapore Sports Fan
(The Online Citizen, 19 Jan 2010)
By Lim Mingji
Two weeks from the start of the 15th season of the Great Eastern-Yeo’s S-League, the S-League announced the winner of the two teams that were competing for the final spot in the new S-league season.
To the surprise and amazement of all the S-league fans, the winner of the coveted final spot went to Beijing Guo’an, rather than the highly committed and motivated, successful in previous two seasons, and now going all local, Yishun Super Reds.
Super Reds FC (Korea), is the most successful foreign team ever to grace the S-league. Barring their first season when they finished bottom, they have been pretty successful for the last 2 seasons, finishing 2nd in 2008 and 5th in 2009 (ahead of 8th placed Albirex Niigata FC (S) by 12 points). Super Reds FC decided to go local at the end of the 2009 season with the intention to qualify for continental football to represent Singapore, and to develop local football talents. They re-branded themselves as the Yishun Super Reds.
S-league fans and supporters were ecstatic about Super Reds intention to turn local and had been looking forward for their participation in the new season. The local football scene had been turning stale with Sengkang Punggol FC and Balestier Khalsa FC perpetually rooted to the bottom of the table, and the Singapore Armed Forces FC (SAFFC) dominating with their 4th S-league title in a row.
Backed by their local Member of Parliament for Ang Mo Kio GRC, Lee Bee Wah, Club Chairman Charlie Yoon had big ambitions to make a challenge for the S-league title within 3 seasons. Other than improving the club house, he also planned to groom young players, such as sending them for football exchange programmes in Korea, implement player-attachments to Korea-based teams as well as giving out scholarships to their local recruits to further their studies.
“In over two years as chairman, I’ve spent $2.7 million on the club, and in the end we’ve got nothing,” Mr Charlie Yoon exclaimed in an interview with Today on 27th November 2009 (see photo above). “Now I want to set up a local team, create jobs and develop local players, at least that will help Singapore football in some way.”
As a result, the selection of Beijing Guo’an over Yishun Super Reds has shocked local football supporters and astounded even the non-fans.
People like Halim Wahab, who posted the following comment on the Football Association of Singapore’s facebook page, spelled out the general mood among local fans:
“I am really disappointed with the FAS decision on the clubs for the S-League. Shouldn’t we be looking after our own local clubs first before choosing a foreigner? Yishun Super Reds take the bold step to become local after 2 season of wonderful football as a Korean team – for the reason in helping to develop more local players and play a bigger role in helping local football – now that is something that we should applause the team for and give them the opportunity to do so…
And there is no harm in taking another team is there? So lets give the 13th slot to the Yishun Super Reds… u will do local football a lot of good – after FAS is suppose to be looking after local football isn’t it?!!!”
The selection of a China team is going to spell controversy. In 2003, Sinchi FC (China) became the first foreign team to participate in the S-league. Poor performance and rough play marked their legacy as they bowed out in 2005 due to financial reasons. In 2007, Liaoning Guangyuan become the 2nd China team to participate in the league, but the club was embroiled in a match-fixing controversy and was not invited to participate again in 2008. Dalian Shide Siwu became the next China team, replacing Liaoning Guangyuan, but ultimately, was booted out of the league after finishing 3rd from the bottom.
This selection snafu looks poised to evoke greater repercussions in the future: foreign teams may no longer consider turning local as an option, seeing how the Super Reds had been snubbed despite being prepared for the new season and having already formed the team; potential new local football clubs and their investors will be discouraged by the authorities’ disinterest in supporting new local teams; local footballing talents will be further discouraged to see football as a viable career path; or perhaps worse, the development of a perception that S-league and FAS’s ultimate goal is simply to get foreign talents to be naturalised for the national team.
I can only hope that FAS and the S-league would open up an unprecedented 13th slot for Yishun Super Reds FC and prove the prevailing perception wrong.
Foreign faux pas
(TODAY, VOICES, 21 Jan 2010)
EARLIER this week, the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) unveiled the two teams that will complete the lineup for the 2010 Great Eastern-Yeo’s S-League: French side Etoile FC and Beijing Guo’an.
Foreign clubs in general have not performed well in Singapore. Sinchi FC, the first foreign club allowed into the S-League, withdrew after three years after they were punished for the indiscipline of their players on the pitch. Liaoning Guangyuan was engaged in a match-fixing scandal in 2007. Brunei DPMM were withdrawn from the league competition five games before the end of the last season. Sporting Afrique was involved in a salary dispute which drew international attention of the wrong sort.
Have you heard of any top-class leagues elsewhere in the world where they switch teams around every other season?
Having one or two foreign teams is okay, as they give us a platform to see if we are up to par, but having too many foreign teams in Singapore will not improve the standard of football here. On the contrary, many may instead choose to stop following the S-League. Will locals want to watch a match-up between Beijing Guo’an and Albirex? Or Albirex versus Etoile?
While bringing in foreign talent may work for table tennis, having foreign-based teams play here for one or two seasons before they wave goodbye is not the way to go. How are we to breed local talent if half the league consists of itinerant foreigners?
The foreign-based clubs mainly use their squads here as satellite bases to test youngsters or as a reserve team, and thus have more financial stability than most of the local teams, which struggle to make ends meet.
Local football will not thrive unless the FAS pumps in more resources and finance into breeding a whole new bunch of footballing talent. We need better infrastructure and more playing fields.
I’m honestly worried about the future of the local league. Already national players like Baihakki Khaizan and bad boy and fan favourite Noh Alam Shah have left to flaunt their skills in the Liga Indonesia.
It’s been too long a time since local greats like Fandi Ahmad and V Sundramoorthy lit up the footballing scene. Meanwhile, many of us fans are fed up with appalling performances and unrealistic targets – think Goal 2010 – set. The latest developments will not improve standards or increase crowds.
Aaron Wee Jun Jie